Early in his comedy career, Joel Hodgson seized upon a universal truth: We all sit on our couches and crack wise at the TV.
Who hasn’t watched a dated movie, a bad sitcom or a bizarre commercial and then added some stinging commentary of their own? The difference between us and Hodgson is that he was smart enough to make a TV show out of the situation, “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Hodgson will bring a live version of the show to Portland’s State Theatre on Tuesday, Oct. 9, as part of a 30th anniversary tour.
“Everybody did that, not just me, I think people have been doing that since they started projecting movies on a screen,” said Hodgson, of the impulse to talk back to film and TV characters.
But the show Hodgson created, originally for a local TV station in Minnesota, hit a nerve with viewers. The show started in 1988 and has aired over the years on Comedy Central, the Sci-Fi Channel and, now, Netflix.
TV critics have speculated that the show was a sort of precursor to social media. Today people share an experience, like watching a movie or the Oscars, and share their thoughts, jabs and bad puns on Twitter and Facebook.
On the original “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” Hodgson was supposed to be trapped in a space craft (by a mad scientist), where he did nothing but watch B-grade movies with two robot pals he built. The TV audience and Hodgson were both watching the same thing, as Hodgson and his crew made jokes and added dialogue.
“I guess the secret of the show’s success is that the writers and the audience are sharing the same screen,” said Hodgson, 58, “sharing the same experience.”
And what the audience and the show’s cast share are bad movies that are easy to make fun of. Easy is the key word here because during a 90-minute episode of the show, the writers come up with 600 to 700 jokes, ranging from one word punchlines to longer jabs.
During the live shows, which began last year, the jokes have to be spaced out properly, so laughter doesn’t drown anything out, Hodgson said. So the live shows are constantly evolving as people laugh at different things.
Hodgson said the live shows are not that different than watching on TV, except that you’re now watching with hundreds or maybe a 1,000 or more other people. On stage, Hodgson will be joined by Jonah Ray, who hosts the current edition of the show on Netflix. Hodgson was the original host but now works mostly as the show’s producer. The pair, plus their two robot cohorts, will watch the movie with the audience but add their jokes and silliness in real time, using microphones.
Hodgson said the movies don’t necessarily have to be bad, they just need to be “fascinating, goofy or fun.” The movie that will likely be shown during the Portland event is “The Brain,” a 1988 Canadian horror film.
In the movie, a self-help TV host is using his fame to control the minds of his audience with the help of an alien he calls, The Brain. The title character reminds Hodgson of “Madballs,” a toy line from the ’80s where rubber balls had grotesque facial features. He also thinks The Brain looks sort of like a Muppet.
“You have this kind of adorable man-eating brain on the loose, and that’s what makes this movie fun to watch,” Hodgson said.
Not to mention, fun to make fun of.
WHERE: State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9
HOW MUCH: $39.50 to $49.50, reserved seating.