Interview: 'MST3K' mastermind Joel Hodgson brings farewell trek to OKC area with 'Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live: The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour'

Joel Hodgson returns as Joel Robinson in "Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live: The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour." [Photo by Brandi Morris]

An abbreviated version of this story appears in Friday's Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.

Final bows: 'MST3K' ringmaster Joel Hodgson is on his farewell trek with 'The Great Cheese Movie Circus Tour'

For three decades, Joel Hodgson has been the ringmaster of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," a cult-classic television series that has taken on with fearless funniness B-movies like "Attack of the Giant Leeches," "Overdrawn at the Memory Bank" and "Hercules Unchained."

The creator of the Emmy-nominated movie-riffing series also has relished opportunities over the years to take the show on the road, as with the current “Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live: The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour."

"We did the first live 'Mystery Science Theater' back when we were making the show originally in Minneapolis - it was probably our second or third season - and we learned that it translates beautifully to the stage because our show is so much like a live stage show anyway. Everything is done in camera; we don't have an post (production) really to speak of," Hodgson said last week in a phone interview from the road in Spokane, Washington.

"It's even more fun 'cause you're watching it with 1,200 people that think like you do and like the show as well. So, it tends to have a real unifying effect on the fan base - and that was the job. That was kind of my goal is to go back out, do this tour, and really just direct people to the ongoing series. For me, it's not a nostalgia tour because we're still actively making 'Mystery Science Theater.' We're still producing new shows; it's alive and in the world."

As part of OKC Broadway's 2019-2020 Encore Series, the latest live show from "Mystery Science Theater 3000" – or “MST3K,” as it is affectionately known – will pitch its tent Thursday at Rose State College's Hudiburg Chevrolet Center in Midwest City.

"We worked really to hard to realize the show for a theatrical experience, and that's really what you get. You really are getting to see us in action making a new 'Mystery Science Theater,' and I think people find that fascinating," Hodgson said.

"And it's a show where the jokes are really fast and furious. We might do between 600 and 700 jokes a show, so there's a lot of material there."
Nate Begle plays Crow in "Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live: The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour." [Photo by Brandi Morris]

Farewell tour

The comedian, writer and actor is taking his final bows on "The Great Cheesy Movie Circus," which he said is his final live tour.

"The tour will keep going with new people, as it's designed to do. But this is my last one. ... I'm so grateful to get to do it. And it's so fun to do such a broad tour in a lot of places and get to meet a lot of people. It's wonderful," Hodgson said.

"My goal for bringing back 'Mystery Science Theater' was to refresh it with new people. We're all in our late 50s and early 60s, the original people, so the idea was to bring it back and get new people involved - and we've done that."

Created by Hodgson, "MST3K" is set in the "not-too-distant" future on a space vessel called the Satellite of Love, where a hapless janitor, Joel Robinson (Hodgson), has been jettisoned by mad scientists and forced to watch atrocious B-movies and educational short films while they monitor his mind. To keep his sanity against the bad-movie barrage, Joel built a pair of wise-cracking robots, Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot - played by puppets - to join him in mocking the films.

"MST3K" originally debuted on a Minneapolis UHF channel on Thanksgiving 1988. A year later, the series made its national premiere on the Comedy Channel, which eventually became Comedy Central. After it was canceled in 1997, a fan-driven campaign prompted the Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy) to pick up the Peabody Award-winning program for another three years. After its second cancellation in 1999, many of the cast members continued their movie-mocking ways through projects like Cinematic Titanic and RiffTrax.

When Hodgson left the show in 1993, series head writer Mike Nelson replaced him as the mad scientists' new cinematic victim and continued in the role through its Sci-Fi Channel run. In 2015, Shout! Factory and Hodgson formed a new partnership to acquire the global rights and bring back "MST3K."

They launched a record-setting “Kickstarter campaign to #BringBackMST3K, which drew more than 48,000 backers and raised $5,764,229, surpassing the record set by the “Veronica Mars” movie, which raised $5,702,153. Counting another $600,000 from online merchandise sales, the crowdfunding efforts raked in more than $6.3 million, enough to fund 14 new episodes.

With a new cast featuring Jonah Ray, Patton Oswalt and Felicia Day, the comeback episodes of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” debuted as a Netflix original series in 2017 and was renewed later that year for a second season.

"(The fans) they really invested in it in a big way, and they did it with their dollars. They were the ones who helped us raise the money for the series, and then that begat a comic book and the tours, etc. So, they're really into it, and again, it's so much about them being involved in the first place," Hodgson said. "We have 20 feature-length episodes on Netflix, and this is our third live tour."
Joel Hodgson returns as Joel Robinson in "Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live: The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour." [Photo by Brandi Morris]

New home

With Hodgson as host, the latest tour has his movie-riffing robot friends Crow and Tom Servo - along with Gypsy, the 'bot who pilots the ship - putting on a robot circus. The show is devised much like a classic "MST3K" episode, with sketches and comedy bits breaking up the B-movie mockery.

The featured film on the tour, 1986's “No Retreat, No Surrender,” follows a martial arts-loving teen who trains under the tutelage of Bruce Lee’s ghost. It features a fresh-faced Jean-Claude Van Damme as a brooding hit man named Ivan Kraschinsky the Russian and a Bruce Lee lookalike who, in classic B-movie fashion, actually looks nothing like Bruce Lee.

For the first time, Hodgson said his co-stars were cast through auditions.

"All the other times in the past, they've all been people that I've known and friends of mine. And this is the first time we did a New York casting and kind of went to that talent pool. And it just worked out. We just picked our favorite people and it turns out they were all big 'Mystery Science Theater' fans. So, our whole cast is new to this tour, but they've done so well that we'll try to integrate them into the new shows as well," he said.

"It makes me feel really old 'cause they're like 30 and I'm gonna be 60 next month ... but it's wonderful. They were kids when 'MST' came out - or shortly after - and a lot of them ... they watched with their parents."

Along with the new cast members, the show itself will have a new home. Hodgson said Netflix opted not to continue with "MST3K," so he is searching for a new outlet for the movie-riffing program. With the current explosion of cable channels and streaming services, he is confident he will find a new way to bring the Satellite of Love shenanigans to fans.

"It's really funny because right now when people ask, I always say, 'Yeah, we're gonna make more shows,' and I really don't honestly know where that's gonna be. But I'm kind of not worried about it because there's so many places right now. There's so many ways for people to get it, so it just seems like that's not an obstacle anymore like it used 30 years ago when we started. ... Now, it's not so much an issue, I think it's more that we have a fan base that wants more shows and we just have to make it an easy way for them to get it," he said.

Until then, Hodgson is marking a personal milestone with his live farewell shows.

"I come out and sing the theme song, which has always been on my bucket list, to sing and play the guitar. So, I'm happy to get to do that," Hodgson said.


“Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live: The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour”

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

Where: Rose State College Hudiburg Chevrolet Center, 6000 S Trosper Place in Midwest City.

Tickets and information: or 594-8300.


Related Photos
Joel Hodgson returns as Joel Robinson in "Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live: The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour." [Photo by Brandi Morris]
Nate Begle plays Crow in "Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live: The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour." [Photo by Brandi Morris]
Joel Hodgson returns as Joel Robinson in "Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live: The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour." [Photo by Brandi Morris]