Oh, dear reader, I wish that I were you because were I you, I would now be reading an interview with a minor television celebrity instead of doing what I was actually doing before I became you, which was writing the article about the minor television celebrity that you are now reading.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves1. The minor television celebrity is none other than John Hodgman, the humble2 Park Sloper who has achieved his renown through two hilarious, and completely fake, trivia books (“The Areas of My Expertise” and the new “More Information than You Require”), regular appearances as the resident expert on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and a bit of trifle as the physical embodiment of Windows-based computers in a series of Apple commercials that have been viewed by more than 26 billion people worldwide3.
Not that Hodgman resents those Apple ads, of course. They are almost entirely responsible for his current renown, which includes a nationwide book tour to support his new fake book, money to support the lavish lifestyle to which he has become accustomed and spontaneous conversations with people everywhere he goes. All this for a former literary agent and one-time cheesemonger4.
“Of course I knew that the Apple ads would change my life,” Hodgman told GO Brooklyn5. “Being on TV has a spellcasting power over people. It has done dramatic things for book sales, but also for my subway-riding experience. People come up to me and say, ‘Hello,’ even though I do not know them. It’s very flattering, but it’s not something I expected as a 37-year-old freelance magazine writer and father of two.”
Oh, but he is too humble! John Hodgman may be the only man in the history of magazine writing to do a story on “Battlestar Galactica” and then later appear in an episode of “Battlestar Galactica.”6
Again, you can thank his minor TV celebrity for that guest spot.
“I called up my agent and asked him to get me on the show and, much to my surprise, they said yes,” Hodgman said about his cameo in an episode that will air in January (all he is allowed to say is that he plays a doctor). “I had a wonderful time, but being on that set confirmed for me that I truly am a creepy ‘Battlestar Galactica’ stalker.”
He flatters himself! What John Hodgman actually is is simply the nation’s finest aggregator of absolutely false trivia7. The unsuspecting must be reminded that flipping to any random page is dangerous, as the “facts” in the “book” are not “facts” as we commonly define them (by which I mean that they are actually true). Of course, there’s a good reason for this.
“This book is unique in the desk reference game insofar as the amazing true facts within it are almost entirely false,” Hodgman writes on page 250 (the pages in the new book begin at 237, where the earlier work left off). “REALITY, while generally PROBABLE, is not always INTERESTING.”
So that is how, for example, Hodgman can present a plausible story about how the ice-cream cone was invented in Brooklyn by Norman Mailer with an original recipe that included milk, eggs and punching. Additionally, in a section about the American presidency, Hodgman explains, equally plausibly, that Teddy Roosevelt initially only allowed moose to enter his “Bull Moose” party because “Roosevelt admired their solid, stubborn nature, their hatred of trusts and their ability to LEGALLY HAVE SEX WITH FEMALE MOOSE.”8
So what have we learned, dear reader9? Again, we turn to Hodgman for advice. How should other talented people who lack his astounding good looks make it to his level of minor celebrity?
The answer: Get on TV.
“My life as a performer was unexpected and unsought,” he said. “I went on ‘The Daily Show’ to promote ‘The Areas of My Expertise,’ and they asked me to do some more segments. It was ridiculously implausible. And then it led to the Apple ads.”
The good news is that despite being stopped on the subway and berated about his computing choices (Hodgman is, by the way, not a PC in real life), he still leads the same kind of life of quiet desperation that the rest of us do10 — with one major exception.
“I do tend to wear tuxedos more often. And I enjoy that,” he said. “I did a story for GQ magazine and they let me keep the tuxedo. It is a Calvin Klein and I look wonderful in it.”
I reminded Hodgman that, in good conscience, I could not report to my readers that he looked wonderful in it, as I have never seen him in the tux.
“Yes, but you can quote me on that,” he said. “It is true. There are pictures on Flickr.”
Sounds like more minor celebrity is forthcoming.
1) If we did that, we would find ourselves at the end of this TRULY UNIQUE PROFILE, and I am having too much fun writing it to allow you to jump to the end, which, I assure you, won’t be as good as this opening.
2) Insomuch as one can be truly humble given one’s status as a “person” who has APPEARED ON TELEVISION — and sometimes even on channels that do not come with basic cable.
3) This success is truly outstanding, and speaks to Hodgman’s unique gifts as an actor, considering that he does not resemble a personal computer in any way, save for a tiny — I assure you, it’s tiny! — bulge around his midsection that resembles the curvature on the screen of an old-style monitor.
4) I am NOT making that up. Just ask him about Humboldt Fog. Ask him! He sucks that stuff down like it’s krill and he’s a baleen whale!
5) This would be a good place to disclose that I have known John Hodgman socially for about a decade. In fact, on one unforgettable night in 2003, Hodgman was sitting in the back room at McManus Pub on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, commanding a group of lackeys and other hangers-on, while I was having a beer with a friend at the bar. A member of Hodgman’s group noticed me and invited me to join them. I demurred (out of deference to my friend, I assure you!). Only later did I learn that had I joined the group that night, I would later have become the “Radio Shack TRS-80” in the “I’m a P.C./I’m a Mac” Apple ads.
6) We are, of course, talking about the new and, it must be said!, inferior “Battlestar Galactica,” not the Lorne Greene version that ran on ABC in 1978–9.
7) The assertion that Hodgman’s books contain only false material is, itself, false. His name is spelled correctly in every edition, there are references to real places such as New York and Chicago (wherever that is), and actual coverage of the historic (and likely recurring) problem of hoboes.
8) There is no question among historians that moose detest trusts, monopolies and holding companies. See Allen, Dr. David, “Laissez-faire on the prairie: Moose, buffalo and the Teapot Dome scandal,” page 714.
9) Forgive my lack of formality, but I have come to feel really warm towards you.
10) I do NOT mean to be presumptuous about your happiness, but you have been a bit glum lately.
“More Information than You Require” is available at BookCourt [163 Court St., between Dean and Pacific streets in Cobble Hill, (718) 875-3677] and Community Bookstore [143 Seventh Ave., between Carroll Street and Garfield Place in Park Slope, (718) 783-3075].