Interview – Joel Hodgson – Riffing Myself

BN – Yeah. I have a friend who’s really obsessed with it.

JH – And it’s not because our riffs are especially that good. It’s because that movie is so unbelievably weird. It’s scary. So that has such a mood in it. I’m learning that it kind of works together. For me as a movie riffer I look at it like, I like it when I feel we’re being really funny, but I don’t think that’s true about Manos. Usually we get our sauce on the movie, but in the case of Manos it got its sauce on us. It’s just so crazy and weird. So that’s got its own life. There’s even a puppet version of Manos that I saw, that someone produced. It’s called like Manos the Hands of Felt, or something like that. A puppet version of Manos, it’s unbelievable.

BN – Do you have any favorite skits you did on the show?

JH – I think that goes hand in hand with the movies I like. Again I really like all the skits in I Accuse my Parents.

BN – I had a discussion with my friend who I watched it with about how those skits were our favorites of all the ones we’d seen. That musical number is just pure bliss.

JH – Thanks man! To me that was really us doing the Muppet Show. There’s even these moments where Tom Servo is trotting off with a tray of food, and they’re being really Muppety the whole time; just kind of disappearing and doing stuff, and so I feel the same way with a lot of that having to do with the learning curve over the years. When we were fist starting out, our sketches were really long. They don’t need to be that long. The purpose of the sketches was really to reintroduce you to who are these silhouettes. Who are they in real life? They are like these reminders. I think we learned that shorter was better. Also, as a production it took a while. It was a pipeline, you had writers, and you had people on the set, and the more we did it, the better and better it got. That’s the other kind of invisible element of it, whether we’re funny or not. It’s this other column of production that needs to be there for it to really work right.

BN – Are you going to keep riffing on movies after Cinematic Titanic?

JH – Oh definitely. I teach a class on riffing. I’m teaching one tonight at SIFF. I just did a show in Austin with Master Pancake Theater. I love it. It’s been such a good thing. I was saying this with Mary Jo Pehl, it’s kind of like knitting. We’ll always have it. It works so good live. I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t keep going. Just keep doing it.

BN – Are you going to keep teaching as well?

JH – Oh yeah. I really like it. We’ll see. Tonight is going to be really interesting. I taught a class at Buck’s County Community College, and that was like eight weeks long and we would meet once a week, for a couple hours. And this is one three hour class, and tomorrow night they’re going to be onstage riffing a movie. It’s going to be really fast. So if it can happen, I think it can. My impression is, if I can get this speed method to movie riffing then I can put it together with my live show and I can do it the day before, it works really good. So we’ll see. It’ all kind of dependent on how it goes tonight.

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Benjamin Nason is a writer, film-maker and critic from the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his cat Lulu.

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