Joel Robinson is an inventor and former janitor at Gizmonic Institute. He was kidnapped by Dr. Clayton Forrester and Dr. Laurence Erhardt and became the first test subject in the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" experiment they instigated.

Early life

Little is known about Joel's life before Gizmonic Institute. He played piano in the second grade, performing in a piano recital captured in home movies shot by his Uncle Roy. He has (or had) relatives (of uncertain relationship) named Brian and Bridget, their children Brett and Brenda, also Minnie and her children Ray, Tony and Theresa.[1]

At one point he describes himself as being "from the Humanities", but it is unclear if this is an indication that he studied that field.

Gizmonic Institute

Joel while working at Gizmonic Institute.

Eventually, Joel came to work at Gizmonic Institute as a janitor. At Gizmonic, he was able to indulge in his penchant for inventions, an activity that would come in useful after he became stranded on the Satellite of Love.

Mystery Science Theater 3000

Gizmonic employees Dr. Clayton Forrester and Dr. Laurence Erhardt ("the Mads") kidnapped Joel and shot him in a rocket onto the Satellite of Love (a spacecraft in Geo-synchronous orbit around the Earth) as part of an experiment to determine which bad movies were capable of destroying the human mind. Joel was chosen because Forrester and Erhardt despised him for some reason, even though he was by all accounts a competent employee. It was implied that the Mads were envious of Joel's creativity and inventiveness.

The experiment required Joel, upon receiving "Movie sign", to enter the Mystery Science Theater, a built-in movie theater, and watch "cheesy movies" sent to the theater by the Mads. By choosing the "worst they could find", the scientists hoped to find the perfect movie to break Joel's will and then use it to take over the world.

Left alone on board the ship, Joel scavenged parts from the control systems to build companions to help him cope with his predicament. His initial robots were Gypsy, Crow T. Robot and Beeper. He would later build Tom Servo (apparently from the same shell as Beeper), Cambot (incorporating the camera used to communicate with the Mads) and Magic Voice.

As part of the normal rituals fostered at Gizmonic Institute, Joel (and sometimes the bots) participated in an "Invention Exchange" with the Mads, an informal contest to see who could come up with the better invention.

As their creator, Joel serves as a father figure to Tom, Crow and Gypsy and he often scolded them when their antics got out of hand, or when they made crude jokes during the films. In a display of parental concern, he opened an umbrella during experiment 403 - City Limits to cover some nudity.

Though bombarded with dozens of horrible films, he tended to take his captivity in stride, delivering most of his riffs in a deadpan voice and holding little ill will towards his captors. Joel jokingly referred to them as "the Mads" (among other nicknames) while referring to elements of popular culture ("Auntie Em and Toto") or things found in Minnesota ("Milavetz and Associates", a prominent Twin Cities-area law firm).

Joel spent five and a half years aboard the SOL, finally managing to escape after a torturous viewing of Mitchell, which was to be his final experiment. While Joel, Tom and Crow were off in another part of the ship on a camping trip, Gypsy overheard the Mads plotting to fire their new temp worker, Mike Nelson, and thought that they meant to murder Joel instead. To save his life, she found a spare escape pod, the Deus ex Machina, hidden in the SOL's cargo bay, and used it to launch Joel back to Earth. Furious, Dr. Forrester decided not to kill Mike, and instead "conked him on the noggin" and shot him up to the satellite as Joel's replacement.

He was subjected to 106 experiments on the Satellite of Love.

After the experiment

Joel crash-landed in the Australian outback, and spent a few years travelling and doing freelance "pyrotechniques" for the band Man or Astro-man?. Later, he worked at a Hot Fish Shop in Osseo, Minnesota. At some point, Joel learned that Dr. Forrester had rigged most of the SOL's components to self-destruct after ten years, and pulled together a spaceship to go back and repair the ship. Joel entered tractor range of the SOL during a showing of Soultaker, and reunited with the bots, meeting Mike for the first time. Though Mike and the bots asked if he could take them back to Earth with him, Joel declined, explaining that the years he spent on the SOL were the best years of his life, and telling Mike "it made a man out of me and maybe, just maybe, it'll make a man out of you too." Once the repairs were finished, Joel boarded his ship and headed back to Earth.



  • Joel Robinson is played by MST3K creator and writer Joel Hodgson. Hodgson explained that he used the surname "Robinson" because it "flows off the tongue" better than his given name. It's also a reference to the Robinson family in the 1960s TV show Lost in Space (itself an homage to the classic children's novel Swiss Family Robinson) as well as the novel Robinson Crusoe.
  • In the KTMA season, he is identified by his real name, Joel Hodgson.
  • Joel appears in every episode from the pilot, The Green Slime to 512 - Mitchell, as well as in 1001 - Soultaker for a total of 108 episodes. (Joel Hodgson does not appear in episode K17 - Time of the Apes, but the character is seen through a port, floating outside the ship.)
  • Joel Hodgson adopted his character's "sleepy-eyed look" and slower drawl to keep continuity from the KTMA days. As Joel would be working in the off hours on show or standup and the next day would be exhausted during taping. He has commented how fans who meet him are puzzled on how alert and average speaking toned he is compared to his character.
  • At the end of Mitchell, Joel identified the film 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (from which he took the quote for his goodbye plaque) as his favorite movie. This would contradict his earlier statement in Master Ninja II that his favorite movie was Colossus: The Forbin Project.
  • In the real world, the only known Hot Fish Shop was located in Winona, Minnesota, not Osseo. Its motto was "Good food isn't cheap, and cheap food isn't good". This Hot Fish Shop closed the same weekend that Experiment #1001 (the episode featuring Joel's return) aired. A new Hot Fish Shop (owned by the same family) was later opened in Rochester, Minnesota but it closed at the end of the summer season in 2014.
  • On June 4, 2018, Joel Hodgson announced the return of Joel Robinson as part of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live - 30th Anniversary Tour.



The Satellite of Love
Primary Residents Joel RobinsonMike NelsonJonah HestonCrow T. RobotGypsyCambotTom Servo
Minor/Other Residents Magic VoiceTimmyMike's RobotClayton Forrester (mirror)TV's Frank (mirror)Eddie Nelson (alternate universe)NanitesMike Nelson (robot)WinstonM. WaverlyMatt Claude Van DammeGrowlerEmily Connor
Visitors EnochDemon DogsNuveenaGypsy (mirror)Tom Servo (mirror)MonadObserversFinneganLydiaOrtegaPhantom of KrankorHenry KissingerDelivery ManGoosioMikey the Mike spriteBrain GuyPearl ForresterProfessor Bobo
Terminology AirlockDeus ex MachinaHexfield ViewscreenHyper-warp escape shipsJet ScreenManipulator armsMovie signRocket Number 9The TubeUmbilicusWhirlpool
Locations BridgeCrow's RoomJoel's roomKitchenMike's roomMystery Science TheaterTheater hallwayTom's room
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