In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Joel Hodgson may be best known in silhouette, seen just underneath countless numbers of terrible movies as the creator and original host of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Since leaving the show in 1993, Hodgson has kept up a steady career of acting and voice-over, appearing on other cult shows such as Freaks And Geeks and Arrested Development, but he returned to his first love of riffing with Cinematic Titanic, reuniting with most of the MST3K cast for a touring show that completed its final voyage in 2013. Most recently, he’s been seen in new intros for YouTube’s MST3K “Turkey Day” Marathon—the glorious return of which, along with the launch of an official site dedicated solely to streaming MST3K episodes, has made this a great age for MSTies. Currently, Hodgson is at work on the Paul Feig-produced Yahoo series Other Space, which will see him once again shot into the outer regions alongside a robot voiced by MST3K’s Trace Beaulieu. Other Space is slated to debut next spring.
Joel Hodgson: I think the worst job I ever had was the year before I went to college. I had a job just mowing lawns. Basically, I was the groundskeeper for this giant warehouse for Mayflower Moving in Green Bay. It was on the Fox River, and I just got the feeling like nobody was really paying attention. It was just this meaningless job where nobody ever really looked at the grounds. It was so much grass, so much area, and it was really funny, because it was all with a push mower. And it just seemed like one of those just aimless kinds of jobs, because nobody would see. Basically, every day I would cut a different section of grass, to the point where I was just in a loop—perpetually just going around the building, mowing the grass. And it didn’t seem like anybody was supervising me, yet I felt obliged to do the job.
The A.V. Club: It almost sounds like a Kafka story.
JH: Yeah, it really felt like that. I just aimlessly kept mowing the lawn through the summer. I think that was probably the worst job.
JH: They were so great. I never, ever got a feeling like they were trying to insist that I do anything. They never even suggested something, which I’m so grateful for. My grandfather, on the other hand, he was a minister, and he wanted me to be a pastor, and that terrified me. Because the way I grew up, if God called you, you had to do it regardless—you know what I mean? So I was kind of afraid of that. Like, “Oh, God is going to call on me to be a minister, and I don’t really want to do it.” I was kind of terrified of that, but it didn’t happen.
AVC: Did you even have much of a relationship with God, other than being terrified that He would call you?
JH: Oh yeah, I did. Absolutely, man.
JH: This isn’t quite right, but I would love to be best friends with David Bowie. I want to be friends with David Bowie, I guess when he played The Man Who Fell To Earth. I think Bowie is just so fantastic and seems so brilliant and creative. That would be super cool. Like, I never got how Iggy Pop got Bowie to be such a good friend. Bowie loved Iggy Pop, and he thought that Iggy Pop was going to be a movie star and a pop star. And if he felt that way about Iggy Pop, I might be able to talk him into feeling that way about me.
AVC: What do you think you would do with David Bowie? How do you picture that hang-out going?
JH: I just think he’d be the kind of guy that you just go over to his place and—I don’t smoke, but I get the feeling that he smokes—and you’d have a cigarette with him and coffee and plan your day. I just feel like he would validate—no matter what idea I had—he would just find an angle, like, “Oh, man, Joel, I like where you’re going with that. This is good. Let me make a few phone calls for you, Joel.” You just feel like, no matter what you’re going for, he could put the proper lens on it and turn it into a project. I don’t know why, but I feel like somehow he’s the embodiment of that kind of creativity.
AVC: David Bowie sounds cool.
JH: The game show that I would be good at hasn’t been invented yet. I have really, really good facial pattern recognition—extraordinarily good facial pattern recognition. So I think they should create a game show where you bring people out—just people from the audience, everyday people—and then I would tell them who they look like. And then we would pull up images. There’d be other people I’d be competing against. I’d be the resident expert, and you’d play against me. I would be like the house facial pattern recognition expert and people would play me. Basically, you’d bring out people and then I’d identify who they look like—usually people from pop culture, from movies or TV. I guess it would be called Facial Pattern Recognition Showdown With Joel Hodgson.
AVC: I was going to say, you could call it Did Anyone Ever Tell You…?
JH: Oh yeah. Did Anyone Ever Tell You You Look Just Like…? That’s good.
AVC: Aren’t you worried some of the people might be insulted a little bit?
JH: No, because I’ve found people are really alert to how they look, and they’re always really clear on that. And they often really use that to their advantage when they look like someone—at least, that’s the way they behave toward me. Maybe when I’m gone they go, “God, what a dick.”
JH: Oh, man. That’s a really good question. I think they would describe me as a conniving baby. [Laughs.]
AVC: Why is that?
JH: I don’t know, I’m just making it up. I have no idea. I often find that your enemies are the last people who will tell you really why they don’t like you. Man, that’s a really good question. I’ll just go with conniving baby.
AVC: Like a baby who’s always scheming against other people?
JH: Yeah. I get angry easily, and I’m just a little baby and have to have my way. I wish I was more self-aware. I might be really single-minded about certain things, but I feel like, as I’ve gotten older, I really love collaborating a lot. So I don’t know if there’s anybody who would think that way.
AVC: Do you even think you have enemies at this point?
JH: Not that I know of, but let’s just go with conniving baby, I guess. Conniving baby or lizard baby. Or conniving lizard baby. I don’t know.
AVC: Wait, where does the lizard part come in?
JH: I don’t know, I’m just trying to create a picture.
JH: There’d be two versions. One would be when I’m eating meat, and the other is when I’m being a vegetarian. So there’d be one that’s a tofu curried faux chicken salad. And then there’s just the regular version with real chicken. And somehow they’d know if I was vacillating between being vegetarian or eating meat. And they’d just go, “Okay, fine, give him the real chicken one.”
AVC: How often do you switch back and forth?
JH: Well, it kind of depends on who I’m eating with, because I feel really self-conscious. If I’m eating with vegans or vegetarians, I tend to swing that way. And when they’re not around, I’ll eat meat. I’m still trying to decide. I think vegetarianism is great, and it’s more sustainable. I think meat is just kind of hard on the environment, but I kind of do better with it. I kind of feel better with it. I’m kind of torn. Hence the sandwich.
JH: When I went to college, I had to get a loan and stuff and start paying. So I think that.
AVC: You paid your own way to college?
JH: I split it with my parents. I went 50/50 with them.
AVC: Do you think you got a good return on your investment?
JH: I think so. I really enjoyed college, and I really met wonderful people there. So yeah, I really liked it. It was definitely a really good thing for me.
AVC: How long did it take to pay off your loan?
JH: Man, I can’t remember. A long time.
AVC: You did pay it off though, right? We’re not getting you in trouble?
JH: “Hot Child In The City.”
AVC: You answered that really fast.
JH: It always works, man. It always catches people off guard. And I’ve used it for 20 years. I still do it. Also, I do “Come To My Window.”
AVC: The Melissa Etheridge song?
JH: Yeah, I do that one, too.
AVC: So you go for mostly female artists?
JH: No, the guy who sang “Hot Child In The City” was Nick Gilder. But he had a very effeminate voice, a really high voice.
AVC: Ah, that’s right. For some reason, I thought it was someone like Juice Newton.
JH: Yeah, you’re in the neighborhood.
JH: After I quit being a stand-up and went back to Minneapolis. It was really great, because after college I was able to have my stand-up career. Fortunately, three years later when I quit being a stand-up and came back to Minneapolis, all my hipster friends were still hanging out in Minneapolis and living in houses together. So that was really fun. But I do remember we had fleas at a certain point, and that was unsettling. It makes you really nutty. I don’t even know how you get fleas or whatever, but we had fleas.
AVC: Did you have dogs?
JH: No! That was the weird thing. Maybe they weren’t fleas. I don’t know what they were, but they were these bugs that we were finding all over ourselves and we were all itchy. You know, I called them fleas, but maybe they weren’t. Gnats?
AVC: Are you sure you guys weren’t having a shared hallucination?
JH: No, but what’s the other thing. Lice? It wasn’t lice. No, it wasn’t a shared hallucination. We had fleas, man.
JH: The thing that’s weird is that people don’t realize how big I am. I’m almost 6 feet tall, I weigh over 200 pounds—I bet you I’m 210 right now. I got a lot of girth, you know? I’m a big guy, and I don’t think people think of me like that. Especially when they draw me. They draw me real scrawny. The other thing is I’m one of those guys that just keeps coming at you—like I’ll crawl you, you know? I just keep coming. And that’s what I think is really unsettling.
But I guess I’d go back to Bowie. I definitely think I could take him, because he’s old now, and he’s whisper thin. I could get him. And he wouldn’t see it coming. We’d be sitting there smoking, you know, drinking coffee, and he wouldn’t see it coming at all.
AVC: I kind of think that might ruin your friendship.
JH: Yeah, no, I don’t think so. It would heighten it. That’s probably how Iggy Pop got Bowie to like him—is they fought.
JH: Yes, I do. I have Bobby Womack’s autograph and I have Ray Harryhausen’s autograph.
AVC: Ray Harryhausen I can understand, with your line of work, but how did you come by Bobby Womack?
JH: I met a guy who’s a record producer who produces him, and he was a Mystery Science Theater fan, and he told me he worked with Bobby Womack. And I told him, “Man, if you could get his autograph, it would really be awesome.” So that’s it. I knew a guy who knew him.
AVC: Bobby Womack just died this year, right?
JH: Oh my God, I didn’t even realize. I hadn’t heard that.
AVC: Oh. I’m sorry. Yeah, he died over the summer.
JH: Wow. It’s okay. I’m just a casual fan. I’m sorry to hear that, I didn’t know that.
AVC: Sorry to break the news to you. That’s a bummer note to end on.
JH: That’s okay.
12. The bonus question comes from Rhys Darby. “What is your favorite cryptozoological creature? And why?”
JH: What does “cryptozoological creature” mean?
AVC: Mythical—like Sasquatch or something like that.
JH: Oh, gotcha. Well, you know, in Wisconsin there’s a mythical creature called the Hodag, and I’ve always loved it. It is in northern Wisconsin which is really—Wisconsin as it is, it’s already a lush state, lots of woods, everything’s green there—but northern Wisconsin is especially lush, and it’s very atmospheric. It rains a lot, and it just really, you know, it kind of fits that there.
In northern Wisconsin, there’s this creature called a Hodag. It’s kind of like a dragon, but they’re not that big. It’s like 6 feet long, and they have two horns, kind of like longhorns, so that’s what makes them different than a traditional dragon. Basically they did a hoax, like in the late 1800s, and they do a lot of taxidermy up there because there’s a lot of sportsmen—especially back then. So they made a really excellent, like, taxidermied version of the Hodag and claimed that they trapped it, and they just laid down this legend really beautifully. I’ve always been partial to that.
AVC: What would you like to ask the next person—which will be our final bonus question of the year?
JH: What’s your last meal? If you’re going to be executed, what’s your last meal? What’s on the menu?
AVC: And what would your last meal be?
JH: I’d do all the really heavy fried stuff. Like fried chicken, you know, just all the really rich food that kind of gives you a stomachache, because it doesn’t matter. I’d have fried chicken, and I’d have pecan pie and ice cream, and french fries.
AVC: You wouldn’t be a vegetarian on the day you’re going to die?
JH: No, I don’t think so. I mean, again though, it all depends on my mood. If I’m in that zone, I would maybe want to stick with it.
AVC: I mean, you’re already kind of feeling guilty anyway, because you’re about to be executed.
JH: Yeah, exactly. You never know. And it’s so frustrating, because I’ll go through periods… Like, I’ve probably spent four or five months this year being a vegan—not even a vegetarian, a vegan—and then on the weekend I do vegan, where I do cheese and eggs or something, and then I jump to the paleo diet, where it’s lots or meat and vegetables. I’m still kind of grappling with it. So I couldn’t say. But I have to say, I’d go out with eating meat.
AVC: Yeah. Who are you trying to impress on your way to the electric chair?