Interview: John Hodgman is pleased to serve

You're welcome
By EUGENIA WILLIAMSON  |  November 14, 2011


Brookline native, Apple pitchman, podcast host, and Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman has made a career out of hilarious pedantry. Last week, he released That Is All (Dutton), the final book in his trilogy of Complete World Knowledge. Hodgman spoke with me from his home in New York.

DO YOU STILL HAVE THAT MUSTACHE? WHAT'S UP WITH THAT? Yes, I do. I have more mustache than ever. I grew the mustache on a hiatus. I was just starting to germinate this idea of my transformation into a remote, Howard Hughes–like lunatic figure. The Daily Show asked when I was coming in. I said, "I have to warn you: I have a mustache." They said fine, and they thought it was hilarious, for probably different reasons than I did. There was a reveal of the mustache on set, where I am wearing a completely ridiculous fake mustache. Jon is very confused, and I say, "I'm sorry about that," and I take off my fake mustache to reveal my real mustache.

I think at one point there was a joke that I was growing my mustache to look like Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones. I think a joke that got cut was that I was growing the mustache because I was playing the young Wilford Brimley in the prequel to Cocoon. I wish we had used that joke.

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO END THE BOOK SERIES? Conceivably, it could have gone on indefinitely. It's modeled after the almanac form, which is to say an annually updated book of facts and figures for the coming year. That seemed to be one way that I could have continued with the project, but that would have been too much work.

The first goal in my mind while writing the books was always to be as funny as I can be and everything else will sort itself out. So what I discovered in writing the first book was that it wasn't only an opportunity for me to tell a lot of jokes that I had been storing up in one way or another for decades as an adult human, but also to do a kind of writing — I had always wanted to be a short story writer, but there was no money in it. So then I became a literary agent, and I would do this writing for McSweeney's on the side in the voice of this deranged authority giving really bad advice for simple problems. I discovered that telling jokes in that voice and giving advice in that voice was one of the funnest things that I knew how to do. That's how these books came to be.

By the second book, I realized I couldn't keep making the same jokes anymore. So much of the first book was told from the point of view of a tweedy literary dilettante, where I could talk all about my George Plimpton-like cameo in TheMuppet Movie and such, and the whole reason that was a joke was that it was an absurd proposition — I would never be hired to do cameo appearances in a movie or television show. By the time of the second book, my life was so drastically transformed by TheDaily Show and Apple that I was doing exactly that.

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