More Information Than You Require
In retrospect, perhaps John Hodgman should have coached Sarah Palin for her disastrous interview with Katie Couric. With Palin channeling Hodgman, Couric would have been the dumbfounded one. The man has truly elevated the art of bullshitting to poetic new heights.
More Information Than You Require is Hodgman's second book of "fake trivia." His first one, 2005's Areas of My Expertise, landed him a regular gig as the snarky, mild-mannered expert-on-all-things on The Daily Show. And that role led to playing the pudgy PC incarnate in those Apple ads, among other acting jobs.
Consisting almost entirely of made-up "facts," Areas of My Expertise comically aped the almanac format. By charging willy-nilly from one impossibly obscure topic to the next--i.e., how to tell an omen from a portent--Expertise created the illusion of being part of some larger volume that indeed contained all the world's knowledge, as it boldly claimed. It also possessed a dark Thomas Pynchon-esque view of a world, filled with ninja con-women, starling-infested hotel rooms, and a nation of mysterious wandering hobos. And, improbably enough, it was gut-bustingly hilarious.
Like most sequels, More Information is more predictable and less fun than the original. Instead of a list of 700 hobo names that the first book offered, we get 700 mole-man names. Expertise had fanciful descriptions of all 50 states; the new book proffers fanciful descriptions of the country's presidents (the stout William Taft, we learn "kept a cow on the [White House] lawn for fresh milk and that he would occasionally drink blood from his neck like a Masai warrior.")
It'll sell well, thanks to the Daily Show crowd. But could we expect more from Hodgman, a one-time literary agent, than semantic whimsies? Hodgman is in danger of becoming another Paul Reubens, who was genius enough to create Pee Wee Herman, but not quite smart enough to escape his caricature.
One chapter of the new book, "How to Be Famous," points in a powerful new, though less hyperactive, direction. It chronicles his oddball rise to fame, and muses on the nature of media. Hodgman recounts, as a somewhat androgynous teen, being forced to kiss a Charlie Chaplin imposter during a Universal Studios tour, a disturbing and surreal incident that, in his telling, speaks volumes about the neediness that drives people to chase fame. "[B]eing on television is like wearing a disguise that only other people can see," he writes. Too bad he didn't risk a whole book on such uncanny observations.