The Best of the Worst: Joel Hodgson, 'Cinematic Titanic,' at Lisner Auditorium

Joel Hodgson Photo Courtesy Cyberlaff IncIn 1988, Minneapolis comedian Joel Hodgson assembled two robot puppets and started making jokes about bad movies on a show called “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” More than 20 years later, “MST3K” is a beloved cult series, and Hodgson has created a live show called “Cinematic Titanic” with his former co-stars. They’ll be in town lobbing one-liners at the ’68 Japanese stink bomb “War of the Insects” on Friday.

“Cinematic Titanic” started off as a studio show selling DVDs; now it’s primarily a live performance. How did you go from the studio to the stage?
Originally, we were working from what we knew, which was doing “MST” in the studio. We’d done live shows to get the material in shape to do our studio shows. At a certain point, we just said, “Our live shows are a lot better than our studio shows, so why don’t we record those?”

How does having an audience change the show?
It’s like doing five different stand-up routines at once, plus a movie. You lean into jokes differently if you’re out to get a reaction from the audience. Your material is different. The timing is different. It’s a whole different dynamic.

Are you surprised to see that movie riffing is still popular so long after “MST3K”?
Sure. Movie riffing is something that people have always done. I was just the first one to do it on TV. What’s so weird about “MST” and movie riffing is that it’s not dying. It’s flourishing. Every year we sell more and more “MST” DVDs. It’s never gone backwards.

It’s always struck me that “MST3K” was never really cynical. You seem to actually have a true affection for bad movies.
I think that’s the secret. If we treated it like we’re dispensing justice, people would not want to spend time with us. You’re a companion watching a movie with somebody, and people just don’t like spending time with people who are that cynical. Riffing is about collaborating with the movie.

» Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW; Oct. 15, 8 p.m., $10-$35; 202-994-6800. (Foggy Bottom)

Written by Express contributor Stephen M. Deusner
Photo courtesy Cyberlaff Inc.

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