If you recognize the name Joel Hodgson then you most likely know him as the creator and cast member of TV's Mystery Science Theater 3000
. His career in show business
goes back years before MST3K
's creation where he began as a prop comic
. Billing himself as a "comic, magician, and spy", Joel would parade a series of his own inventions (which he claimed he invented in Agent J's Workshop) that all had comedy punchlines. For example, one of his props was a serving of cotton candy
that appeared to scream when bitten into. Another device, the Chiro-Gyro
, was a helmet that appeared to make Joel's head spin all the way around. Joel's humorous and off-beat act earned him a number of accolades and awards and in 1982 Joel left his home in Minneapolis, Minnesota
to pursue fame and fortune in California
During his time on the west coast Joel appeared several times on Saturday Night Live, Late Night with David Letterman, and other such comedy shows. It was during these performances that Joel was noticed by NBC programming guru Brandon Tartikoff who offered Joel a role in an upcoming sitcom: High School USA, a quickly cancelled TV rip-off of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Joel passed on the show, telling NBC that he just didn't feel it was a funny project. NBC interpreted this as bargaining and tripled their offer to Joel. Joel turned them down again and returned to Minnesota, feeling soured over his Hollywood experiences. However in 1986 he was drawn back into the comedy world by his friend Jerry Seinfeld whom asked for his help in co-writing an HBO special. In 1987 Joel began teaching a comedy workshop class. One of the students was one of MST3K's original players, Josh Weinstein. It was also during this time that Joel returned to performing, making his grand return with all his Gizmonic gadgets. Joel's invention workshop happened to be located next door to a film production studio.
By 1988 Joel had befriended struggling comic Trace Beaulieu and production editor Jim Mallon. When Jim became production manager for a small-time television station in the area, KTMA-23, he was asked by his bosses to fill two hours of airtime on Sunday nights. Over deli sandwiches Joel and friends came up with the concept for Mystery Science Theater 3000. They filmed a pilot episode (which included an appearance by the Chiro-Gyro invention), Joel built prototypes of the now-famous Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, Gypsy, and Cambot, and the show aired during the 1988 season where it built up a rabid fan base. Joel played the human trapped in space by the evil Dr. Clayton Forrester and Dr. Lawrence Erhardt, Joel Robinson.
The following year The Comedy Channel (later to become Comedy Central) expressed an interest in a best-of tape sent to them by Mallon. The network picked up the show for nationwide broadcast and Joel found himself in the front seat of a wild television ride. He continued to host the show up through the midway point of the fifth season, but over the years his sleepy-eyed demeanor and easy-going manner made him very popular among MST3K's fans. When he left the show to explore other entertainment opportunities, a chunk of the show's fanbase left with him. Joel vs. Mike flame wars raged over cyberspace arguing about who was a better host: Joel or the new human host, Mike Nelson. Joel returned to the Joel Robinson character one last time during MST3K's tenth season in episode #1001: Soultaker. To celebrate ten years of the show his character returned to the Satellite of Love to repair sabotage left behind by Dr. Forrester.
After his departure from the series Joel went on to create a number of new projects for both film and television. He handled the magic effects for TV's Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, filmed a pilot for an improv concept called The TV Wheel, worked on the special effects for the film Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves, and attempted a film project called Statical Planets that was supposedly filmed in something called static-o-rama (this project failed to be completed). Joel's current job is as a writer on Jimmy Kimmel's ABC talk show, Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Joel seems to enjoy moving from one project to the next, trying to see what sticks to the comedy wall and what doesn't. He undoubtedly has projects cooking that we know nothing about. Let's hope they're as brilliant as Mystery Science Theater 3000.