Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Psychology Today: Q and A: Irreverence Material

Psychology Today: Here To Help
Five questions for comedian John Hodgman.

By: Matthew Hutson

John Hodgman has an answer for everything. What it may lack in veracity, or even sense, it makes up for in staid charm and eccentric pseudointellectualism. You know him as a PC in Apple's hit ad campaign; here the author of The Areas of My Expertise and More Information Than You Require discusses satire, truthiness, and Hobbits.

What is the value of fake facts?

In both of my books, I have struggled against plain absurdity. Pure non sequiturs have a certain flighty charm to them, but I like some factness with my fakery. Ideally, fake facts help to jostle our imaginations. They remind us how much of actual history is so strange, and novelistic, and practically unbelievable.

How similar are you to your persona?

I bear an uncanny resemblance to myself. Obviously, I am named John Hodgman, and the details revealed about my life in my books always have one foot in the truth. Or at least a peg leg.

Where does your children's expertise trump yours?

They know a lot more about my neighbors than I do, for the common playdate allows the child access to other people's apartments and private lives that no adult will ever enjoy. In fact, it seems to me that children would make very good private investigators.

In which domains do you know more information than you require?

For a brief time in the early 2000s, being able to quickly name the three races of Hobbits was a handy skill that made you popular at parties. That is all over now, so I could probably free up some brain space there. But the truth is, I can never get enough information about invented, whole worlds. Including the whole world.

Your delivery is famously dry. Do you ever crack yourself up?

I find it to be comedically unethical to laugh at your own jokes on stage. But I probably feel so strongly because it happens pretty frequently lately, and I am ashamed. My deadpan needs re-deadening (see my new book, on the various historical styles of deadpan). But the reverse is true when writing. If my brain can fool myself into a surprised chuckle, my guess is that it can also fool you.

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