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 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," Hodgson said last week in a phone interview.
"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.
"The tour will keep going with new people, as it's designed to do. But this is my last one," 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 hapless janitor Joel Robinson (Hodgson) is jettisoned by mad scientists and forced to watch atrocious B-movies while they monitor his mind. To keep his sanity, 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" debuted on a Minneapolis UHF channel on Thanksgiving 1988. A year later, the series made its national premiere on the Comedy Channel, later known as 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. After its second cancellation in 1999, many of the cast members continued their movie-mocking ways through other projects.
When Hodgson left the show in 1993, head writer Mike Nelson replaced him as the mad scientists' new victim and continued in the role through the Sci-Fi 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 that drew more than 48,000 backers and raised $5,764,229. 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 on Netflix in 2017. The series was renewed later that year for a second season.
The featured film on the tour, 1986's “No Retreat, No Surrender,” follows a martial arts-loving teen who trains under Bruce Lee’s ghost. It features a fresh-faced Jean-Claude Van Damme as a hit man and a Bruce Lee lookalike who looks nothing like Bruce Lee.
With Hodgson as host, the latest tour has his movie-riffing robot friends putting on a robot circus. The show features new co-stars but is devised much like a classic "MST3K" episode, with sketches breaking up the B-movie mockery.
"They've done so well that we'll try to integrate them into the new shows as well," he said of the new cast. "It makes me feel really old 'cause they're like 30 and I'm gonna be 60 next month ... but it's wonderful."
Hodgson said Netflix opted not to continue with "MST3K," so he is searching for a new home 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: www.OKCBroadway.com or 594-8300.