Joel Hodgson

For the rugby player, see Joel Hodgson (rugby player).
Joel Hodgson

Hodgson, in August 2008 at Dragon Con
Born Joel Gordon Hodgson
(1960-02-20) February 20, 1960
Stevens Point, Wisconsin, U.S.
Alma mater Bethel University (Minnesota)
Occupation Writer, comedian, actor

Joel Gordon 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[1] Between 2007-13, 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 also serves as Creative Lead for Media at Cannae, a Pennsylvania technology firm working on new drive technologies for satellites and other spacefaring vehicles.[2]

Early life and career

Hodgson was born in Stevens Point, Wisconsin in 1960.[3] He began his career in seventh grade as a magician and ventriloquist. Joel performed for local events in his hometown of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and attended Ashwaubenon High School. Upon graduation, Joel moved to Minneapolis to attend Bethel University (Minnesota) to study Theatre and Mass Media. While there, Joel 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. Joel 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.[4] In November of the same year Joel 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, Joel 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. Joel 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. Joel left stand-up in 1985, citing the need for a creative sabbatical, and moved back to Minneapolis.

Between 1984 and 1988, Joel'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.[5] He was also considered for the role of Woody Boyd in Cheers.[6] 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,[7] but at the time of the filming (1988), he had begun the production of a new form of television program for KTMA.[8]

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 has claimed that the 1972 film Silent Running influenced the premise of the show.[9]

MST3K originally aired on KTMA, before becoming one of the first two shows to be picked up by the Comedy Channel, the forerunner of Comedy Central. 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 on the series 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, citing that as the reason he quit the show.[10] During a 1999 interview with The Onion A.V. Club, Hodgson 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 more on his preferred creation and production work than on performing, which he did only reluctantly.[11]

Hodgson later made a surprise guest appearance in the season premiere for the final season of MST3K ("Soultaker," episode 1001).

In a 2008 Slashdot interview, Hodgson admitted 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."[12]

In a 2008 interview with Public Radio International's The Sound of Young America, 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."[13]

On November 10th, 2015, Joel Hodgson launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring back MST3K for another season.[14] 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.

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.[15] 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; code named "jollyfilter."[16]

Hodgson's other post-MST3K projects and contributions include Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves, You Don't Know Jack, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and Everything You Need to Know.

In 1999 Hodgson played a recurring role as a disco-loving clothing store salesman and DJ on the television show Freaks and Geeks.[17]

Hodgson was featured as the cover story in the November 1996 issue of Genii magazine.[18]

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."

He has since starred in the science fiction computer game DARKSTAR - The Interactive Movie as Scythe Commander Kane Cooper.[19]

Joel also reunited with Jerry Seinfeld as a guest on his web show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.[20]

In 2013, he reprised his role as Joel Robinson for a brief cameo appearance in two episodes of the fourth season of Arrested Development, along with Trace Beaulieu as Crow.[21]

He is currently voicing Mayor Bill Dewey for the Cartoon Network show Steven Universe.

He is currently starring 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 14th, 2015. Fellow Mystery Science Theatre 3000 alum Trace Beaulieu also appears as Zalien's robot pal Art, an homage to MST3K.[22]

Cinematic Titanic

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.[23]

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.[24]


  1. "Mystery Science Theater 3000 - The 100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME". Time. 2007-09-06. Retrieved 2008-07-22..
  2. "Cannae Drive Website". Retrieved 2012-08-29.
  3. "Joel Hodgson". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-07-24.
  4. Strickler, Jeff (October 1, 1982). "Funnymen Fight to Knock Out Competition with Punchlines". Minneapolis Tribune. Archived from the original on January 23, 2009.
  5. Covert, Colin (May 5, 1986). "Comics Team Up for Cable Special". Minneapolis Star and Tribune. Archived from the original on January 23, 2009.
  6. Sajdak, Stephen (January 19, 2012). "Joel Hodgson: The WHM Interview". We Hate Movies.
  7. "Trivia for UHF (1989)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2006-09-05.
  8. Matheny, Dave (December 19, 1988). "TV Supplies Witty Companions to Help Watch Bad Old Movies". Minneapolis Star and Tribune. Archived from the original on January 23, 2009.
  9. "20 Questions Only Joel Hodgson Can Answer about MST3K". Special Feature. Satellite News. January 1999. Retrieved 2007-03-12.
  10. Henry, Brian. "MST3K FAQ -- West Brains: Aliens in L.A.". MST3K Info Club. Archived from the original on April 14, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-24.
  11. Phipps, Keith (1999-04-21). "Joel Hodgson". The Onion A.V. Club. Archived from the original on October 10, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-12.
  12. "Joel Hodgson Answers". Slashdot. 2008-01-25. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  13. "Podcast: Joel Hodgson, Frank Conniff and J. Elvis Weinstein of Cinematic Titanic and Mystery Science Theater 3000 - Maximum Fun". Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  14. Hodgson, Joel. "Bring Back MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 for a New Season!". Kickstarter. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  15. The TV Wheel at the Internet Movie Database
  16. "YouTube - Jollyfilter Test Video". Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  17. "IMDB Joel Hodgson Actor".
  18. "Genii november 1996".
  19. "Satellite News -- Darkstar Intro". Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  20. "Joel Hodgson a Taste of Hell from on High".
  21. "MST3K Pops Up in New Season of 'Arrested Development'". Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  22. Wallenstein, Andrew (2014-10-14). "'Mystery Science Theater 3000' Stars Reunite in Cast of Yahoo Series 'Other Space'". Variety.
  23. "Cinematic Titanic - The Masters of Movie Riffing". Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  24. Biese, Alex. "Cinematic Titanic says goodbye at final show". Ashbury Park Press. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
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