Emily Marsh & Joel Hodgson Interview: MST3K Season 13

MST3Kthe loving nickname for long-running series Mystery Science Theater 3000, is back and ready to mingle with movie lovers everywhere tonight. After its tragic Netflix cancellation a few years back, MST3K raised record amount of funds thanks to their Kickstarter campaign in order to go on to do season 13 with their new indie platform Gizmoplex. The hard work of fans and creatives alike has paid off, and the film roasting community will have its first watch-along episode tonight at 8pm ET.

The first movie on display is the 1969 action-horror flick Santo in the Treasure of Dracula, which sees the acclaimed Mexican wrestler travel to the past to in the hopes of distributing Dracula’s wealth to needy families in Mexico. MST3K season 13 not only sees the return of the Mads – Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day), loyal henchman Max (Patton Oswalt), and grandmother Pearl Forrester (Mary Jo Pehl) – but it also welcomes the newest Gizmonic technician Emily Connor (Emily Marsh), who joins returning test subjects Jonah Heston (Jonah Ray) and Joel Robinson (show creator Joel Hodgson) as the humans chained to the cheesiest films known to man.

Related: Mystery Science Theater 3000 Season 13 Trailer Teases 13 All-New Episodes

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Marsh spoke to Screen Rant about her entry into the world of Mystery Science Theater, while Hodgson looked back on the longevity of his riffing career in the face of its latest transformation.

Screen Rant:

Emily, congratulations on coming aboard and joining the crew. Why did you know you had to be a part of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and how intimidating was it to have to prove yourself to Joel here?

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Emily Marsh: Oh, getting right to the hard questions. Joel, I’m just going to look at you as I answer these questions. Right deep into your eyes. I’d say that, luckily, my process to become a part of this show was gradual. I tend to think of it as Joel was my Willy Wonka, leading me through the factory and seeing how I proceeded past each challenge.

But in a weird kind of way, first it was doing the live show and being a smaller character. Then Joel comes to me and says, “Hey, how do you feel about riffing for a little bit?” and it’s like, “Okay, here we go. Let’s try this challenge.” That went well, I passed the test. Then getting to do the live streams over COVID times – doing the riff-along for Moon Zero Two was so much fun and such a blast, but it was the first time where Joel is on the sidelines being like, “Alright, it’s all up to you guys!”

From there to then start doing work on this season, to writing, to then getting to perform my own episodes, and to lead the Live Tour? I’d be lying if I didn’t say there were moments, the night before the first day of filming or the night before the first show, where I was like, “You know what? Worst comes to worst, I’m gonna have fun. And if everyone hates me, that’s alright.” I was so thoroughly prepared to be like, “You know what? Failure is totally fine.” And then the absolute opposite happened, which is that people have been so kind; have reached out and said they’re so happy to have me be a part of this world that I’ve loved since I was a kid.

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It’s all been super overwhelming to expect the worst and then receive the best. It’s been a wonderful journey.

I think that MST3K has been around as long as I have been around – not to date myself – and Joel has been a part of it from its inception. How do you keep on reinventing the wheel, and why have you chosen to step back from the camera a bit?

Joel Hodgson: It’s that thing where… I think it’s best if new people do it. There’s kind of a sweet spot – I think there’s an age, actually, when everyone is really immersed in the culture and really cares about it. I’m 62, and I can feel myself kind of finding my own version of the culture that I want to inhabit. But I don’t feel like I’m really broadly in it.

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It’s great to have people who really are, and are very lucid and succinct about it, to do those critical riffs; those riffs that are commenting on the culture and remarking on quirks about people that are popular. I don’t feel as particularly interested in that. I have people that I work with who I really trust, and if I don’t get a reference, they’ll just go, “This is what it is.” I don’t have to catch them all at my age. That’s kind of how I look at it, and I think that’s healthy.

It’s always weird to me when people are in show business, and they stay on until they die. It’s just weird. It’s a little peculiar to me. I have a vision that, when I’m 65 in a couple of years, I’m gonna want to be on the golf course, wearing funny shorts and stuff.

But it is in the interest of it going forward and not being as connected to me. And it’s working really nicely; we have all these great people – Emily, for example – who are willing and capable and enthused, and who just bring new aspects and qualities to it. Which is really important for it to stay alive.

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What is it like blending in with the cast, Emily, and what is the learning curve of getting thrown into the riffs yourself?

Emily Marsh: What a great question. I think I really benefited from there being a lot of people to support me through this time. I loved that for the episodes that I filmed, not only was Joel there on set, giving support and feedback, but also Jonah was there. It was so wonderful to have. Joel, you were even commenting that it was crazy to have three hosts.

It’s a very particular experience to go through being the host of the show. There were two of you guys there to give advice from your perspective of having done it, and that was so valuable. I love how flexible the show is, and how we’re ready to change even though we’ve been around for a really long time.

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I was looking to Joel for advice about, “How do you approach the riffs? What’s your process?” And I think Joel said something very articulate, and yet also so open-ended, which was, “Well, you think about maybe how you want to say it, and then something’s going to come out. You don’t know what it’ll be, and you just see what happens.” [Laughs]

Joel Hodgson: Yeah, there’s something to that. I want to kind of explain that a little bit, because for some reason, the very best part of it is being present enough so that you’re manufacturing the line almost immediately while it’s happening.

Even though we work from a script, you have so many riffs. I guess each person probably has – is it 250 riffs a show? Those could all be things like a dialect, or a style of talking, or an impression, or an attitude. For each one, you kind of dial that in really quickly before you do it – and you can’t really practice it. Maybe you do, but I just think that was my way of expressing it. You kind of lock it in, and then you just try to feel your way through it.

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Emily Marsh: Especially at the time where I was getting very in my head about what has come before, and how am I going to fit into the legacy of hosts of MST3K, I just love that both Joel and Jonah were so supportive. They’d be like, “You can do what you want. Do your own thing. It’s cool.”

That was like so encouraging and nice, to be like, Yeah, you’re right! I’ll try and feel my way through it.” There’s only so much thinking that you really should be bringing to this. It’s just fun.

Now that you are your bosses with Gizmoplex, what is that ratio of freedom to responsibility? Is it fun to take ownership of everything that you’re doing, or are there times where you’re like, “I missed my robot overlords?”

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Joel Hodgson: We were lucky in that we were so off the radar with MST3K that we never got notes from a network. We were just super lucky that way, and I think it’s partly because our show’s so unique. I feel bad for any development person who is put in a position to have to try to give notes to improve MST3K, because it’s just so peculiar and unusual. So, we never got that.

But it is a lot. For example, up until recently, we were responsible completely for just the 90 minutes that the show is running. Now, there’s a certain amount of promotion that has to go on; a certain amount of advertising that goes on, and our public service announcements. Now that the shows are made, and they’re in there in post, that’s the stuff we’re focusing on now. Which we love, because it just adds texture and makes the event a little more special. Because it’s a network that’s just made for MST.

I’m super excited about it, but it is more work, and we keep prototyping in new ways. We have a lot of value-added material. For example, when you join the Gizmoplex and get a season pass or a year pass, you get the premieres that happen every month, but then there’s six classic episodes that we’ve curated and have additional material that we’ve created around it. So, there’s a lot of stuff embedded and a lot of Easter eggs embedded. Every month, you get a bunch of new episodes that have a lot of Easter eggs and new content.

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That’s what’s different, and it’s really exciting, but it’s quite a lot of production. At the end of the day, for example, we have 72 films that we bundle. And all those have additional material that goes with them that has to be written and produced and shot and then inserted. That’s all! But we’re thrilled to get to do it, and it’s really fun.

More: How Mystery Science Theater 3000 Changed Television (And Still Is)

MST3K season 13 kicks off with episode 1301, Santo in the Treasure of Dracula, premiering at 8pm ET on Gizmoplex.

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