Brookline native John Hodgman makes his triumphant return this month, with a show at the Wilbur. Our attorney, Bob, spoke with the comedian, lauded author, Daily Show with Jon Stewart regular, and current host of the Judge John Hodgman podcast, about Boston, frivolous lawsuits, and telling people how to live their lives.
After graduating from Yale and becoming a literary agent in New York, John Hodgman started writing books of world knowledge containing purely false facts. From there he became a Daily Show regular and currently hosts the Podcast Judge John Hodgman, where he quells friendly disputes over minor issues. He will be at the Wilbur Theatre on November third.
As a Brookline native that hasn’t been in Boston for a long time, when you come back to Boston do you think the culture of this city has changed at all since you left?
That’s a good question. I mean, you know, I grew up in Boston at a time when the Red Sox were terrible losers.
And as an asthmatic person who liked Dr. Who, I was able to understand and, even in my own stunted way, root for a team of potential or perpetual underdogs and failures.
But since that time I think Boston has gone through a tremendous amount of growth, you know. I’ve had better sushi in Brookline than before. I grew up in Coolidge Corner working at the Coolidge Corner movie house and now I go back there and there’s a restaurant where it’s that Osaka restaurant where men will cut up food on hot plates in front of you and throw it into your mouth. That’s definitely a change. What that signifies I don’t know. Besides the end of the world I don’t know what that signifies.
Since your last book was released about a year ago, have you realized or discovered anything about the world that you’re willing to share with an eager audience?
I discovered that I’ve been writing these books of fake fiction and, to my terror, they are coming true.
I’m not nearly talking about my predictions for the end of the world. Some of them turned out to be eerily accurate. January 26th, for example, there was a terrible solar storm just like I predicted.
…And so one of the facts that I created was that George Plimpton, the editor of the Paris Review and famous participatory journalist and pitchman for television arcade system of the early eighties, had created a video game called George Plimpton’s Video Falconry in the early eighties, that I had been a big fan of, which is utterly not true. There was no falconry video game much to my dismay, in the early eighties or any decade so far. But then some people on the internet, specifically at a video game company called Newgrounds.com… created the video game itself. Recently I was at a wedding and I was wearing a t-shirt featuring the words George Plimpton’s Video Falconry, and another person at the wedding looked at it and said “Yeah, I remember that game. That was really weird that that happened.” I said “What do you mean ‘you remember it,’ you remember seeing it on the Internet recently?” And he said, “No, I remember playing it as a kid.” That I think is the most disturbing thing that ever happened to me—that I conjured a memory in the brain in another human being.
Disturbing that that was the only brain that I seem to be controlling, where is everybody else? Get with it everybody.
After 80 podcasts of Judge John Hodgman, do you have any new perspective on the nature of petty quarreling or perhaps the legal system generally?
I now have a better appreciation for the movement towards tort reform because I now appreciate that there are a lot of frivolous lawsuits out there. Now mine is a court of fake internet justice, on my podcast Judge John Hodgman, and on the pages of NYT once a week. What I discovered is that some people have legitimate and truly heartfelt disputes over whether one member of a couple is doing the laundry correctly or whether it is ethical to ask a taxi driver take you to Arby’s before taking you home or whether a machine is or is not technically a robot. But then there are a lot of people writing in purely trumped up disputes just because they want to be on a podcast or in a newspaper. And people who are fighting not with other humans but with concepts in the world. Essentially people writing in [and saying] “I have a fight with my friend about how handsome I am.”
So you can see how this transfers to tort cases with the somewhat overburdened U.S. legal system?
I think that there are a lot of frivolous cases out there because a lot of people want to yell a lot and get attention for themselves. And, you know, I am one of those people and to those people I say go get your own podcast.
You’ve had a good run, but how much longer do you think you can build a career on lying or pretending to be a judge?
Building a career in lying is over, you know, That is All was my last and indeed final book of complete world knowledge. … Now, if the world does not end on September 21st as I predict I will be obviously very embarrassed and disappointed, but to some degree relieved because I have a chance to build a new career in some way or another. And indeed being a judge, being Judge JH, which is, I think that is kind of the next evolution for me and my know-it-all-ness, and it is not merely theoretical but applied, I get to tell people when they are right and when they are wrong and how to live their lives.
And I enjoy talking to other people so I hope that is something that will continue for a period of time more.
WITH JONATHAN COULTON
246 TREMONT ST.
7 PM/ALL AGES/$27