"Sorry, I need to wash my hands," apologizes Joel Hodgson. The MST3K founder was discussing his background in comedy writing when this sanitation issue hit Code Red. He was the socially awkward pen behind half of Jerry Seinfeld's HBO special, and right now, as he frets, that fact makes perfect sense.
Joel just rubbed his eye and doesn't have a good feeling about the situation's resolution.
"That's where I put the infection," he says, in a cartoonishly dejected tone. "They say you're supposed to wash your hands so much," he presses further. "Really," he continues, "all the time."
A former stand-up himself, Hodgson is an emblem of counter-culture comedy for youth of the '80s and '90s. When Mystery Science Theater 3000 first aired, it carried a level of eccentricity that rivaled Pee Wee's Playhouse. Even conceptually, figuring out how Hodgson's story was ever greenlit is baffling.
The plot casts him as an alienated intergalactic janitor. Due to a falling out with his lousy bosses, Joel is relegated to eternal drift, armed only with a companion collection of misfit robots. Our unlikely heroes bide their time with short skits, songs, and sitting in silhouette, pelting fallen films with verbal tomatoes.
And yet, this did happen. The show managed to find its way from cult celebration on Minneapolis Cable Access into a content cornerstone for Comedy Central's genesis. How did it evolve from one to the other? Well, that's better left to Joel to describe, and he'll do exactly that on Saturday night at the Texas Theatre in his one-man presentation "Riffing Myself."
"It's a breakdown of the MST3K dna," says Hodgson.
The show combines more than 350 slides from the early programming days as well as anecdotes, lots of humor and clips of Hodgson doing old stand-up routines (Warning: He liked props).
It's gotten great reviews, and Hodgson seems thrilled to finally bro down with his fans all these years later. He's even started adding a VIP meet-and-greet segment to each event, an add-on ticket that's been selling out in recent cities. "Some people really want to ask more questions and go deeper," he says, "it gives them a chance to do that, if they want to."
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Hodgson couldn't have known in 1988 that his decision to professionally lob one-liners would create a new medium/plaything for so many future comics, but today his influence is everywhere. From Austin's own Master Pancake Theater to the dozens of other improv troupes populating the vastness between LA and New York, publicly mocking bad movies has become a specialty comedic art form.
"The act of sitting and actually watching something is the weird part," notes Joel. That's the root of the appeal. He doesn't think prolonged silence is a comfortable component of the human condition, because instinctively we want to break it. By that logic, film riffing is an early incarnation of our current live-blogging, tweet-happy lifestyle. It speaks to our need to comment on the asinine things we encounter while generally dodging stillness.
Also, it's fun.
Now that MST3K is sealed in the late '80s to mid '90s quadrupedal-latched vault, Joel is working on other projects. Many, like Saturday's show at Texas Theatre and his new college courses on, and workshops for, movie riffing, link back to his television legacy. So while the robot roll call has faded out to space, Hodgson' riffs ring louder than ever. Join him for a screening of the classic MST3K episode The Pod People, his meet-and-great, and then his one-man sacrifice "Riffing Myself" on Saturday night at Texas Theatre. Tickets can be purchased for part, or all, of the evening. They range from $10 to $40.