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In the ’80s, Joel Hodgson was in his 20s living in L.A., working the stand-up comedy circuit. He was offered a sitcom. He turned it down. The sitcom producers offered him double the money. He turned them down. And then he decided to move back to Minneapolis and leave stand-up behind.
Yet it’s from that move back to his home state that history was made and Mystery Science Theater 3000 was eventually born.
“I thought, wouldn’t it be really fun to have companions that you watched a show with?” he says. So in 1988, he devised a concept where along with robot pals Crow and Tom Servo, he would riff on wretched, virtually unwatchable z-grade movies, in the process making them infinitely entertaining.
“Movie riffing,” says Hodgson, “became our own comedic art form.”
The show was picked up by Comedy Central and later moved to Sci-Fi. There was even a movie. But by that time, Hodgson had left MST3K behind.
Not long ago, Hodgson realized he missed the riffing. So he gathered up members of the original cast — Trace Beaulieu, J. Elvis Weinstein, Frank Conniff and Mary Jo Pehl — and created Cinematic Titanic, a live version of movie riffing make famous by MST3K. The show hits GW Lisner Auditorium this Friday, Oct. 15.
The gang will be riffing on War of the Insects, which Hodgson calls “a really crazy movie about a bomber pilot who is a heroin addict, and a beautiful female scientist who is breeding insects to take over the world. It’s from 1966. It’s a beautiful print. It’s from Japan.”
Explaining how the live setup works, Hodgson says, “We flank the screen so three of us are stage right and two of us are stage left so we’re basically on either side of the screen.”
But there are no robots.
“No,” says Hodgson. “Just the people who played the robots.”‘
Cinematic Titantic is Friday, Oct. 15, at 8 p.m. at Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW. Tickets are $25-$35. Call 202-397-SEAT or visit lisner.org.