John Hodgman Reveals the Perks of Being Sort of Famous

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John Hodgman’s new memoir, Medallion Status, explores his extraordinary voyage through the lower echelons of the celebrity world. Hodgman was an unknown writer of offbeat literary prose who became a minor celebrity after Jon Stewart took a liking to him and made him a regular contributor on The Daily Show.

“I was never supposed to entertain anyone,” Hodgman says in Episode 385 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I was supposed to be an author of obscure books of weird metafiction that happened to be a little bit funny.”

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Hodgman’s other big break came when he was cast as the stuffy, condescending PC in Apple’s popular “Get a Mac” ad campaign.

“In 2007, 2008, 2009, during the Apple ads, I couldn’t walk into an Apple store,” Hodgman says. “The staff got really excited and started playing the ads on the TV. That was a very strange and surreal experience.”

But he says that for the most part he never experienced any real downsides to fame. One thing he learned from bigger stars like Paul Rudd is that it’s possible to be famous and live a normal life as long as you keep the proper perspective. “If you act as though—and if you truly don’t—care, if you’re cool, people will be cool to you,” he says. “And if you really act as if you don’t care, then people will forget all about you, and then you are me.”

These days Hodgman has largely returned to his career as a writer. He also performs comedy in small venues and dispenses dubious advice via his popular podcast Judge John Hodgman. He says that in many ways his current projects are more rewarding than his TV work.

“Authors, even the most famous authors, and certainly podcasters and storytellers and comedians, who create their own work, and work and speak in these more intimate realms, share a very different, and I think ultimately more gratifying, relationship with their audience,” he says.

Listen to the complete interview with John Hodgman in Episode 385 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

John Hodgman on George R. R. Martin:

“George R.R. Martin has become such a cultural figure at this point that I almost feel like he doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being such a magnificent inhabitor of different voices. And because the books are so overtaken by the cultural phenomenon which is the TV show, it’s easy to forget or disregard that the books are told from massively disparate points of view, and every one of [the characters] feels like a completely whole and true human being, whether they are highborn or lowborn, man or woman or X. I mean, it’s just an incredible work of literary art that absolutely defines its own space, and really taught me a lot about what I should be paying attention to in fantasy and science fiction.”

John Hodgman on talk shows:

“There was a moment of vogue in the ’60s and ’70s, even on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, where they’d bring in big name novelists to talk about the issues of the day, people like Gore Vidal or Norman Mailer, these big, archetypal macho novelists of the social scene, and that has, to a degree, faded away … With late-night shows, it’s not merely that they don’t book novelists so much, it’s that they very rarely book someone who isn’t massively influential on another platform, whether that be movies or—increasingly—social media, because the dynamics and the economics of television have changed. Television is just trying to stay on television. It’s not making the taste, it’s following the taste.”

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John Hodgman on book publishing:

“In many ways it had no business calling itself a business. Book publishing had emerged in New York in the 20th century as a hobby industry for the black sheep sons and daughters of wealthy families. No one could enter book publishing and take an internship in book publishing unless they had family money backing them up. It was always a sort of romantic—and romantically money-losing—business, and it was so on purpose, because it was for people who didn’t want to believe that money was important but that ideas were important … And once books became less relevant, the people who were involved in the industry didn’t really care, and toasted its demise, because they were going to fall back on their fortunes anyway.”

John Hodgman on hosting the Nebula Awards:

“I decided that I should read as many of the nominated authors for best novel that year [as I could], and so I read N. K. Jemisin‘s Broken Earth trilogy—the first two had come out at that point. I read Ancillary Justice and then the sequel by Ann Leckie. I read Ken Liu. I mean, I read these authors who absolutely are not living in the rut of quasi-medieval England sword-and-sorcery, but who were nonetheless writing fantasy, in profoundly provocative ways, drawing on many, many different cultural associations, breaking my brain with new societies that I had to really pleasantly work my mind around in or to understand and live in … So for me the best experience of the Nebulas happened before I even got to the event in Chicago, because I had opened my mind.”

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