More than 30 years ago, stand-up comedian Joel Hodgson created a unique comedy show for a St. Paul, Minn., television station. “Mystery Science Theater 3000” featured Hodgson and a pair of robots forced to watch old B-movies, with only their running commentary keeping them sane. MST3K became a cult TV show, moved to cable networks like Comedy Central and Syfy, and even produced a feature film.
The brand was revived in 2015 after Hodgson helped organize one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever. New episodes appeared on Netflix, and MST3K began performing live shows. The latest tour, “The Great Cheesy Movie Circus,” is Hodgson’s public farewell as he transitions to a more behind-the-scenes role. MST3K brings the gang to the area for an event at 8 p.m. Oct. 22 in the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda.
Question: What’s your creative process when you do a show like this?
Answer: What’s nice is that since we’ve brought back (MST3K) with our Kickstarter, we’ve done 20 feature-length shows and six live shows. Our creative team has done all this, and they’re at the height of their powers. Not that it doesn’t take a lot of time and talent to do it, but once we select the movie, we have a creative engine that goes to work on writing the riffs. There’s about 10 writers, each producing about 700 riffs, which combine to 7,000 riffs that we then cull down to our favorites. What I spent most of the time is developing the staging and the sketches for the tour. Since this is my farewell tour, I wanted to spend time with it and figure out the best way to do sketches.
Q: With the live show, are there opportunities to improv if the performers feel it?
A: Jonah Ray, who hosts the Netflix show, says that we dance with the movies. We try to figure out where the spaces are where we can riff and assign those parts to different performances. We have a script that’s really detailed. And, as you know, if you’ve seen anyone riff a movie and they don’t figure it out, they talk all over each other, and it’s a big traffic jam creatively. The real thing that’s going on when we perform live is a lot of editing because the audience is laughing over a lot of setups for other jokes. We can’t stop the movie to wait for them to get done laughing. There’s a lot of other things at play, so there’s a level of trying to amuse the other performers [by surprising] them. You’ll do things differently to keep things fresh. It’s a living thing, and no show is the same. I feel like when people walk away, they’ve seen a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Q: Is it harder to do MST3K now that social media and YouTube have given everybody a platform to riff on culture?
A: It’s funny that "Mystery Science Theater" is the great-granddaddy of all that stuff. I’m proud that we anticipated it. It’s been 30 years, so it’s great to be acknowledged.
Q: Given the format of the show, do you ever get hecklers at the live performances?
A: It’s like going to see a band and bringing a guitar. There just isn’t a spot for you. Our audience is pretty smart, and the dumb ones usually get hit by a truck on the way in.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live: “The Great Cheesy Movie Circus”
8 p.m. Oct. 22 at the Riviera Theatre (67 Webster St., North Tonawanda). Tickets are $38.50 to $43.50 with VIP packages available (box office, rivieratheatre.org).