The Hot Seat: John Hodgman
The PC guy is this millennium's George Plimpton-except for the sports part.
Thu Oct 9 2008
As he gleefully divulges in More Information than You Require, the second in a planned three-volume compendium of fake "facts," John Hodgman is now a famous minor television personality—and a wealthy one at that. This is notable mostly because of how suddenly it came to be: Almost overnight in 2006, the cult (read: poor) New York City literary hero morphed into a shining beacon for geeks nationwide after being cast almost simultaneously as the resident expert on The Daily Show and as the stodgy PC in those ubiquitous Mac ads. Wearing a shirt he describes as a "very fine Banana Republic single-pocket, single-button polo," Hodgman, 37, met us for lunch near his home in Park Slope.
RECOMMENDED: Full list of Hot Seat interviews
Time Out New York: Why are you not clad in your finest raiments?
John Hodgman: Do you mean my ermine cape and my whalebone suit? Not for lunch.
TONY: I'm disappointed.
John Hodgman: You have to understand that there is a John Hodgman that exists in the book and then there's a John Hodgman who exists in Brooklyn, or what we refer to as actual reality. The overlap between those two universes is pretty strong. So while I am decidedly dressed down for an afternoon lunch in Park Slope, it is largely to accommodate you, a freelance magazine writer, something I used to be. I remember how very little money I had and what poor fashion sense, so I didn't want to make you feel uncomfortable.
TONY: Thanks. And congrats—your new book avoids the LethalWeapon problem, wherein the franchise gets worse with each successive sequel.
John Hodgman: Well, you know me—I'm too old for this shit. But my book is not a sequel. It's one complete work that happens to be published in three books, like The Lord of the Rings. You may have noticed in my new book, the page numbers pick up where the last book left off.
TONY: I did. I also noticed your continued obsession with Presidents who had hooks for hands. Would Gore have won in 2000 if he'd had a hook?
John Hodgman: Yes. That would have been the thing that put him over the top. Floridians love hooks.
TONY: Will you vote Republican now that you're loaded?
John Hodgman: No, because I still make less than $5 million a year.
TONY: As a newly minted minor celebrity—
John Hodgman: Not even that new anymore. Oldly minted minor celebrity, futureDell dude.
TONY: —where do you think you rank on the scale of fame?
John Hodgman: My inspiration in almost every aspect of my career is George Plimpton. While I certainly have not come near his accomplishments in every other aspect of his life, in terms of his role as an occasional stock tweedy literary figure in television shows and advertisements, I think I've pulled about even. But I still think I'm pretty far below almost every panelist on Match Game.
TONY: Plimpton loved sports, though. You're not a fan, right?
John Hodgman: What I find offensive is that you would ask me about sports—that it is a necessity for particularly a man to have an opinion about sports. I am constantly surprised by the completely disproportionate role it plays in our culture, especially when you compare it to Watchmen, which everyone should know inside and out.
TONY: Did you have a bad experience as a kid that caused you to feel that way?
John Hodgman: I played eight-year-old soccer, and at one point I scored a goal. That was the moment where I was thinking to myself, This could be okay. I like this. So I said something to the equivalent of "You suck!" to the other team, and our coach, an Irishman—an actual Irishman—really laid into me for poor sportsmanship. And that was traumatic. But that's not why I didn't play sports. I didn't play sports because I was asthmatic, lazy and more interested in reading Power Man and Iron Fist.
TONY: So do you advise your geeky minions to wage war with the jocks?
John Hodgman: No, I want peace, man. Once we win.
TONY: Fair enough. Last question: How many people have asked you for free Apple products?
John Hodgman: Including you? Twenty-five. My answer to you is no. Even though I am sitting right here in front of you with a giant bouquet of iPods, you may not have any of them.
More Information than You Require is available Tue 21; Hodgman reads at Barnes & Noble Union Square that day.