Joel Hodgson (born February 20, 1960) is the creator of Cinematic Titanic. An American writer, comedian and television actor, he is best known for creating Mystery Science Theater 3000 and starring in it as the character Joel Robinson.
Hodgson was born in Stevens Point, Wisconsin in 1960. In second grade he created the "Cracker Cracker," which was a hand attached to a board. He attended Ashwaubenon High School, where he began his career in theater as a stage manager. In 1975, as a sophomore, he was named Junior Magician of the Year. After graduating, he attended Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, majoring in speech communication. In 1981, he won the Bethel College Campus Comedy Contest.
Hodgson's standup was a prop-comedy-oriented act. He developed a persona called "Agent J."
He began performing locally in Minnesota, regularly appearing at the Minneapolis Cabaret Club. Later, he was booked to headline the opening of The Comedy Gallery on March 18, 1982. On September 26, 1982, he won the First Annual Twin Cities Comedy Invitational, beating some well-known comedians in the process. He took this opportunity to relocate to Los Angeles.
Hodgson was given a gig at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles within a week and had arranged an audition to be on Late Night with David Letterman. He got booked and made his national television debut on February 15, 1983. He soon appeared on a few HBO and Showtime comedy specials.
He made his debut on Saturday Night Live on November 12, 1983, with host Teri Garr. An infamous prop Hodgson used during the performance was a fake time bomb. During the act, Hodgson would announce that he only had three minutes to perform. He would then reveal the time bomb and proclaim that "we ALL have three minutes." The prop department thought they could make a better time bomb than the one Hodgson had, which was used in the show. They gave Hodgson the prop as a gift, but he decided that he liked his own bomb better and left the NBC prop in his hotel room. When he arrived in Minneapolis, he was greeted by the FBI. It appears that a cleaning lady found the bomb, thought it was real, and three floors had to be evacuated. The next day, the New York Daily News headline announced that "SNL Comedian Bombs in New York."
Hodgson continued appearing on David Letterman and Saturday Night Live through the next year. In one SNL appearance, he mentioned his Mystery Science Lab, a name he would use later for MST3K. In the summer of 1984, NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff offered him a role in a sitcom called High School USA. Hodgson turned down the project because he believed it wasn't funny. Believing it to be a negotiation ploy, NBC doubled the money. At this point, Hodgson decided that Los Angeles was phony and prepared to return to Minnesota.
He made one more appearance on national television on September 18, 1984, on David Letterman. On November 4, 1984, he did an act called "Hello, I must be going," which was his farewell to standup comedy. After the show, the props he used were auctioned off.
Back in MinneapolisEdit
Having returned from L.A., Hodgson took odd jobs and found ways to keep his creative mind active, like ironing decals at a t-shirt factory, repairing Gobot costumes used in Tonka trade shows, and building and selling one-of-a-kind robot sculptures at a Minneapolis store called Props.
In November 1985, he met Jerry Seinfeld after his performance at The Comedy Gallery. The two comedians would then work together when Hodgson co-wrote and appeared on Jerry's HBO special, which aired in 1987.
During the spring of 1987, Hodgson taught a class called "Creative Stand-Up and Smartology." One of his students was a young comedian named Josh Weinstein. It was also about this time that Hodgson met Trace Beaulieu at Eugene Huddleston's improvisational workshop that they both attended.
By June 1987, Hodgson returned to standup comedy, periodically performing at the Ha-Ha Club. His new act was called "Heavy Levity" and was more prop-oriented than that of his "Agent J" routine. He was now an inventor, claiming his props were created in his Mystery Science Lab of the Gizmonic Institute. During a month in the spring of 1988, he did a short tour to prepare for his return to comedy. At the end of April, Hodgson made his official return to comedy with a show at The Comedy Gallery.
Joel Hodgson met Jim Mallon in 1985 or 1986 when Mallon rented some studio space on Robert Street to edit his film Blood Hook next to a factory where Hodgson was working. Mallon eventually became station manager of KTMA, a local low-rated UHF station. In the summer of 1988, Mallon needed something to fill two hours on Sunday night. Hodgson proposed the idea of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
In September 1988, work began on the pilot, which featured Trace Beaulieu as the robot Crow and Josh Weinstein as the robots Gypsum and Beeper. The first three episodes were taped sometime in October 1988, with the first two debuting as part of a Thanksgiving science-fiction movie marathon.
As MST3K evolved, with some minor changes such as Servo's voice becoming deeper and the introduction of mad scientists Dr. Clayton Forrester and Dr. Laurence Erhardt, Hodgson's main source of income remained standup. He would perform regularly at the Comedy Gallery.
On March 25, 1989, Hodgson taped a pilot with co-host Sue Scott for Seriously Weird Magazine at KSTP-TV, Channel 5 studios. The producers, including Scott Hansen, were hoping this would be the first comedy series syndicated by Hubbard Broadcasting.
The final episode of the first season included the announcement that the show was going on hiatus and would be back following the summer. It was announced that KTMA was going bankrupt shortly after the show's departure.
In September, HBO agreed to pick up the show for 13 episodes, with the agreement that it be produced in Minnesota. Best Brains, Inc. (the company formed by Mallon and Hodgson) built a studio inside a 7500-square-foot warehouse, which was sublet from Beaulieu's brother Bryan, in an Eden Prairie industrial park. Production began in October 1989.
At this point, Hodgson still had his hand in standup. On October 21, he was taped as he performed on stage at the KCTA-TV Land o' Loons III Showcase. The show aired December 6.
MST3K finally premiered on the Comedy Channel on November 18. The Comedy Channel initially promoted it as a children's show. During this first season, the show was given mostly public-domain movies until the ninth episode (Project Moonbase), when movies were likely taken from HBO's library. The first season was well received by fans and some critics. Despite the success, they were not signed to another season. Fans launched a mail-in campaign, and MST3K was picked up for another 13 episodes in July 1990. Josh Weinstein left the show around this time due to creative differences; the character of Dr. Erhardt was replaced by TV's Frank (played by Frank Conniff).
The second season was even more well received by fans and critics. In November 1990, HBO executives made a trek to Minnesota and offered MST3K a 3-season contract for 24 episodes a season. During the third season, Comedy Central ran a highly rated Thanksgiving marathon of episodes, which would become a tradition for future years.
Departure from MST3KEdit
In early 1992, BBI had discussions with Paramount Pictures (including executive Brandon Tartikoff) about creating a motion picture based on the show. The studio wanted the movie to be about the origins of the show with Hodgson's character being shot into space, while BBI wanted it to be similar to the television show. Paramount would also not give BBI creative control and wanted the option to recast anyone. Best Brains turned them down. Hodgson has said he didn't want to become a "movie star."
On May 11, 1993, Comedy Central sent out a press release announcing that Hodgson was stepping down as host of MST3K.
The fifth and final season for Hodgson began airing July 17, 1993. Hodgson's final episode (Show #512, Mitchell) was filmed in July and aired in October of that year. Though initially it was stated he would continue in an off-camera role, he took hiatus after production was completed and eventually left the show altogether.
Hodgson's first post-MST3K project was as a consultant for Paula Poundstone's new talk show, which was canceled after two episodes. He and his brother Jim then formed Visual Story Tools. Their first production was the X-Box R & D which later became known as the TV Wheel. It was a large set that would film shows live with no editing or post production. The concept was a 32-foot turntable with a stationary camera in the middle. A pilot was taped for HBO in March of 1995, but no agreement could be made when to air the show. It finally aired for the first and only time on Comedy Central immediately following the final new episode of MST3K.
In the summer of 1996, Hodgson developed an idea for a show with no real sets, instead using environments that were projected using a process he called "Hodgson Backscreen '90." "Static-A-Matic" was another name. Hodgson directed and wrote Statical Planets around this idea. The movie featured Hodgson, Frank Conniff, SNL alum Morwenna Banks, MST alum Tim Scott, "Let's Bowl"'s Rich Kronfeld, and Nick Bakay (the voice of the cat Salem from Sabrina the Teenage Witch). The film was never released in full.
After leaving MST3K, Hodgson would make guest appearances on other television shows. One of his first appearances was on Space Ghost Coast to Coast (after writing an episode). He also had a recurring role on the critically praised Freaks and Geeks as a disco-loving clothing store owner. He eventually came full circle and appeared on MST3K one more time (Show #1001, Soultaker), though he was not involved in any theater segments.
Behind the CamerasEdit
After Statical Planets, Hodgson mostly did consulting work for other shows. He was the "magic consultant" on Sabrina, The Teenage Witch. He got a job as a script doctor for a while (one such script was George of the Jungle). He co-wrote the direct-to-video Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves in 1997. He was involved with the creation of Robot Wars. He worked with Penn & Teller on occasion and also did work on the game show You Don't Know Jack. He was working on Jimmy Kimmel Live as a producer, writer, and effects director. Hodgson and Jim Hodgson also executive produced The Discovery Channel's Everything You Need to Know.
On October 30, 2007, Hodgson announced the creation of Cinematic Titanic on the project's website. Joining him in this new movie-riffing direct-to-DVD milieu were MST3K alums Beaulieu, Weinstein, Conniff, and Mary Jo Pehl. On Friday, December 7th, Cinematic Titanic's live world premiere was held at the ILM Presidio campus.