Volume 78 - Number 25 / NOVEMBER 19 - 25, 2008
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Photo by Jan Cobb

John Hodgman

Ferrets, lies and that Mac guy John Hodgman explains everything

John Hodgman and Elizabeth Gilbert
Friday, Nov. 21 at 6:30 p.m.
Free
Apple Store, SoHo
103 Prince Street
212-226-3126

By STACEY COBURN

The former editor of the New York Times Magazine’s “True Life Tales” column, John Hodgman is the author of a recently released book filled with fake entries covering everything from mice to the Electoral College. Written in the form of an almanac, “More Information Than You Require” is designed to appear true, although it’s completely invented. He acknowledges that a sequel to “The Areas of My Expertise” (2005) might seem unnecessary since his first book claimed to be “A Complete World Knowledge,” but explains in his introduction that he’s grown older, wiser, and more famous over the last few years. Thus, more information really was required.

Hodgman, recognizable as the PC guy in Mac television ads, is speaking at the Apple Store in SoHo this Friday, with his friend Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the best-selling memoir “Eat Pray Love.”

Hodgman agreed to answer our questions, on the condition that they be quirky.


STACEY COBURN: Are you upset that everyone credits your fellow movie star Tina Fey for inspiring Sarah Palin’s look, when it was obviously you she was trying to embody?
JOHN HODGMAN: I think you are mistaken. If there is any governor who has been biting my style, it would have to be former governor of New Hampshire, John H. Sununu. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_H._Sununu

While indeed comprehensive and undoubtedly the standard for excellence in the fake fact reference genre, your work does seem to cover topics that are a little, hodgepodge (get it?!) How do determine what to write about?
Naturally, I am guided, as we all are, by my own enthusiasms (space station construction, owl cookery, gin). While I realize these subjects may be esoteric to some, I hope at least they may provide a sort of blue print to my brain. Which will also be helpful to those who want to build a mechanical replica of my brain (to which people I implore: hurry up!)

How genuine is your interest in ferrets and hobos? How about your fear of identity theft?
Now who is naïve? If you are not concerned about identity theft and ferrets, then you are living in a fantasy world. Luckily, the hobos disappeared after the Great Depression. Some say they will return. And they are right.

You explain you make up facts because they’re much more INTERESTING than reality, but there are several places in your book where you emphasize the truth of what you’re writing about, such as Hobo Chili and how Alexander Hamilton sought a Prussian monarch to rule the United States. How much of “More Information Than You Require” is actually true?
My book is prefaced with the truth: that everything within is lies. Unless I specify that it is true. In which case, you can trust me. Why would I lie about that?

As you frequently remind readers in your book, your career consists of being the PC guy in Mac commercials, a minor television personality on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a major movie star (with a cameo in “Baby Mama”) and a writer. Would you give it all up if you finally were allowed a spot Celebrity Poker and managed to rake it all in or would you continue your work just for the joy of it all?
In the Celebrity Poker Game of Life, I have already hit the royal straight flush, both in terms of professional thrills and free energy drinks. I thus am lucky enough to do everything for the joy of it all. At least until the next big hand.

If you were offered your own television show like other former Daily Show stars, what would it be like?
At some point I would like to return to the Little Gray Book Lectures, the instructive literary variety shows we used to produce in Brooklyn. But it remains to be seen whether television will tolerate three hour long drunken extravaganzas involving readings, brass bands, dog shows, and spelling bees. Maybe on the Internet.

You shocked the world with your certitude that the elected president would reveal he/she is a woman and has a hook for a hand. When do you think President elect Barack Obama will finally tell all?
As a famous minor television personality, I don’t mind revealing that I had gotten a sneak preview at some of the scripts that had been written for the end of the campaign season. So I knew there were some surprises coming.

But where was the moment where Barack Obama messes up the close, and Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon chew him out over it? What happened to the part where Sarah Palin reveals that she not only has a hook for a hand, but also a rifle for a leg?

What happened to the amazing, out of the blue victory of Hillary Clinton, even though she was not on the ballot, because you never can count a Clinton out? Not never ever ever. Because the Clintons are wizards.

None of that actually happened. I am beginning to suspect that I was slipped a phony script, the kind Hollywood puts out to protect their double-super-secret ending: that a young man of mixed race actually beats the white war hero in a fair fight, and by a large margin. And weirder: the incredibly long and dramatic story doesn’t even end there. It turns out this is just the FIRST CHAPTER. What is this? Lord of the Rings?

So I guess I’m disappointed that Hollywood betrayed me. But I am very glad, and less surprised, that America didn’t.

That is all.

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