The Jester Interview: John Hodgman
By Michael Shashoua / Jester editor-in-chief; photo by Jesse Costa
John Hodgman has had many guises: resident expert, personal computer (PC in the Apple commercials), deranged millionaire and purveyor of fake facts in three encyclopedic volumes. But in a new special, “Ragnarock,” premiering on Netflix on June 20, he sheds them all. Jester spoke to him as he started his day early one morning at his Park Slope, Brooklyn residence.
Jester: I was surprised you chose around this time in the morning. I would think a deranged millionaire wouldn’t get up until at least 11 or so.
John Hodgman: For a long time, I was the resident expert, insane polymath and then deranged millionaire and doomsday prophet, but when the world didn’t end on Dec. 21, 2012, I had to face down a different kind of apocalypse – the slow apocalyptic unwinding of my life that we all face. I no longer have the luxury of denying who I truly am, a guy named John Hodgman, who does have a mustache but otherwise is a normal person with children who get up very early, and require food before they go to school. The reality is sometimes you gotta make eggs in the morning. … I’m really good at making eggs, I’ve got to say.
J: That’s an essential skill.
JH: It is. … You want to heat the pan for a long time, first of all. You want to put the pan over low heat and let it get not very hot but medium hot – really let it heat up. Then you want to spray it down with some spray-can canola oil of your choosing. Just butter is not going to cut it. Then you can add a little bit of butter right before you put the eggs in, so the butter doesn’t burn. Then just walk away, dude, walk away. That goes for scrambled eggs, fried eggs, an omelet, whatever you’re doing.
J: I learned that with scrambled eggs, it matters how you fold them or beat them – that’s an essential part of how good they’re going to be.
JH: You don’t want to over-scramble them. That’s true. … With proper scrambled eggs, you would do it over a double boiler, and keep them moving. That’s the traditional French way, super low heat. I find that to be a little tiresome. But it’s all about instinct. It’s all about practice.
So you run a website about eggs?
J: Yes, this is all about eggs.
JH: I’ve been following your website for a long time. I’m really excited to talk about eggs. Have you ever seen emu eggs in a supermarket?
I spend a good part of the year in rural western Massachusetts, straight up the Connecticut River in the Pioneer Valley, which has traditionally been an agricultural community and a struggling one. One of the ways landowners attempted not to starve over the past 25 years was to raise alternative livestock. There was a huge llama boom in Western Massachusetts and a huge emu boom, because emu are like slightly smaller ostriches, and they can be harvested for their meat. They also lay eggs.
I was in a regular old supermarket in Western Massachusetts and saw they were selling emu eggs. They had these things and didn’t know what to do with them. Emu eggs are about the size of a candlepin bowling ball. They’re deep forest green or blue color. I immediately felt that someone had slipped me hallucinogenic mushrooms.
J: Like you had gone through the looking glass.
JH: You have two possibilities when you crack these things into a pan: either it’s going to continue in this surreal vein and a million golden dragonflies will fly out and form the shape of a man, or you’re going to have the most disgustingly huge egg possible. Either way, I walked away from them. … I couldn’t possibly bear it. But I figured the readers of your egg website would like to know this. I love monomaniacal dedication to eggs, but we can talk about other elements of my career as well.
J: OK, how did you choose this night, that could have been “Ragnarock” [the Mayan end of the world] to do this kind of, what I assume was a one-time only, one-of-a-kind performance?
JH: Well, I chose it because the Mayans chose it. The ancient Mayans got together millennia ago, and created the long count calendar. Based on our studies of that calendar, it became clear that they stopped predicting time, or their prediction of time went forward centuries but stopped on or around Dec 21, 2012, which is what everyone was all up in arms about. You may have seen the documentary, “2012,” where it was revealed that the world would end in fire and flame, which are the same thing, and also flood, leaving only John Cusack alive. That was what we had waiting for us.
J: I didn’t realize that was a documentary at the time.
JH: It was a predictive documentary. … So I spent a lot of time last year going from town to town warning people about what was going to happen – that society would collapse and you would have to start raising your own goats, rabbits and sperm whales. The US dollar would become worthless and in the absence of any government, the only currency that would have meaning would be the beef jerky dollar. I would warn people about the return of the ancient and unspeakable ones, the omega pulse, the blood wave and the dog storm.
I put my faith in this ancient civilization, that this would all come to some massive culminating event called Ragnarock, on Dec 21, 2012. So that was why I chose that particular date to draw the faithful to me, to comfort them with comedy, songs and visions of my mustache and all go out together or face whatever was next together. But what I didn’t appreciate was that the thing we would all have to face was just the dumb rest of our lives, because nothing happened, and the Mayans were wrong. Looking back, maybe it was wrong for me to have trusted them anyway. Those guys didn’t even know how to make smooth pyramids, so how advanced could they have been?
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