Joel Hodgson made his bones as the creator and star of the cult classic show Mystery Science Theater 3000. The beloved comedy (Jerry Seinfeld called Hodgson one of his "favorite cultural visionaries") featured Hodgson as a janitor trapped on a spaceship, forced to watch B movies, riffing along with robot buddies he constructs to keep him sane.
Hodgson left MST3K, as it's affectionately known, in 1993. But he's back in orbit for his first regular acting gig since MST3K in Other Space, a Web series on Yahoo Screen. (Watch it at screen.yahoo.com/other-space.)
Other Space comes from Paul Feig, creator of the short-lived, similarly beloved TV show Freaks and Geeks, and the director of Bridesmaids and the forthcoming Ghostbusters sequel starring a female cast. The sweet, funny, half-hour comedy follows a cast of misfit space explorers thrust into an alternate dimension.
Hodgson, who reunites with MST3K castmate Trace Beaulieu in the series, plays Zalian Fletcher, a formerly great engineer who has been exposed to a bit too much radiation.
Hodgson will be at Wizard World from Thursday through Sunday to promote Other Space and sign autographs. He won't have to travel far: He lives in the Philadelphia region, where he works as creative lead for media for Bucks County-based aerospace company Cannae L.L.C. Hodgson talks about his return to the screen and his real-world role as a "nerd Santa."
How did you get involved with "Other Space"?
I was on Freaks and Geeks. I sold the Parisian night suit [from the memorable episode "Love and Books"], and I was a disco DJ at night. But that was, what, 10 or 15 years ago? Paul [Feig] was a big fan [of MST3K]. I put him in projects, and he did things for me. He's just super-talented. He called me and said, "I want you to be this character, and Trace is going to be your robot again."
How does a Web series differ from network TV?
We made it quickly, in six weeks, an episode every four days. It was intense. Usually you have an extra day to even things out. While we were making it, none of us could see it or anticipate it would go together so nicely.
That pace is insane.
It was just fine the way it was. You don't overthink it. Like I said, it was impossible to see it. The fifth Beatle of our show are the editors. Everyone keeps saying we want to do a second season. Now we've seen how it comes together, we can really kill it.
Improvisation is a part of Feig's work. Was that a factor on "Other Space"?
That's a really big part. You're more a puppeteer of yourself than if you're just doing the script. It allows you to play a lot because when you like the people, it's like goofing around. It's joyful.
Everybody in the cast was so unique, you don't feel like you're competing with each other for jokes. That's the problem with improv: There are people who must win, they must get the best lines.
But I don't want to ignore that these are really well-written shows. I didn't want to read the rest of the script I wasn't in because I didn't want my character to understand the whole story. I'm just not that good of an actor, and I didn't want to make it more complicated for myself.
So, your day job: The Cannae Drive. I saw it made news when NASA tested it last year. But what is it?
It's the first engine that doesn't burn fuel. It has profound implications. You can put up satellites using the Cannae Drive, and it can stay up in space indefinitely. Most satellites, half their payload is fuel, but these use solar panels. Now this can be used on smaller satellites that are about the size of a bowling ball.
I'm the creative lead for media. That means I work with mostly stuff like the designers who do motion graphics to demonstrate how the engine works. If you are in the market for a satellite, we have graphics that show how the drive works. We don't have satellites yet. That's about 18 months away.
You must have whiplash between your two jobs.
The irony is not lost on me that I work in the aerospace industry after working on space comedies.
You are this odd type of celebrity. I bet you can go grocery shopping and no one knows who you are, but the people who know you must freak out.
I have a large nerd fan base. I get recognized a lot by people in the aerospace industry because they're all goofy nerds who love space comedy. I'm like a nerd Santa.
3 to 8 p.m. Thursday; noon to 7 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 1101 Arch St.
Tickets: $35 Thursday, $45 Friday, $55 Saturday, $45 Sunday.
Information: 800-428-9000 or www.wizardworld.com