Posted: 09/14/2009


Cinematic Titanic Live

by Jef Burnham

Exclusive: Cinematic Titanic Live’s next stop will be the Family Arena, St. Charles in St. Louis on 11/21/09, and keep an eye out on their website for future tour dates.

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If you have yet to see Joel Hodgson’s Cinematic Titanic Live (CTL), you’re missing out on one of today’s most unique comedy events. There is an enormous audience for Cinematic Titanic (CT) and Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) on DVD (not to mention the plethora of Rifftrax downloads and DVDs), but riffing as a live experience is tragically undervalued. The perception of movie riffing as an exclusively home theater-based form of entertainment is no doubt due to the availability of the DVD and MST3K’s formerly syndicated reruns on Sci-Fi Channel. However, the in-home experience cannot compare to being in a theater with the riffers themselves to suffer and laugh with you.

Cinematic Titanic, if you’re not familiar with it, is written, performed and produced by five MST3K alumni: Joel Hodgson (MST3K creator and host, as well as creator of CT), Trace Beaulieu, TV’s Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, and the original man behind Tom Servo, J. Elvis Weinstein. The plot of Cinematic Titanic is as yet fairly loose and mysterious, but the main focus of CT, as it was with MST3K is of course the riffing. And the CT riffers deliver a tirade of jabs and witticisms that may very well top the riffing of their MST days.

CTL is more than just the live riffing of a movie, however. The experience differs with each screening, and the show at the Lakeshore Theater in Chicago on September 11 started with CT’s opener, Gruber, who did a bizarre piece of standup including a bit where he read mock selections of Highlights for Children to the audience. After that, we were treated with a return to form from J. Elvis and Frank, who delivered some standup of their own. To cap off the first part of the show, Joel took to the stage to answer some questions (humorously, of course) submitted by audience members prior to the show. And as if this plus the riffing of the side-splittingly terrible The Alien Factor wasn’t enough, the gang stays after the show to talk with the fans and “sign pretty much anything with a smooth surface.” Your dollars could not be better spent than on evening with Cinematic Titanic.

I’d like to finish here with a few words about riffer J. Elvis Weinstein. We die-hard MSTies searched out those episodes of MST3K from their days on public access station KTMA and their first season on the Comedy Channel, and are very familiar with the work of J. Elvis, who, with Joel and Trace, created the art of riffing. Unfortunately, prior to CT, many people were not so familiar with him. However, thanks to Shout! Factory’s recent DVD releases of some first season episodes, more people are getting the chance to know J. Elvis’ Tom Servo and Dr. Larry Erhardt. Now, after so many years of absence from the MSTie limelight, J. Elvis has not only proven himself indispensable to the CT formula, but his presence gives CT an unexpected freshness. Yet, as true as that may be, it somehow misses my point. What I’m really trying to say is we love you J. Elvis and welcome back!

Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of

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