Interview: John Hodgman

By CLEA SIMON  |  November 21, 2008

Being in the pocket of Big Cardigan?
There are so many cardigan gags that could be made about Jimmy Carter. What amuses me, particularly when we’re talking about historical stuff, is using absurdity or exaggeration simply to remind us how absurd reality actually is and was. The idea that Jimmy Carter actually went on television to tell us to turn down our thermostats and wear a sweater, and he did that wearing a sweater, is so bizarre. It’s so removed from what we consider political reality today that it seems like it must have been a dream. One of those weird “I was eating peaches with Jimmy Carter and then Ralph Waldo Emerson walked in and told us both to get lost” sort of dreams. Jimmy Carter walked to his own inauguration We forget those sort of things. Just as we forget how implausible it was that any of the founding fathers would do what they do. Particularly Thomas Jefferson, he came from money. He was not your portrait of a radcial, and he had very little to really complain about the tyranny of England, such as it was, did not overwhelm his life in any meaningful way. But it offended a philosophical sensibility that came solely out of books, that had nothing to do with real life. He was not radicalized by being a slave-owning plantation owner. He was radicalized purely by ideas, and that’s what makes him while greatly flawed like all humans incredibily inspiring.

We forget what a strange thing it was that these middle-class gentlemen would risk hanging for the ridiculous notion that they would start their own country. You couldn’t do that today. You couldn’t do that today because the Internet makes it impossible.

We’re far too close to each other. Not so much the Internet as jet aeroplanes. If it were easy to deploy an army from England to the colonies to quell a rebellion, it would have happened very quickly and much earlier on. But because it was expensie and took time, it gave the rebels a chance to basically start a shadow country.

It gave the revolution time to jell?
It couldn’t happen with the Internet because we’re drawn far too close because we’re too busy looking up movie trivia and refreshing political blogs, that sort of thing.

What about flash mobs?
We can do incremental change, but we can’t start another country. That’s the province of insane people.

How far do you push reality for humor ? Do you ever go too far?
I don’t think that I’ve ever tried - there are certain subjects that I would not necessarily approach because of my dubiousness of their being funny. For example, in my book, I was very disappointed that the prevous book was not made into a page-a-day calendar, so I made a pre-emptive strike with this book, and presented it both as a book and a page-a-day calendar, with a different historical factoid on every page. That allows you to read it as a page-a-day calendar, where you tear out a page every day. Or a book, where you tear out a page every day, which is how I read books anyway. There were a few days that one did not relish coming upon, Sept. 11 being one. I normally would not have chosen to make a Sept. 11 joke, but I had backed myself into a corner and I had to deal with it. I ended up finding some wierd echoes and pre-echoes of Sept. 11 and strange factoids about that day that might have made it memorable before, but now are completely erased for as long as we feel taht wound and we will feel it for a long time. But the saddest thing about is there will come that day when we don’t feel it anymore and it will join that list of things that have been eclipsed.

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