Remember Mystery Science Theater 3000, which ran on Comedy Central and later on the SciFi (now SyFy) Channel? No? Then stop reading now — unless you have a thing for indie and oddball films and live in the Los Angeles area, in which case you should read ahead for the information on Cinefamily.
I adored Mystery Science Theater 3000 (hereinafter to be referred to as MST3K), especially in the early seasons, when standup comic Joel Hodgson played Joel Robinson, an ordinary guy whose mad scientist bosses (“the mads”) had trapped him on a satellite (the Satellite of Love, a Lou Reed reference) and forced him to watch really, really bad films. This was just an excuse for Hodgson and a couple of robot puppets, Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo, to make snarky comments about the film and do skits during breaks, but was one of the funniest and most charming shows ever on television, in part due to Hodgson’s low-key comic style and in part because of the show’s brilliant staff of improv comic writers, some of whom provided the voices for the robots. Hodgson left the show after a few seasons, leaving the lead role to head writer Mike Nelson, who was fine but, well, just not Joel Hodgson.
Anyway, Saturday afternoon Amy and I got to see Hodgson give a two-hour-plus talk at a local repertory cinema company called Cinefamily (check out their Web site at that link), which specializes in indie and oddball movies. Hodgson spoke about his life, his career as a standup comic, and his role in creating MST3K, all accompanied by an hilarious Powerpoint presentation illustrating the talk with photos, clippings and (yes) graphs. Hodgson, now in his early 50s, was relaxed, spoke casually to the audience from in front of the stage, and was screamingly funny. After Amy and I saw Book of Mormon at the Pantages a few weeks ago I told friends that I laughed harder than I’d laughed in years, but Saturday afternoon I laughed harder still. Hodgson is still at the peak of his comic abilities and for anyone who, like me, remembers MST3K with fondness provided a jolt of both comedy and nostalgia that I would have paid several times the $14 ticket price for. (Those who sat in the couch seats up front really did pay quite a few times more than that.) Then, for those who either had never seen the show or who, like me, wanted to see it again, the theater showed their classic 1991 riff on the seasonally appropriate Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, best known for featuring a very young Pia Zadora. (Those of you under a certain age are now saying, “Who?”)
Although Hodgson is now involved in the intermittent Cinematic Titanic project, an updated MST3K consisting of DVDs and live shows, I miss seeing him on the Satellite of Love with the robots, a concept so warmly hilarious that I’m pretty sure Cinematic Titanic couldn’t possibly be coming close to capturing its nearly indescribable allure. (I really ought to watch it sometime.) It’s too late to catch Hodgson’s presentation yourself — the last show was Saturday evening — but if you live near LA check out Cinefamily. They’re a nonprofit organization and need donations (tax deductible!) to modernize their equipment or they won’t be able to show recent films. Amy and I both gave. They also have an upcoming 24-hour Internet telethon that you can read about on the page linked above. Help them out, because Amy and I plan to go back more than once and we don’t want them to disappear right after we’ve discovered them.