The wisecrackers from MST3K have still got it

By Tommy Verdone

Bossi/Flickr

Last Saturday night, Joel Hodgson and the rest of the original crew from Gizmonic Institute made a comedic appearance at Calvin Theater in Northampton. Hodgson, along with his old buddies Trace Beaulieu (Crow, Dr. Forrester), Frank Conniff (TV’s Frank) and Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl Forrester), who all starred as original members of Mystery Science Theater 3000, took on the big screen again for their last tour as Cinematic Titanic.

Although J. Elvis Weinstein (Tom Servo, Dr. Erhardt) was scheduled to mock films along with his old pals, he was out sick and Dave “Gruber” Allen, from the TV series “Higgins Boys and Gruber,” stepped in for him.

By 8 p.m., the auditorium was practically overflowing with fans of all ages. Teenagers and senior citizens alike anxiously shuffled to their seats, which faced a stage decorated with chairs and a large projection that read “Cinematic Titanic.” The show began not long after, as Pehl took the stage and did a number of mundane, yet funny, impressions of movie and television characters. Her dry sense of humor took on extras or uncredited characters from movies such as Hitchcock’s “Birds,” or the TV show “The West Wing,” both of which were very well received by a cackling audience. Afterwards, Beaulieu graced the audience with a quirky and cute Halloween music video that featured the whole Cinematic Titanic cast and a number of goofy puppets.

Next up, the long awaited Hodgson, creator of the cult show MST3K, took the stage for an unprecedented interactive Q-and-A in which he let the die-hard crowd have at him with whatever questions they could muster. Hodgson, as expected, answered all the questions with impeccable wit and a sense of humor. While many questions were fun and others were heckling, a few of the audience’s inquiries left Hodgson a bit somber with nostalgia.

When asked if he regretted leaving MST3K, Hodgson replied, “Obviously I didn’t want to go, but there were internal tensions… I knew that it was important that I be happy while I was doing Mystery Science Theater. I didn’t want to be like a bitter comic.”

But even through his bittersweet response, Hodgson poked fun at a heckling whistler and remarked, “Is someone helping me be maudlin right now, really?”

After the short-lived but much appreciated Q-and-A, Hodgson stepped off stage for a 15-minute intermission before the movie riffing of “The Astral Factor” began. Similar to how MST3K worked, the cast of Cinematic Titanic lined the screen and jested the abysmal feature length film, which according to Hodgson was public domain.

The film “The Astral Factor” followed the story of hard working and over-acting cop Lt. Charles Barrett and his rag-tag crew of policemen on the hunt for a devious serial killer with the ability to project himself into the astral plane. The movie was just as silly and overdone as its premise suggests and left the crowd laughing hysterically whether the stars were making comments or not.

Each cast member read their comments off of a script, corpsing every so often as their own jokes or at the film itself gets the best of them. Many times throughout the set, the crew seemed to improvise some of their jokes as well, which put the fans and performers alike in fits of laughter.

After the movie ended, the Cinematic Titanic gang thanked the audience and worked their way off-stage as the crowd promptly fled the theater. While Cinematic Titanic may seem to be nothing more than a fan service to some, it is obvious that the cast of MST3K is doing this for themselves as much as their following. While all of the performers could have simply walked on stage and done their bit, the show has evolved into something bigger. Each of the comedians offered something extra that made the whole affair seem much more personal.

Although Cinematic Titanic has been well-received, this will indefinitely be their last tour, according to a press email sent out to fans on the mailing list. The email states that although the last five years of touring have been “amazing,” it is “time to move on” because of how difficult it has become for the comedians to coordinate schedules. So, while the lovable cast can still be seen on the early episodes of MST3K, it may be a while before fans hear back from the Satellite of Love again.

Tommy Verdone can be reached at [email protected]