Arts & Entertainment

The return of Super Ball

EntertainmentScienceTelevisionScientific ResearchHBO (tv network)Joel Hodgson

Nobody could explain Super Ball ahead of time. Not my editor, who assigned me to cover it because he would sadly be in Hawaii. ("I miss all the fun stuff," he complained.) Not Joel Hodgson, one of the creators of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," who quickly passed me off to his comedy writing brother Jim, with whom he started throwing this party in 1996.

Bret McKenzie, co-star of the HBO series "Flight of the Conchords," was only capable of offering, "It's a strange party; there's a lot going on" in his deep New Zealand accent. A comedian friend of mine who couldn't attend this year but has in the past described it as "a carnival of the mind." The best Jim Hodgson, whose baby this really is, could do was, "It's a circus. That's what it is."

Super Ball 8, held Saturday night at the Laurel Canyon Stages deep in the North Valley, coincided with an unmissable Daft Punk performance (the best concert I've ever attended), so I couldn't get there until past 1 in the morning, when only a skeleton crew of comedians, writers and a pogo stick maker were left standing around drinking from plastic keg cups and making one another laugh.

I don't know how to describe it either, but here's what it seemed like: a beloved comedian reunion where everyone can dork out on art and music and science. That's why everyone loves Super Ball so much and missed it when it went on a five-year hiatus that finally ended this year.

As Dan Harmon, who starred in VH1's "Acceptable TV" (an awesome yet failed experiment), said: "This is the only place I ever see Dana Gould."

Jim Hodgson seems to be the host with the most passion for Super Ball, although the party was also sponsored by his brother and George Meyer, the lanky, legendary head "Simpsons" writer.

"I was inspired by Robert Irwin, who did the garden at the Getty Center," Jim told me when I asked what Super Ball was all about. (I was too tired to ask what that meant.) Then he added: "It's like a one-night world fair," and that made more sense.

By the time I arrived, the rotating 20-minute art exhibits had mostly been taken down, the lights had been shut on the glass box display of rings from Super Balls past (each year Jim designs a sturdy metal Super Ball ring to give out to attendees), and the Japanese sushi chef who greeted everyone who entered (played by comedy writer Danny Ceballos) had already packed it in.

The two people dressed as fluorescent-haired mermaid bartenders were still pouring drinks, but the video feed of animals being neutered (from a mobile neutering clinic parked out front) had long since finished. The homemade telescope focused on the moons of Jupiter had been put away, and all that remained of the food contest was a short, wiry guy wearing a championship belt around his waist.

By 2:30 Super Ball had been distilled to a choice group of comedians and friends. That's when L.A. comic actor Mark Fite of sketch group Three Headed Dog came out dressed as his character the Milkman. The Milkman has bad teeth and pasty white skin from drinking so many milk products. His legs are lumpy and gross because he sits in his truck all day long. He's also not too bright.

The comedians gathered round and asked the Milkman what happened to his tray of milk products, which were all overturned and empty, laughing as much at his responses as to their own questions.

Jim Hodgson, who had taken a break from cleaning up to watch Fite do his character, was glowing.

"It's like oral history," he said. "My folks used to do this thing in their backyard."

Well, probably not quite like this.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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EntertainmentScienceTelevisionScientific ResearchHBO (tv network)Joel Hodgson
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