This is not the first time Joel Hodgson has said goodbye to some version of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
The show, now billed as one of the top TV cult comedies of all time, has had more than one life since Hodgson created the brand in 1988.
Its latest life — a nationally touring live show — comes to the Pikes Peak Center on Sunday. Hodgson, who plays the show’s host, is counting this as his farewell tour.
“My whole agenda is to bring new people in and let them take over,” Hodgson said in a phone interview. “This is just kind of me saying, ‘I’m not going back on tour anymore.’”
When Hodgson gave “Mystery Science Theater” its first life, he was a rising stand-up comedian appearing on “Late Night with David Letterman” and working with Jerry Seinfeld. He then got the idea to start a little local TV show in Minneapolis, where he went to college.
“To me, it was really simple,” Hodgson said. “I was just trying to make a show in Minneapolis that was going to be the cheapest show imaginable.”
The result was a show about a man (played by Hodgson) who was trapped aboard a satellite and forced by captors to watch cheesy movies. The trapped guy made the most of it by building robot sidekicks and, together, they wittily commented on everything they watched.
“I knew there were a lot of movies in the public domain and I really thought ‘Mystery Science Theater’ would be a show about funny, adorable public domain movies,” Hodgson said.
He hired local actors and built the aforementioned robots out of Tupperware and other household items. It was indeed cheap.
“When you have a cheap show and there’s less stress on it, you can experiment and grow it,” Hodgson said. “And that’s what we got to do because it was very inexpensive to make at first.”
The experiments worked enough for “Mystery Science Theater” to get its next life. It was nationally broadcast in 1989 on the Comedy Channel (which later became Comedy Central) and ran for seven seasons. It then aired on the Sci-Fi Channel for its final three seasons.
“Mystery Science Theater” was gone for awhile. But not forever.
“I was always interested in bringing it back after it got canceled,” Hodgson said. “I didn’t feel like I was finished with it. I didn’t feel like it was the end of the story.”
In 2015, Hodgson started a fundraising campaign via Kickstarter to bring the TV show back. It raised more than $6 million with 50,000 backers, setting a record for the crowdfunding platform.
“The big thing to me was refreshing it,” Hodgson said. “I was frustrated that when people viewed it, they kind of looked at it in the past.”
Netflix picked up the show. “Mystery Science Theater 3000” got two seasons on the streaming giant and starred comedian Jonah Ray.
“I was really excited about it,” Hodgson said. “At that time, everyone was talking about Netflix and it was really the biggest platform we could’ve hoped for.”
Netflix said in late 2019 it wouldn’t be bringing back the show, known for short as “MST3K.”
“It’s not the end of MST3K,” Hodgson tweeted after the announcement. “It’s just the end of the first chapter of bringing back MST3K.”
Here we are at the next chapter.
It’s called “Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live: The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour,” because, this time around, the cheesy movie showing is “Circus of Horrors,” a 1960s British thriller.
Hodgson describes the live show as “a movie-riffing robot circus.”
So far, the tour has reminded the show creator that “Mystery Science Theater” has die-hard fans everywhere.
“It’s really pretty cool because as we travel, we’re meeting more and more people that like it,” Hodgson said. “It’s a very literal, direct way of seeing with my own eyes how many fans are out there.”
It gives Hodgson hope that the story isn’t over.
“My whole goal with bringing the brand back was to fill it with new people, new writers, new producers, new performers,” he said. “This was my chance, doing the last tour, to say goodbye to folks. And then I really turn over the reins to the new people for the next tour.”