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Mystery Science Theater 3000's Jonah Ray (left) and Joel HodgsonEXPAND
Mystery Science Theater 3000's Jonah Ray (left) and Joel Hodgson
Courtesy photo

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Creator Joel Hodgson Returns for Live Show

Joel Hodgson is throwing on the ol’ red jumpsuit again and returning to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 role he left behind 25 years ago. The former Satellite of Love captive will riff on B-movies alongside his robot pals on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live tour just like he used to, only now he’ll be joined by the host of the rebooted Mystery Science Theater 3000 on Netflix, Jonah Ray. During last year’s tour, Ray made jokes alone with the Bots while Hodgson, who is an executive producer and co-director on the Netflix show, emceed.

Why is Hodgson choosing now to make his long-awaited return?

“It’s really because it’s the 30th anniversary,” says Hodgson, who will riff on Canadian sci-fi flick The Brain when the tour visits the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale October 19. “It made a lot of sense. I was the original guy. Jonah is the current guy. We do have fans that have been involved with the show 30 years and want to try to cover everybody... It’ll be really interesting. These guys are really good and I’m coming out of retirement. I’m rusty.”

Hodgson, however, knows a thing or two about live shows. Long after his MST3K falling out, he launched another B-movie-riffing project that toured the U.S., Cinematic Titanic. But Hodgson says Cinematic Titanic was a “reader’s theater version of Mystery Science” and lacked MST3K Live’s production values, which includes a set and music.

The tour comes during a busy time for the reborn MST3K brand. The show’s second season is scheduled to debut November 22 (Thanksgiving, not coincidentally, is also when the series premiered in 1988), and the first installment of the six-part MST3K comic book series was released in September.

It was just three years ago that Hodgson turned to Kickstarter to bring MST3K back into production. The crowdfunding campaign set out to raise $2 million but ended up earning that number and then some with a massive $5.76 million haul. That’s more than the famous Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign and is a record that still stands.

The reboot was a long time coming for Hodgson. He was replaced in 1993 by head writer Michael J. Nelson — who remained with the quirky show until it was canceled by the Sci-Fi Channel in 1999 — and never totally got over it.

“I felt like I had to leave,” Hodgson says, citing the show’s lack of trust in him. “I didn’t want to, but it just wasn’t the right environment. And so from the time I left, I always hoped I would come back to it. It’s been over 20 years. I always wanted to come back and do stuff with it.”

Hodgson opted to take a behind-the-camera role in the reboot and hire a new cast rather than bring back the original players. Those familiar with how the internet community works can probably guess what happened next.

“A lot of people said, ‘No, you have to have the original people — that was the magic part,’” Hodgson says. “The truth is the magic part was the people that were watching were 13 when they found it. They didn’t want the original people. They wanted us to make them 13 again, which we can’t do.

“We invited everyone from the original cast to participate. Some chose to participate and some didn’t. We’ve had cameos and invited people to guest write. But by and large, the new people are doing the most heavy lifting.”

Based on the success of the series and live tour, Hodgson’s gamble paid off.

Mystery Science Theater 300 Live. 7 p.m. Friday, October 19, at the Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale; 954-462-0222; parkerplayhouse.com; Tickets cost $37.50 to $47.50, via ticketmaster.com.

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