John Hodgman Makes His Mark

Posted on October 24, 2006

Photo of mac vs. apple commercialThe L.A. Times profiles comedian John Hodgman, who stars as the PC in the Apple computer ads. Hodgman also appears on The Daily Show as a commentator.
There are really two John Hodgmans. One is well known to viewers of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" as the "resident expert" who offers preposterously inaccurate assessments of such things as Alan Greenspan's retirement and Iran's atomic aspirations. He's even more widely familiar to those who have seen Apple Computer's recent spate of ads, in which he appears as the comically fusty PC, stealing the show from actor Justin Long's slacker-cool Mac.

The other Hodgman, by all accounts, is a sweet man, devoid of enemies and pretense, a father of two and husband for seven years to a high school teacher, Katherine Fletcher. He worked for a while as a New York literary agent, then, with the aid of literary It Boy Dave Eggers' McSweeney's website in the late 1990s, he was able to revive the persona of the egghead humorist. Hodgman contributed offbeat, ridiculous essays that allowed him to shape and tone his approach to comedy; eventually, he was called on to emcee McSweeney's reading nights. That led to his writing a book of comically fabricated trivia, "The Areas of My Expertise," and his becoming a contributor to the popular public-radio show "This American Life" and then to "The Daily Show" and the Apple ads.

"My friends and people who know me are as surprised as I am," Hodgman said of his celebrity persona, before a recent reading at Book Soup in West Hollywood.

"Even though he's a lovely person, when he's on stage or in print he can flip on this switch and turn into a slightly hostile, insecure, boastful dunderhead," noted his friend Sarah Vowell, the author and radio commentator, in an e-mail. "As hostile, insecure, boastful dunderheads more or less run the world these days, it's cathartic to see such figures skewered.... The character he often plays is that of a pompous windbag."

That may be true, but the 35-year-old Hodgman said he takes his inspiration from a more likable character. "I'm trying to follow the model established by George Plimpton," he said, evoking the legacy of the multifaceted late "Paris Review" founder and intellectual man-about-town, who once edited a Hodgman story and, in the 1980s, appeared in commercials pitching the Intellivision videogame system against Atari. "I want to see all of life as an equal opportunity for adventure."
Hodgman is hilarious: we hope to see more of him, whether it's on tv or in films.
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