Saturday, November 01, 2008


This past week Laura and I had the opportunity to go see John Hodgman, perhaps better known as The Daily Show's resident expert, perhaps better known as a PC. The man is, quite simply, one of the most brilliant humorists of our time. Several years ago he wrote a book of fake facts, essentially an almanac of tables and charts, histories and predictions, anecdotes and hobo names, all of which were pure, unadulterated bullroar. Any exposure to Hodgman's pure bullroar is guaranteed to cause mirth, and reading The Areas of My Expertise left me in a heightened state of mirthfulness for a prolonged period.

It was great.

To promote this book John Hodgman went on The Daily Show to give an interview. That interview went so well, and was so hilarious, that Jon Stewart invited him to be the resident expert for the show. This led to the Mac ads, and now he's the kind of guy you might recognize.

The point is though, he's really funny.

Anyway, John Hodgman, a famous minor television personality, has picked up exactly where he left off. He's got another book of fake stuff out, called More Information Than You Require, and it too is hilarious.

To promote this new book, Mr. Hodgman appeared at one of our local book shops to do a reading and answer questions. It was funny, but not quite as enjoyable as the first time I saw him. Three years ago my sister-in-law and I went to see Hodgman at this tiny little cafe/theater. At that point very few people knew who he was because he hadn't yet been on TV at all, and his first book had only just come out. Somehow or other we found out about it, and went to see him (and Jonathon Coulton and David Rees, who were touring with him).

The first time I saw him, the room was barely more than a closet. We crammed about 30 people into a tiny little room (and "tiny little" is generous; we were sharing chairs.). It was a second show, and Hodgman had nowhere to be the next morning, so he pulled out a bottle of whisky and started drinking. Then he offered it to the crowd. The bottle was passed around. I think they might have found some dixie cups at some point. Regardless, the point is, John Hodgman once asked me to drink whiskey with him. Then Hodgman did his funny reading thing, Coulton did his funny song thing, and Rees did his funny cartooning thing. After that it was time for Q&A. Hodgman was still very new to this touring thing, and he claimed that he wasn't used to answering questions in person. So, instead of a traditional question and answer, he passed out walkie-talkies, and if you wanted to ask a question you could "call in". Given the size of the room this was the most absurdly hilarious thing ever.

Hodgman: "Hello caller, this is John Hodgman. What's your name and where are you calling from? Over."
Caller: "Hi John, this is Dave. I'm calling from the third row."
Hodgman (directly to Dave, not into the walkie-talkie): "You need to say 'over'. Didn't you ever have a walkie-talkie as a kid?"
Caller (directly to Hodgman): "Oops. Sorry."
Hodgman (directly to Dave): "Ok. Go ahead."
Hodgman (back into walkie-talkie): "Caller? Are you there? Where are you calling from? Over."
Caller: "Hi John, this is Dave in the third row. Over."
Hodgman: "Thanks for calling Dave from the third row. Did you have a question? Over."
Caller: "Yeah, could you pass the whiskey back this way? Over."

This time Hodgman's reading was much more... normal. Still very quirky, with Hodgman supplying the questions (and the answers) for the Q&A session. He handed out sheets of paper for people to read off of, and then answered those questions. He also introduced the guy who was going to introduce him, and assigned nicknames to a good portion of the audience, but it wasn't quite the zany outing he'd had the first time.

He also stayed around for a while afterward to sign books and such. We waited in line for an hour or so, but it was worth it, because when we got up there the wife and I talked to him for about five minutes. I mentioned that I'd seen him three years ago, and he remembered the show. I asked about the differences in the touring and he explained that he planned that first promotional tour, which meant he got to do fun things. This time around his publisher planned the tour, and that meant he got to do things like leave the bookstore to go catch a train so that he could be on Good Morning, Philadelphia at 6:00 a.m. the next morning. He said that he didn't know how accurate that name could be, because really, can any morning be good if you're in Philadelphia, but that at least it was better than this time he was in L.A. and was supposed to do a show called Daybreak. Not an inviting name. Fortunately wildfires forced everyone in the area to be evacuated and he didn't have to go on Daybreak. He wouldn't confess to starting the fires, but he didn't deny it either.

Anywho, the point of this all is two-fold. First, John Hodgman is a very funny man, and everyone should read his book. It's quick and easy and light and hilarious. Second, we got to hobnob with a famous minor television personality, and once he even offered me whiskey. That's pretty cool.

Double bonus points if you get the song and can tell me (correctly) why I picked it.

Do you use your pointy nipples as telescopic antennae transmitting data back to Earth?


Nate said...

Flight of the Conchords! And as for why you chose these lyrics, I will have to assume that David Bowie visited you in a dream last night. I believe the song is "Bowie's in Space".

Matthew B. Novak said...

Errrr. Wrong answer. Song is right, but no double points because the reason is wrong.

Nate said...

Oh come on! I know that John Hodgman was in the episode of FOTC that centers around the Bowie song.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Sure you do. Now that you went and looked it up...

Perhaps if you would have said something about lighting bolts down the side of it.

Nate said...

It would appear that you and I are not destined to have a "stars, unseen" moment, and if you get that reference I will be truly impressed.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Sorry, I can't give you reason to be impressed.