Joel Gordon Hodgson
February 20, 1960
Stevens Point, Wisconsin, U.S.
|Alma mater||Bethel University (Minnesota)|
|Occupation(s)||Writer, comedian, actor|
Joel Hodgson (born February 20, 1960) is an American writer, comedian and television actor. He is best known for creating Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) and starring in it as the character Joel Robinson. In 2007, MST3K was listed as "one of the top 100 television shows of all time" by Time.
From 2007 to 2013, Hodgson was part of the "movie riffing" project Cinematic Titanic with several of his fellow MST3K alumni, performing live and producing content for DVDs and direct download. He has also served as Creative Lead for Media at Pennsylvania technology firm Cannae.
Early life and career
Hodgson was born on February 20, 1960, in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and later moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin. He was raised in an Evangelical Christian upbringing, and later claimed that the various shows his church would put on had a profound influence on his desire to become an entertainer. Hodgson began his career in seventh grade as a magician and ventriloquist. Joel performed for local events in Green Bay, and attended Ashwaubenon High School. Upon graduation, Hodgson moved to Minneapolis to attend Bethel University, Minnesota, to study Theatre and Mass Media. While there, Hodgson further developed his magic act by adding comedy and began opening for musical acts at Bethel as well as performing in coffee houses and comedy clubs. Hodgson cites a Theatre of the Absurd class at Bethel taught by Dr. David Horn for helping him crystallize the meaning of his comedy. In 1981 he won the Campus Comedy Contest and then the first annual Twin Cities Comedy Invitational in 1982. In November of the same year Hodgson moved to Los Angeles where he became a regular performer at the Comedy Store and the Hollywood Magic Castle, as well as the Comedy Magic Club. At the Comedy Magic Club, Hodgson was spotted by Late Night with David Letterman producer Barry Sand and three months later at age 22 had his network television debut. He later made four other appearances on the Letterman show, as well as four on Saturday Night Live as a guest act. Hodgson also was a featured performer on HBO's "Eighth Annual Young Comedians Special" hosted by John Candy along with Bill Maher, Paula Poundstone, and the Amazing Johnathan.
He worked at the Comedy Store while in LA, also doing traveling stand-up in San Jose, San Francisco, Detroit, Kansas City and Minneapolis. Hodgson left stand-up in 1985, citing the need for a creative sabbatical, and moved back to Minneapolis.
Between 1984 and 1988 – Hodgson's 'official' return to comedy – he built and sold sculptures, worked at a T-shirt factory, designed toys, and began designing and building props (including robots) for other comedians. In 1986 he co-wrote an HBO special with Jerry Seinfeld. He was also considered for the role of Woody Boyd in Cheers. He met Jim Mallon in 1987, and Mallon became production manager at the St. Paul UHF station KTMA Channel 23 in 1988. Hodgson was the first choice to portray "Philo" in the "Weird Al" Yankovic film UHF, but at the time of the filming in 1988, he had begun the production of a new form of television program for KTMA.
Mystery Science Theater 3000
Building on his gift for designing toys and other gizmos, Hodgson built three robot puppets and created MST3K in 1988. He starred as the show's long-suffering but inventive protagonist, Joel Robinson, who in the backstory is responsible for creating his own robot companions. Hodgson cites the 1972 film Silent Running influenced the premise of the show.
MST3K originally aired on KTMA-TV, before becoming one of the first two shows to be picked up by the Comedy Channel, the forerunner of Comedy Central upon starting operations in 1989. The other show, also created and written by Hodgson, was the short-lived Higgins Boys and Gruber, a sketch comedy program that starred Steve Higgins, David Anthony Higgins and Dave Allen.
Hodgson surprised many fans when he left MST3K after its 107th episode, Mitchell in 1993. Hodgson's departure was scripted into the episode with the robot, Gypsy, ejecting Joel from the Satellite of Love in an escape pod after incorrectly believing Joel's captors were plotting to kill him. Michael J. Nelson replaced Hodgson as host for the remainder of the series' run. In contemporary interviews, Hodgson stated he was uncomfortable with acting and being in front of the camera. In 1999, he added that he and producer Jim Mallon had been fighting over creative control of MST3K. His departure allowed the show to continue and gave him the opportunity to focus on his preferred creation and production work rather than on performing, which he did only reluctantly.
Hodgson later made a surprise guest appearance in the season premiere for the final season of MST3K ("Soultaker", episode 1001). The original MST3K ended its run in 1999.
Hodgson said in 2008 that he felt leaving MST3K "was a bit of a personal tragedy" and that he had "...created the appearance to the press that I had other plans, but I didn't. It was all to keep [MST3K] alive." He also stated that he felt his run on MST3K "...was the perfect job." In a separate interview that year, Hodgson said of his departure from MST3K, "I was, like, totally happy at Mystery Science Theater. I loved it. I wanted to stay, but I was basically having a fight with my partner, Jim Mallon. So we weren't getting along and so I just felt like — I thought it really could possibly jeopardize the show. It would have been easy to create factions out of the group. And by that time it would not have been a fun show to work on. And so, I felt like I saw it coming and I just thought [leaving] was the best thing at the time."
Work after MST3K
After MST3K, Hodgson formed Visual Story Tools (VST) with his brother Jim Hodgson. They created a special for an interactive sketch comedy program called The TV Wheel for HBO, which Joel produced and hosted. It aired only once, on Comedy Central, after the last new Comedy Central episode of MST3K.
Over the years Hodgson and his brother Jim maintained a side project that utilized the repurposing of movie footage with digital effects; codenamed "jollyfilter."
In 2007, he portrayed Blackbeard the pirate in two episodes of The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd and recently joined fellow MST3K alum Frank Conniff's monthly comedy revue Cartoon Dump, helming his self-created puppet "Dumpster Diver Dan."
In 2015, he appeared as Zalien Fletcher, a long-haired, laid-back, dim-witted engineer on the Paul Feig produced space comedy Other Space, which premiered on Yahoo! Screen on April 14, 2015. Fellow Mystery Science Theater 3000 alum Trace Beaulieu also appears as Zalien's robot pal Art, an homage to MST3K.
On October 30, 2007, Hodgson announced he was starting a new show with the same "riffing on bad movies" premise as MST3K called Cinematic Titanic, together with former MST3K cast and crew members Trace Beaulieu, J. Elvis Weinstein, Frank Conniff and Mary Jo Pehl.
In 2012, he began touring a one-man show detailing his life and career through slides, video, and live interaction titled Riffing Myself.
Cinematic Titanic completed the final tour on December 30, 2013.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 revival
On November 10, 2015, Joel Hodgson launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring back MST3K for another season. The Kickstarter closed with over $6.3 million in funding (including "add-on rewards" offered through a separate site), allowing Hodgson to plan to produce fourteen new episodes.
The project was released on Netflix as Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return in April, 2017, and stars comedian Jonah Ray as Jonah Heston, alongside original co-star robots (puppets voiced by actors) Tom Servo, Crow, and Gypsy, much like when Hodgson hosted the show himself. Hodgson himself makes an appearance on this series as "Ardy," although he is hidden under a HAZMAT suit in this character. The series was met with mainly positive reviews, and has been certified "Fresh" by Rotten Tomatoes, and featured a nationwide live tour, titled "MST3K Live! Watch Out for Snakes! Tour." Hodgson was present for each show, marking the first time he's hosted the show in several years, and his first time hosting alongside Jonah Ray. The revived series ran for two seasons on Netflix, ending in November 2018.
On April 7, 2021, Hodgson launched a second Kickstarter campaign to make another revival of the series, intended for a new service called the Gizmoplex, with a possibility that he would host two episodes. The initial $2 million goal was met within the first 25 hours, with a total of $6.5 million at the end, enabling thirteen new episodes, two featuring Hodgson as Joel Robinson, a 3D film, and Halloween and Christmas specials. The season soft-launched to Gizmoplex members on March 4, 2022 with the season's public premiere occurring on May 6, 2022. The first episode of the season in which Hodgson reprises his role as Robinson is the season's sixth, featuring the 2019 film Demon Squad. The episode premiered on June 24, 2022.
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