Before John Hodgman became a Daily Show correspondent and the physical embodiment of a PC computer, he enjoyed a bookish life as a freelance writer and author of fake trivia. His second book, More Information Than You Require, contains factually incorrect passages about U.S. Presidents, gambling, and the secret underground world of mole-men. Hodgman plans to turn his trivia books into a trilogy, but for the time being readers must be content with only two. More Information Than You Require comes out Oct. 21; Hodgman talks to TIME about the financial crisis, his accidental role as a minor television personality, and of course, the mole-men.
Your humor relies on a presumption that people know what you're talking about. Do you think this makes it less accessible than other types of humor?
My type of humor is me not caring whether people know what I'm talking about or not. I wanted to create the kind of dizzying sense that there is a deranged person just speaking and speaking and speaking. If you catch the references, all the better. If you are tempted to try to look up some of the references, it might deepen your experience and you might find jokes that you hadn't gotten before. This is obviously a risky area of humor and is not always funny to people.
You're The Daily Show's official "resident expert." How did you get started on the show?
In November 2005, I had gone on the show to promote my first book, The Areas of My Expertise. I was already a huge fan of The Daily Show, and I thought, Okay, this is about as strange as it's going to get in my life. I had a good time, Jon Stewart and I got along, and they ended up asking me to do comedy on a semi-regular basis. So then I thought, Okay, this is as strange as it's going to get. The book had been doing okay, but it was taking its time finding an audience, as a highly esoteric book of fake trivia might. But it turns out that people really watch television. Apparently it's a cultural phenomenon.
So The Daily Show helped your book?
The day I went on The Daily Show, the book had an Amazon ranking of 1400. The next day my publisher called me to say, "Have you taken a look at the Amazon rankings?" You know something has happened when your publisher calls. Usually it's the author who calls and says, "Did you see? My book went from 643 to 627, think we should order more copies?" I looked, and the book was at Number 14. Later it went up to 7. And then came the Mac-PC ads, and I was torn immediately from a very happy, satisfied, mature career as a freelance magazine writer and author of books of fake trivia. The Daily Show was a real turning point in my life.
Why did you decide to do the Apple commercials?
I was really curious as to why they asked me to audition. My career as a magazine writer was largely prefaced on the idea of curiosity, to go on adventures and weasel my way into the lives of people that I admire. The process of auditioning for a commercial seemed like a process where I might learn something that I could write about. It did not occur to me that it might lead to the job. I got called back, and by the third time we talked, I thought, "You can't really be serious." (See the top 10 moments in Apple history.)
In More Information Than You Require,you write about mole-men. In fact, you have 700 mole-man names much in the way that you had 700 hobo names in your first book. Can you please explain the mole-men? I have so many questions about them.
Many people do, and many of them will go unanswered. Mole-men became an obsession of mine as I was writing the first book. I wrote some interesting facts and a motto for all 51 states. For Virginia, I said the motto was "The Old Dominion," which was very arrogant of Virginians, as the true Old Dominion was an empire of mole-men who lived underground. The mole-men built Monticello, of course. Virginian gentlemen still retain some of the old fashioned Southern gentlemanly Molemanic habits, such as when they greet each other, they touch each other's faces as though they are blind. In the book I promised to write more about mole-men later. 700 mole-man names seemed like a good way to do it.
Isn't the mole-man just the underground version of the hobo?
Not at all. Hobos came to represent the closest thing in America culture to Tolkien's elves, an unknowable, mysterious race of people who have a completely different world view and want nothing to do with us. They embodied a chaos that America didn't want to acknowledge or be a part of.
Mole-men are creatures of pure enlightenment. They read Voltaire and Rousseau. They championed reason and logic long before the surface world did, they took on the scientific method. And they are really the foundational, dare I say grounding, principals upon which our middle class, merchant-based democracy rests. They are the anti-hobos. They have slime dripping from their bodies, sure, and the smell of their saliva is very specific. Yes, they occasionally eat their own young, but they champion knowledge and art, and they possess the ability to create and express the most beautiful thoughts.
How do you think the election will turn out?
Well, I am now a member of the Hollywood elite. I have seen the final script, and I don't want to give you any spoilers, it's going to be pretty exciting. It turns out that one of the candidates is a hobo.
Is it Joe Biden?
As somebody who has ridden the trains, gone to work on Amtrack back and forth, back and forth, that whole thing, he very well may be the first hobo member of our executive branch. (See pictures of Joe Biden.)
Can you explain the current financial crisis to me?
No, I can only say that I hope you have done what I did, which is to buy a lot of gold, melt it down and build a suit of armor out of it so you can fight your way out of the food riots that will occur in the near future, probably next Tuesday.
Is there anything you're not an expert on?
Sports. I don't hate sports, I just have zero interest in them. I am amused by cricket because it seems to take longer than baseball and I like that. It seems like a sport I could have made up it it takes several days to play and everyone wears sweaters. I can't confess to knowing what's going on at all. All I can ask from society is that it please stop telling me why I should like sports. People always try to explain that sports are about a sort of mythic combat, or [about] the narratives and the stories. You know what? I've got narratives and stories and I don't need sports.