In the not-too-distant future, you will have read this article and said
out loud "This was the most interesting thing I've read about Mystery
Science Theater 3000 in my entire life!" Joel Hodgson's creation of
this cult phenomenon Minnesota-based television show is the ultimate
example of DIY comedy. Here are 15 facts you didn't know about MST3K.
15) Joel Hodgson Was An Accomplished Standup Before The Show
Joel Hodgson's stand-up routine was like a mix between Kaufman, Carrot
Top, and The Amazing Jonathan. He had been featured on SNL, Letterman,
and HBO several times before he created MST3K. His instinct to showcase
prop building, silly inventions, and wordplay from this SNL season nine
guest performance from 1984 makes it painfully apparent that MST3K was
a true passion project.
14) Hodgson Attempted To Produce The Cheapest Show Possible
Hodgson told Flavorwire, "Mystery Science Theater came from me saying,
`What's the cheapest possible show I could create that would still be
novel and bring something new, kind of have a new angle of doing
something funny?' And so it started with me trying to think of a show
that - well, it all just came together, basically, at that point when I
realized it could be like hosting a movie show, and if I utilized the
silhouette thing, the characters will kind of run not only through the
host segments, but through the entire movie, and they'll be, like,
13) The Show Was Originally On Public Broadcast
Joel knew pitching Hollywood on his show would be difficult, but
because of his appearances on HBO, Letterman, and SNL, Hodgson had
become Minneapolis comedy royalty. Producers at a UHF channel called
KTMA agreed to run the show. Hodgson says the entire concept of the
show was built as it aired at KTMA. "That's really where we figured it
all out: the theme song, the story, and even movie riffing, which
wasn't super clear when we started because I remember thinking, `Man,
how much can we do? How much riffing can we do? At what point is it
gonna become a big distraction to the audience? Can they multitask? Can
they hear? Can they grasp what we're doing?'"
12) The Show Had A Hotline For Audience Feedback
A phone number appeared on the screen during the first two episodes at
the suggestion of producer Jim Mallon. The phone line was connected to
an answering machine so people could call and say whatever they wanted.
"when we checked the answering machine on Monday, it was full," Hodgson
says. "So people just reacted to it. They thought either they hated it
or they liked it. Most people liked it. Obviously, when people like
something, they don't usually comment - they just ignore it"
11) Joel Hodgson Inadvertently Created A Bomb Threat
In 1983, Hodgson brought a fake time bomb on SNL for a joke about the
audience having "three minutes left." However, his hotel did not find
it funny when they found it in his room after he had checked out. The
hotel was evacuated and the bomb squad was called in to disarm the
explosive. Joel had no idea he had left the prop behind until federal
agents met him at the airport. Surely they must have all had a big
10) The Show Was Improvised Until It Left KTMA
Joel Hodgson had focused mainly on improv during his time producing the
show at KTMA. He told Flavorwire, "It seemed impossible to write at
that time, so we didn't write anything. We really just went in and
winged it. But at the end of KTMA, it really became clear, and
especially when we cut together a sell-tape to sell to Comedy Channel.
When we cut together, we cut together, like four minutes of best
moments, then it dawned on me - that's when I finally went, `Oh, yeah,
I get it - the whole show's gotta be like this.' You know what I mean?
It's gotta be all riffing. And so when we went to Comedy Channel, I
just said, `Oh, we have to start writing this because my friends are
gonna see it. It's gonna be a national show, and we have to just make
9) The Show Was An Instant Hit
When the show premiered on the Comedy Channel (now Comedy Central),
critics and audiences applauded its originality. Entertainment Weekly
even named it one of the top ten best shows of the year alongside The
Simpsons and Twin Peaks.
8) There Are More Riffs Than You Might Realize
Hodgson said that in the first season of the show on Comedy Channel,
there were "four, five hundred riffs per show." But by the time they
were in their second season, complete with an increased budget and
newly found media attention, they were riffing about 700 times per
episode. Now, that's a stiff riff regiment.
7) Joel Doesn't Believe The Movies Are Inherently Bad
Joel explained in a recent interview that he always felt he wasn't
trying to tear down the movies. He said, "Anybody who's savvy about the
media and about movies knows, hey, a lot of these movies were made in
five or six days. They weren't designed to do anything other than get a
bunch of teenagers to come to a drive-in movie, and so to treat them
like they did something wrong or they don't deserve to exist and that
riffing is serving them some kind of justice isn't it at all. Movie
riffing is a way of creating new entertainment with old entertainment
by collaborating with it."
6) Frank Zappa Tried To Get The Writers To Develop His Script
Kevin Murphy, the voice of Tom Servo, was in his office one day when a
woman called saying she was from Warner Bros and that Frank Zappa was
interested in the crew developing a script. Murphy thought the entire
call was a joke so he said to have Frank call him directly. Murphy, a
Zappa superfan, received a call from Frank an hour later saying, "You
know, when I knew that you guys were cool was when I turned on the
show, and there's Joel, and he's wearing a clown outfit and he's
roasting a puppet over an open fire. I knew you guys were too f***ing
weird for words." The Zappa project never came to fruition as Zappa
died shortly after.
5) Why Joel Left The Show
Joel created the show with his co-producer and voice of Gypsy, Jim
Mallon. After a few years, Joel says the relationship became strained,
and it was evident that a potentially show-ending fight was on its way.
Hodgson explained, "I felt that leaving the show would allow the show
to keep going, and if I would've stayed and dug in and fought, it
really might've hurt the show, and the show living on was really
important to me, so I left so the show could keep going, basically."
4) The Show Is Minnesota Born And Bred
As part of the deal made with the Comedy Channel Hodgson insisted the
production of the show be kept in Minneapolis, leading to that warm
fuzzy feeling you get while watching it, knowing the stink of Hollywood
hasn't tainted its purity.
3) The 3000 Was An Inside Joke
Joel Hodgson told The Art Of The Title, "The 3000 was a joke on all the
people that were attaching the year 2000 to various programs. In the
late '80s it was everywhere: `America 2000' was something that George
Bush Sr. was talking about a lot so I thought, `Wouldn't it be cool if
I name it 3000 just to confound people?' But there was a lot of
confusion about it. I never meant for the show to take place in the
year 3000. That simply makes no sense! If it is the year 3000, then why
are all the films and the references about the end of the 20th century?
For the concept of the show, it's just a series number like Galaxie 500
or HAL 9000. Fords aren't from the year 500 and the HAL wasn't from the
year 9000. In hindsight, I think it's likely that the Mads were trying
to snazz up the name of the show by tacking on the 3000."
2) Jonah Ray Picked His Robot Friends
Joel Hodgson met comedian and Season 11 host Jonah Ray when he was a
guest on the Nerdist podcast. Joel was immediately taken with Ray, who
was already a bonified MST3K mega-fan. When season 11 finally was
greenlighted, Joel handed the reigns over to Jonah, trusting him to
host and pick the voices of his new robot companions. Jonah chose
comedians and friends Baron Vaughn as Tom Servo and Hampton Yount as
1) The Inspiration Behind The Look Of The Show
Joel Hodgson spoke about his DIY design style saying, "I love that
homemade aesthetic - an aesthetic where you can see the seams. The
example that comes to mind is an SNL sketch from the seventies when
Frank Zappa was the musical guest. It was called "Night on Freak
Mountain" and at a certain point they cut to a pretty crude model -
which was supposed to be an exterior shot of Freak Mountain - and right
away everyone in the studio audience laughed. I found it so charming,
funny and real."
Let's go Brandon!