Writer John Hodgman has become an international symbol of geekery since he began appearing on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show in 2005 to promote his book of fake trivia, The Areas of My Expertise. Since then, he’s become a regular on The Daily Show, appeared in numerous movies and TV shows, developed an enormous Internet following and, of course, appeared as the oft-upstaged personification of the personal computer in the “Mac vs. PC” TV advertisements.
Now, Hodgman has completed his continuously paginated saga of false knowledge with That is All (Dutton, $25), a massive compilation of made-up facts and stories centered around the coming global superpocalypse, Ragnarok, in 2012.
Hodgman will appear at the Durham Armory at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to read from and sign copies of That is All. We were able to get up with him on the road to ask him questions about the reading, his thoughts on Occupy Raleigh and the extremely unsettling mustache he’s been sporting for That is All.
Independent: So, the description for the Durham event is a “reading and riffing.” That scares the hell out of me. What will this be? Improvising? Do you have a talk or anything?
John Hodgman: Well, usually with book tours, I start by reading passages from the book I think the live audience will enjoy. Gradually, as the experience gets tattooed onto my brain, the book tends to fall aside, and I think by the time I’m in Durham, I will be speaking more or less extemporaneously from the book.
I might talk about sports, and the difference between American football and European football, including the fact that one actually uses a ball, while the other uses something that could only be called a ball by a mentally ill person. I’ll also probably touch on how magic tricks are performed, and a reality television show I think is going to be very successful that I have devised, and certainly the coming global superpocalypse, which I refer to as Ragnarok.
Of all the things to latch onto from what you just said, I have to say your reality show is going to have a hard time topping Hillbilly Handfishin’, which is sort of a sign of Ragnarok in and of itself.
Are you referring to the ancient art of noodling, or catching a catfish with one’s bare hands? That’s the ancient battle of man against disgusting mud creature. It taps into that.
Just last night, you did “Money Talks” on The Daily Show, riffing on the Occupy Wall Street movement. You might be interested to know that just 20 miles or so from Durham, there’s an Occupy Raleigh movement going on near the State Capitol. Any plans to drop by?
Is this specific to North Carolinian (pronounced “North Caro-LEAN-ian”) issues?
There’s some overlap with local issues and the broader movement.
I don’t know that I’ll have time to visit the Occupy movement there in Raleigh. I don’t want to make fun of people when I don’t know what they look like. That’s the thing with the whole Occupy movement—it truly is leaderless and grassroots in every possible way, so even I hesitate to call those people “dirty hippies” as a joke, because there are a lot of people down there who are extremely eccentric, and many who are extremely thoughtful.
There would be a lot of people down there I would agree with tremendously—in or out of character as the “Deranged Millionaire.” There’s a lot of people I feel are not going to be productive trying to solve our problems with a drum circle.
Speaking generally, I think when it is not violent, which I do not think is productive even as an expression of frustration, it is a perfectly reasonable thing to be happening, and it tests our ability to tolerate ambiguity that we cannot put a particular ideology on it. It’s a good challenge for our media and our country to appreciate, that we are not living in a world where politics are right vs. left, like two opposing sports teams.
But I do hope that they are able to take showers before I come to town, because that’s just something that I’m not willing to tolerate.
Speaking of the “Deranged Millionaire,” of all the things you discuss in your book, the thing that has burned itself most into my brain is the mustache.
Right. I think you put it well. More than anything else, it is an issue. It is troubling to people; it is a subject of debate; it is controversial.
Will you be bringing this mustache to your reading, and what does it say about the mindset of myself and others that the mustache is the first thing that leaps out at people?
Well, I will be bringing the mustache, because it has attached itself to my face. So I have no choice about that. I can reassure the people of Durham that it will not be jumping out at people. It seems to have established a very stable parasitic relationship with my upper lip, and it seems to not be wanting to change hosts. So people should not fear my mustache, or worry that it’s going to take over their own upper lips.
So it’s a mustache détente, where it’s peacefully occupying your face?
In many ways, you’re right. The mustache has a lot of similarities to what’s going on on Wall Street; it’s almost like an outgrowth of the Occupy movement. It is clearly a disruptive presence. It has something to say, and yet precisely what statement it is making is multitudinous and unfathomable.
And I don’t quite know what to do about it. I grew it on a whim earlier this year, where it was something that I liked, and yet it is something that causes a lot of discussion. I think that people are unnerved by an otherwise pale and baby-faced human baby walking around with a mustache, and because of its unnatural lustrous dark color. It is jet black with streaks of gray, compared to my otherwise mousy brown, limp hair, and people presume it is fake.
I think people are concerned I’m turning into some kind of creature. You remember the 1980s movie The Fly, when Jeff Goldblum was transforming into the giant fly? His transformation manifested itself in many ways, including large dense coarse hairs growing out of his body. And that is effectively what has happened to me, though what I am becoming remains to be seen.
“Perhaps I was a mustache that dreamed it was a man, and now the dream is over and the mustache is awake.”