Life as the 'PC Guy'
John Hodgman opens up about becoming Apple’s famous foil, what it’s like to mock President Obama—and how to make the perfect drink. PLUS, an excerpt from his book More Information Than You Require.
John Hodgman talks to Rachel Sklar About Mixing Drinks, Being the “PC Guy.”
What’s It Like to Mock President Obama? Hodgman Explains.
Excerpt from More Information Than You Require.
I trust we need no introduction, you and I.
If you are familiar with my previous book of COMPLETE WORLD KNOWLEDGE, and if you also have successfully completed my popular seminar in EXPERT MEMORY TRAINING, 48 then you likely recall this simple fact:
My name is John Hodgman.
But I do not wish to be presumptuous. Perhaps you do not know who I am. Perhaps you were dealt some terrible blow to the head and are now suffering amnesia, and so do not recall my previous bestselling work, THE AREAS OF MY EXPERTISE.
NOVEMBER 10 1969: Sesame Street debuts on PBS. Viewers who grew up on the series may be surprised to learn that in early episodes, Oscar “the Grouch” was orange, Gordon was played by nine different men, the body of Mr. Hooper was not yet embalmed and on display behind a glass panel outside his store, and most of the story lines revolved around the subject of when Elmo would arrive and save them all.
If that is the case, allow me to explain. My name is John Hodgman; you live on the planet Earth; and everything is going to be fine.
Why? Because the item you are holding in your hand is called a “BOOK.” Specifically, it is called MORE INFORMATION THAN YOU REQUIRE, and, like its predecessor, it contains within it all sorts of useful information on ridding your house of annoying pests, hints for winning at the gambling table, famous animal acts, useful recipes, the molemen and their hideous steeds, the U.S. presidents and their hideous steeds, everything that happened before today, and SUNDRY MORE FACTS OF SCIENTIFIC, SOCIAL, AND HISTORICAL MERIT, ALL OF WHICH ARE MADE UP BY ME.
NOVEMBER 11 1922, THE UPPER WEST SIDE OF MANHATTAN: Grant’s tomb is discovered in Morningside Heights, New York. The first four humans to enter the tomb (Lord Carnarvon, Professor Firecracker, Dick Smotheringwell, and little Cheepy, the Exotic Child of the East) were initially treated as celebrities, touring the country with the amazing relics they found there (cigars, old sabers, 1,000 mummified cats). But then, mysteriously, they all contracted strange ailments: cottonmouth, headaches, and severe dehydration. Doctors, eager to dismiss rumors of “Grant’s Curse,” claimed that they were only suffering common hangovers; but only the child, Cheepy, was known to take a drink. And curiously, he was the only one to survive. After three days of torment, the rest of the adventurers died in their sleep on the same stormy night. Some blamed Cheepy, who later would climb to the top of a rope and disappear. Others blame the vengeful ghost of U.S. Grant, noting that each of the corpses was discovered with remnants of cigar ash on its nightshirt. Either way, the secret of who is actually buried in the tomb died with them.
(For, also like its predecessor, this book is unique in the desk reference game insofar as the amazing true facts within it are almost entirely false. The precise reason for this is well established in my earlier writings. Suffice it to paraphrase the great detective and repeat that REALITY, while generally PROBABLE, is not always INTERESTING.)
In short, here is a volume that contains all that you wish to know—truly MORE INFORMATION THAN YOU REQUIRE—as you seek to recover from your amnesia, learn the secret of your forgotten identity, and find out how you got that terrible scar. 49
Good luck, my amnesiac friend.
But now, I wish to return my attention to those readers who have not lost their memories and who are scarred only on the inside. That is to say: those who have read THE AREAS OF MY EXPERTISE.
First of all, let me say that I am glad we got rid of the amnesiacs.
What a tiresome bunch of whiners.
NOVEMBER 12 1943: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WALLACE SHAWN! Insofar as he pioneered the role of the highly educated-writer-turned-nebbishy-character-actor, one could argue that I would have no career were it not for Wallace Shawn. It’s also true that he would have been cast as the PC had I not poisoned him with iocane powder.
Now I expect you are wondering. . . “If your last book contained COMPLETE WORLD KNOWLEDGE, why, then, the need for this second volume?”
Don’t ask me how I know you are wondering this. 50 I JUST KNOW.
But though I appreciate your skepticism, if you just read on, I think you will see that the need is pressing, not just for ONE further volume, but indeed FOR TWO.
But I get ahead of myself.
As you may know, since our most recent communication, 51 several THINGS HAVE OCCURRED.
1. Like all humans, I have aged, and grown wiser and more mature. I have, if you can believe it, learned more than I knew before. ESPECIALLY ABOUT THE OKAPI.
2. Perhaps more notably, I have added to my list of bona fides and duties the title of “FAMOUS MINOR TELEVISION PERSONALITY.” 52
3. Largely because of the responsibilities associated with this new title (being photographed wearing tuxedoes, riding in jets with heiresses, meeting Emo Philips IN PERSON, etc.), I accidentally forgot to write the book I promised you on the subject of my daughter, whom, for reasons of privacy, I refer to solely as HODGMINA.
NOVEMBER 13 1789: Benjamin Franklin coins the famous phrase “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes, and the enduring popularity of the glass harmonica, the musical instrument I invented. Mark my words: They will be playing our national anthem on it for years to come! (PS: our national anthem, which I wrote, is called ‘Turkey in the Straw’).”
4. Indeed, while I find all references to my personal life loathsome (except for the part above about meeting Emo Philips, which you can appreciate is a fabulous fantasy come true), you might have nonetheless heard that there is an addition to my family. He is a human male who is roughly three years of age, based on a standard counting of his bodily growth rings. For easy reference I shall refer to him solely as HODGMANILLO. While he is as yet too young to handle a pen or plume, I hope that, in the future, he will take after his father and become a PROFESSIONAL WRITER and, ideally, write that book about HODGMINA I promised. My hope is that he will get started as soon as this Christmas, when we send him to boarding school, where he should not have any distractions. 53
5. And yet, in the midst of all of this dizzying and bizarre good fortune, I began to feel an extraordinary measure of melancholy.
6. Also, as has been reported: one of my cats died, probably due to neglect by Jonathan Coulton, 54 who cannot prove otherwise.
NOVEMBER 14 1765: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ROBERT FULTON! Fulton would gain fame and fortune designing the first commercially viable steamships, and later, he would be commissioned by Napoléon to build the first practical spacecraft, the Nautilus . But he would meet a gruesome end in 1815. Only fifty and still at the peak of his powers, Fulton was demonstrating his new steam-powered military exoskeleton at the Storm King Exoskeleton Proving Grounds in Cold Spring, New York. While the flying and man-crushing demonstrations had gone smoothly, the amphibious-mode demonstration ended tragically when Fulton, piloting his own creation, realized too late that metal is heavier than water.
But let us leave that matter for the moment and turn back to the subject of melancholy.
As a FORMER PROFESSIONAL LITERARY AGENT, I had often observed the sadness that sometimes grips an author after he has published his first book. Writing a book is a long, intimate affair. Many feel that seeing their first book published is like giving birth to a child.
Or, more accurately, it is like giving birth to a child and then sending that child to be raised in a chain bookstore, far away. Maybe even in Michigan. And there, that child would have to fend for himself, feeding at night on stale muffins from the coffee bar and hiding by day in the humor section, secure in the knowledge that he will never, ever be found there. NOT IN ONE MILLION YEARS.
For many authors, this is depressing to consider.
BUT NOT ME. Once my book was done, I felt TERRIFIC.
I felt a profound sense of wholeness and relief. I had caught within the pages of a single book COMPLETE WORLD KNOWLEDGE. . . a book that now has traveled the world 55 and been welcomed in every home. It has become, I venture to say: THE ABSOLUTE STANDARD IN ALMANACS OF ASSORTED FAKE FACTS in the United States, and I was proud of that, and ready to direct my attention to my compelling new hobby: ASTONISHING WEALTH.
NOVEMBER 15 1979, WASHINGTON, DC: Congress is accidentally photographed wearing their blood-red robes of state. All negatives are destroyed.
Yes, it is true: When last we spoke, I was but a poor, loathsome writer who, like many, was forced to live off credit cards and the pity lunches of his editors and agents, and to rent his own pants.
But now, between my work for television, my lucrative publishing advances, and my side businesses in RING TONES and DECORATIVE PLATES, I now am in a position to buy BEAUTIFUL NEW PANTS every day, often made of whalebone and silver. And quickly—so quickly—this fabulous lifestyle became as normal to me as breathing underwater. 56
Yes. I was perfectly satisfied with my life. I had a happy family, and at least one cat that Jonathan Coulton had not yet killed. Not to mention a beautiful, new nine-hundred-foot speed zeppelin that I had bought from Emo Philips.
And so for a time I floated with great speed, high above the earth, and rarely did I look down to see you, dear reader. And when I did, you looked so small. You looked like ants to me, with your strangely segmented bodies and horrid mandibles. I would see you and think, Why don’t those little people get their mandibles removed? Surely there is surgery for that sort of thing by now. 57
But then I would turn back to the skies and forget about you once more.
My speed zeppelin, as you probably know by now, was named Hubris.
Why Emo Philips chose that name for the zeppelin is still a mystery to me. But it was apt, my friends. It was apt.
NOVEMBER 16 1952. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, RANDY “MACHO MAN” SAVAGE! The famous wrestler, noted for his husky voice and trademark sunglasses, was a spokesperson for Slim Jim meat sticks. The rumor that they used his skin to make them is true.
FOR IT WAS NOT LONG BEFORE MY BALLOON WAS LITERALLY 58 POPPED AND I WAS LITERALLY 59 BROUGHT BACK DOWN TO EARTH.
It began when I was asked to appear in a MAJOR MOTION PICTURE. Specifically, I appeared in the comedy Baby Mama as the “Tweedy Former Professional Literary Agent Turned Fertility Specialist”: a small but pivotal role in which I hilariously explain to Tina Fey that she is barren and can never bear children. Now, this is a classic routine from old Vaudeville, but I like to think I brought my own unique take to it (a double spit-take, followed by wheezing laughter). Even so, it’s hardly worth mentioning, except for this:
You may recall from my previous book a list of movies in which I had made cameo appearances, including The Muppet Movie, Just Cause, and Mimic. But of course, I had never appeared in any of those movies. It was all lies. But now here I was, sitting in front of the lights and the cameras (I guess Tina Fey was there as well, but who can really know for sure, with all the special effects they use these days?), making an ACTUAL CAMEO APPEARANCE in an ACTUAL FILM.
November 17 1982, CBS: Bring ‘Em Back Alive debuts. A rollicking adventure series set in the 1930s, “B’EBA” (as it’s known to fans) was presumed by many critics as yet another attempt to cash in on the popularity of the film Raiders of the Lost Ark . But in fact, it was a long-planned spin-off featuring the telepathic ape named “Frank Buck”—the only character to have resonated with viewers from the quickly canceled 2001: A Space Odyssey—A Television Program .
And that is when the melancholy set in. THE AREAS OF MY EXPERTISE was founded on a simple maxim: TRUTH MAY BE STRANGER THAN FICTION, but never as strange as lies. 60 But now truth seemed to be catching up. Now that my own reality was outpacing my ability to make jokes, what would be left for me to do? A low, existential dread infected me in that moment. (You can see it in frame 17,326.) And it took some time for me to shake it. Indeed, all the way until the end of the scene. Then I am glad to say that, after a long martini bath and money-counting session, I had forgotten all about it.
But then I had another startling revelation—one that could not be so easily washed off with vermouth…
48. If no, please see “How to Remember Any Name, Especially the Name ‘John Hodgman,’ page 349. 49. Please see “The Secret of Your Identity and How You Got That Terrible Scar,” page 587. 50. (Hint: I am inside your house.) 51. Please see my introduction to the paperback edition of The Areas of My Expertise. 52. Please see “Where You May Have Seen Me on Television,” page 401. 53. Except for the calisthenics! 54. Please see page 443 for further details pertaining to COULTON. 55. Well, not the whole world. But a bona-fide offer was made to publish the book in the Portuguese language for the Portuguese (no mention of the Brazilians), and I am proud to report that that offer is PENDING. 56. What? You have not received the gill operation yet? That is because YOU ARE POOR. 57. It turns out, there isn’t. 58. Not literally. A zeppelin is not a balloon. 59. Literally, but only if you presume I am telling you the truth about the zeppelin. 60. Or as true.
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