Kailua-born Jonah Ray, 34, was in his early 20s when he left Hawaii in search of bigger opportunities. Before long he was compiling an impressive resume as a Los Angeles-based actor, comedian, writer and producer. Ray is one of the three hosts of “The Nerdist Podcast,” co-host of “The Meltdown With Jonah and Kumail” on Comedy Central, and the host of “Hidden America With Jonah Ray,” a travel show parody series on Seeso.
He is also the human star of Joel Hodgson’s reboot of a cult TV series, “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return,” which was released last month on Netflix after a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign to fund the revival. Ray plays stranded space janitor Jonah Heston, who becomes the subject of an experiment to test the limits of human sanity by watching cheesy sci-fi and horror flicks. The laughs come when Jonah and his robot sidekicks riff on the movies to stay sane. Ray will be part of a live “MST3K” tour, starting July 6; no Honolulu shows are scheduled. He was interviewed via email.
Word is that you didn’t have to audition for “MST3K” — they called you. How did Hodgson find you and what was he looking for?
Joel was a guest on my podcast “The Nerdist” a while back.
We hit it off and became friends. The more he talked about bringing the show back, the more he talked about my involvement. It started as a writer, then director, producer. Then finally he said, “You should be the guy.” I was speechless.
I’ve read that you were a “super fan” of the original show. Did you ever think, “I could do that”?
I was obsessed with the show. I had T-shirts that I bought from a video store in Windward Mall, posters on my walls. Watching it made me think that I too could do something in comedy. But by the time I started doing comedy, the show was gone, so I never thought I’d end up bringing it back.
What’s the best part of doing “MST3K?”
Getting to work with a bunch of my idols! Joel Hodgson, Mark Hamill, Jerry Seinfeld, Patton Oswalt — the list goes on. It is literally a dream come true.
Was the experience of shooting an episode of “Hidden America With Jonah Ray” in Hawaii different for you because you grew up here?
It was a lot different. I was very adamant about not showing the parts of Hawaii that are normally seen on TV and in movies. The crew wanted to get B-roll shots of Waikiki, and I said “No! Everybody has already seen that!” Then I gave them directions to shoot in Kaimuki, Waimanalo and Wahiawa. The whole thing was a real mind trip.
What do you expect to be doing careerwise between now and the end of the year?
What’s next for me is an “MST3K” 40-city bus tour, hopefully writing and shooting a second season of it, and prepping a feature film based off the comic book “Li’l Depressed Boy.”
Jonah Ray plays space janitor Jonah Heston in “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return.”