John Hodgman is perhaps most recognizable for his role as “PC” in Apple’s ubiquitous advertising campaign. But he is also an author of two compendia of fake facts, including the recently published “More Information Than You Require.”
From This Story
Hodgman, a former literary agent, got his start as a professional writer and humorist writing for McSweeney’s, the literary and humor publishing company founded by writer Dave Eggers. He became a regular guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as the resident expert with fake authority.
We spoke with Hodgman about why people love trivia, the future of museums, and where he finds his inspiration for humorous, yet false, statements about presidents who had hooks for hands.
Many of the fake facts you have in your book require a strong cultural knowledge to get the joke. When studies come out showing that people who watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart are among the most knowledgeable about current events, the same principle applies. To get the joke, you need to be culturally aware. Do you write with that in mind?
I have a lot of cultural references that have amassed in my brain like shrapnel over the years that are meaningful to me. Part of the joke is speaking about references to Watership Down and my half-remembered trivia about how Groucho Marx never wore a mustache until he actually had to go on TV, or Thomas Jefferson inventing macaroni & cheese, which may or may not be true. And to talk about them with such bold authority that if people have never heard that before, they are tempted to feel like they’ve heard it before.
So, I don’t really feel that it is only for initiates, but rather I have that sort of bold authority of the crazy person.
And the idea is that the joke may work one way for people who know the facts and another way for people who do not know the real truth?
If in my book people come across facts that confuse them -- that they may not have heard before -- there are two possibilities. One is that I have made it up. Two is that it is true or half-true, or based in some truth but they had not heard it before. My hope is that will at least confuse them, because that is part of the effect. If they were to chase it down using the Internet, perhaps that would enrich their enjoyment of the joke.
Where do you go to get your general knowledge?
A lot of it is mined from bits of trivia and lore and half-truths that I’ve collected over the years. I think that humans, as much as they take learning froorm universities, colleges, high schools and museums, they also just pick stuff up along the way, and that is the nature of the urban legend.