Riffer Madness

Joel Hodgson is a geek god. As the creator and original host of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, the one-time stand-up spent a half-decade giving nerds and couch potatoes fits of laughter by making fun of bad movies.

For those unfamiliar with MST3K, the bygone Comedy Central show involved Hodgson and his homemade automaton pals Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo cracking wise (or “riffing”) at the expense of notorious Hollywood bombs like Manos: The Hands of Fate and Mitchell. It granted him cult status, and even recognition from fellow nerd icon Bill Gates. “I had a friend who worked at Microsoft, and she invited me to his wedding reception in Seattle,” Hodgson tells New Times. “I got to meet him, and was shocked when he knew me.”

Hodgson departed MST3K in 1993, but resurrected his riffing-on-bad-movie ways along with several original castmembers (including Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff) by launching Cinematic Titanic in 2007. While it’s been a straight-to-DVD operation, Hodgson and company have started doing live riffs at theaters across the country, as they’ll do at Mesa Arts Center this weekend.

Their targets? The 1974 Al Adamson “kungsploitation” pic East Meets Watts (screening on Friday, May 22), featuring former M*A*S*H doc Timothy Brown and chopsocky legend Alan Tang fighting their way through the ghetto. On Saturday, May 23, the crew gangs up on 1968’s z-grade Danger on Tiki Island!, which Hodgson describes as “almost like a Jean Cocteau movie made by Filipinos.”

Each evening’s screenings will be preceded by music and comedy from the castmembers and yukster David “Gruber” Allen; meet-and-greets follow each show.

Fri., May 22, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 23, 8 p.m., 2009
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.