The Rundown: John Hodgman
Welcome to the Rundown. Today we’re catching up with author John Hodgman. You might know him as a PC but you *should* know John Hodgman as one of our favorite authors here at Huckberry. After cracking us up with his 2017 book, Vacationland, we jumped at the chance to get our hands on his latest book, Medallion Status. Read on for more on John’s book, his preferred gin, and the right reasons to travel.
Even better, we’re giving away a copy of Medallion Status, a certified ultra-rare Triple Corgi Elite pin (more on that in the book), and $150 Huckberry credit to the reader with the best travel advice. Head to Instagram to comment and win.
What inspired you to write Medallion Status?
I was on the road for TV and accidentally made it to Gold. When the show was canceled, I felt great relief, as it had been hurting my family, but I also felt great anxiety, because for the first time in a decade I had no TV jobs. That’s when I got an email from Delta Airlines telling me that, if I flew just a few more miles, my customer status would be upgraded from Platinum Medallion to Diamond Medallion. Suddenly, with my work and fame withering, it felt very important to be Diamond, so I started flying a lot. I was chasing that fake medallion like it was a Pac-man power dot that would finally allow me to turn around and eat the ghosts of self-doubt that were chasing me. I won’t reveal here to you if I made diamond—you have to buy the book. But I can say this is the wrong way to travel. Travel is one of the most essential human improvement tools we have. But you should be traveling for the right reasons, and ideally, with people you love. Not just chasing a power-up.
Favorite place you’ve traveled:
We got to enjoy a perfect weekend in Acadia National Park this summer. We climbed the Beehive, which is an almost vertical climb up a little cliff face, aided by iron rungs that were stabbed into the rock by some rusticator years ago. It looks terrifying from the ground, but it’s pure pleasure going up, a jungle gym with the most beautiful views of the heartless Maine ocean. We dunked into the freezing cold water after at the beach at the foot of the Beehive—it’s one of the only naturally sandy beaches this far north in Maine, and this is so exciting to Mainers that they named it Sand Beach. And then we changed and checked in to the Bar Harbor Inn for the night because they have built a brand new infinity pool that hovers just over Frenchman’s Bay. Maine is a place full of rugged beauty full of nature that stuns you but can also kill you. But this was a day of pure happiness that I will be chasing for the rest of my life.
Also, Venice was awesome. Have you heard of it? I had never been, and I know it’s a cliche, but it’s amazing to watch how the city weathers the twin floods of tourism and, well, floods. And it won’t be there for long, so get to it.
Travel is one of the most essential human improvement tools we have. But you should be traveling for the right reasons, and ideally, with people you love. Not just chasing a power-up.
Favorite Huckberry purchase:
After my preferred underwear brand folded up operations, I went on a long hunt for new ones, a search that ended, finally, and happily, with my butt in a pair of Flint and Tinder boxer briefs from Huckberry. They are the perfect underwear, and I am so excited every time I get to put them on.
My next purchase is going to be a pocket knife: The dreaded weave turquoise pocket knife with a damascus blade is calling to me.
Most insightful person you follow on Twitter:
So much of twitter has been taken over by politics, and those fights are sweet, sweet addictive poison for my eyes at 2 a.m. I’m learning to put it down, but in terms of public affairs, Elizabeth Spiers is even-headed, even-handed, and because she worked for Jared Kushner when she was editor in chief of the New York Observer, she’s got inside dope. Meanwhile, comedians Paul F. Tompkins, Caissie St. Onge, and Josh Gondelman keep some of the old, fun-time Twitter alive. And double meanwhile, Jonny Sun has emerged as one of the most beguiling and inspiring comic voices I’ve ever encountered.
If you had $500, how would you blow it on Huckberry?
I already have good underwear and a knife. What else does a human need in this world? But if pressed, I am deep into the YETI cooler ecosystem and am really eyeing that YETI Go Box. And the Timex Todd Snyder watch is amazing. And can you tell Whiskey Peaks to make a glass with the Beehive in it, please?
Splurge wine or beer or liquor:
I am a gin martini drinker and I make no secret of it in my books, comedy, podcast, and Huckberry interviews. For this reason, when I am on the road performing, audience members will sometimes give me a bottle of gin at the meet and greet after the show. But sadly: I can rarely accept this gift. One reason: They don’t understand that I’m about to get on a plane in five hours to fly to the next show, and I cannot simply swan through TSA with a bottle of gin under my arm, no matter what my Delta Medallion Status is (Platinum).
Another: they often bring some new, bespoke, esoteric, highly botanical gin because they seem fancier. These audience members are just being exceedingly kind, of course, and it’s part of the happy price you pay for being a public figure who talks about gin all the time without specifying a brand. So I will say here: Plymouth is the most balanced martini gin on earth, but also, plain ol’ Beefeater is just great too.
In my last book I mentioned that I live part of the year in a small coastal town in Maine, which I will not name because I do not want for you to home invade me. But now that I am launching my new book, Medallion Status, I have had to leave that home. As you can imagine, it is not merely fun to monitor the temperature of an empty house in Maine, it is also essential if you do not want your pipes to burst. So we put a web camera in our kitchen, and we trained it at an analog, old school dial thermometer that we can look at any time we want. I suppose we could have just gotten a webbed-up-internet-y thermostat, But this way I know we are getting a hard analog reading in the room, or if the camera has gone out, I know we’ve lost power, and it’s time to call the neighbors. The most important, we can stare at our kitchen in the woods by the sea anytime we want, because we miss it.
Favorite place to fall asleep:
The best thing to do would be to fall asleep in Brooklyn and wake up in Maine. I love both worlds, and boy, that would make the commute easier.
New podcast you’re into:
I discovered Blank Check after working with its co-host, Griffin Newman, on the brilliant but cancelled superhero parody show, “The Tick.” Griffin is an incredible actor but also a human encyclopedia of film trivia, deep dive cinematic lore, and smart and provocative opinions about the art and business of the movies. On this podcast, my new addiction, he and his equally smarty/funny/awesome co-host, movie critic David Sims, work their way through the filmographies of directors whose early success gives them a blank check to make whatever projects they want. Check out the episode on Michael Mann’s “Heat.” Totally funny and absorbing, and Griffin’s ability to blindly name the top box office earners of almost any week in history is weirdly unnerving.
The gimmicks to game the system of air-travel are only engines of anxiety. The only thing that truly eases travel for me: get there early. Check your bags if you’re on a nonstop flight. Read a book. Watch people. Trust the system. We’re all doing our best.
I cook pretty much exclusively with cast iron pans, dutch ovens, and a super cool little cast iron hibachi I have on my porch. As you at Huckberry know, cast iron is simple, indestructible, and beautiful. But there is a misconception that cast iron is a good conductor of heat. This is not true. It can get super-hot, and it can retain that heat, but it takes a long time to reach the right temperature compared to stainless steel, and it takes a long time for that heat to spread itself evenly throughout the pan. So a lifetime ago, when I was a food writer for Men’s Journal, I discovered that you can preheat your cast iron pans right in the oven. Before you sear a steak, throw that hunk of metal right in a 400°F oven for 10 minutes to an hour. the heat will hit evenly on all sides and it will be ready to go when you are. Use a pot holder. But also, the best pot holders? Welding gloves.
Music or station to work to:
When I’m in New York, I rock WNYC all day. Brian Lehrer show for life. In Maine, it’s either Maine Public Radio or WERU.org, the local totally freeform community station. Of course, you can stream them all anywhere, but I still like tuning the actual radio. It makes me feel connected to the air.
One time I thought I was so smart by buying an extra middle seat in the first row of a Jet Blue plane. Sometimes I had gotten the aisle or window seat up there, and it’s very spacious. When there’s no one in the middle seat, it became a secret first class. So when I figured out the festival was paying for one seat but I could buy the middle seat as an extra for a reasonable fare, I did it. But it backfired. I had incorporated a ukulele into my comedy act (I was closing my set by dressing up as Ayn Rand and singing “We’re in the Money.”) When I boarded the plane with my uke, the flight attendant said, “Oh, you bought an extra seat for your instrument!”—which I guess happens sometimes when people have very fancy cellos and stuff. Not just crummy ukes. But now I was too embarrassed to say, “No. I just didn’t want a human to sit next to me.” So I had to say yes, and then she showed me how to buckle my uke into that middle seat and I had to fly that way, sitting next to my instrument of selfish shame, all the way across the country.
The gimmicks to game the system of air-travel—hyper packing your carry-ons, getting on the plane first to grab overhead bins that don’t belong to you, registering your Burmese python as a comfort animal—are only engines of anxiety. The only thing that truly eases travel for me: get there early. Check your bags if you’re on a nonstop flight. Read a book. Watch people. Trust the system. We’re all doing our best. Roy Wood, Jr. likes to get to the airport early.
Most inspiring person you follow on Instagram:
It’s a tie between Chompers the Corgi and Linus the Corgi, two famous corgis of Instagram that I met at a party once. True story, It’s in the book. It’s the same party when I learned that I am not as famous as a famous corgi on Instagram.
“Mindhunters.” The rest of the program is great too, but I could just watch Cameron Britton act as serial killer Ed Kemper for a whole hour, every hour, for a whole day. He’s naturally compelling (and gigantic), but just such a skilled actor. As someone who gets to be on TV sometimes, I learn so much from his face.
Speaking of acting, it’s not on Netflix but Acorn—that great nerdy horde of British TV shows--but, “I, Claudius” is a 12-part masterclass in the great UK character actors of the 1970s, including Patrick Stewart with hair. Set in ancient Rome miniseries about the life of Claudius, the stammering, bookish oddball who everyone underestimates until he becomes Emperor, was the “Game of Thrones of 1976”—addictive and scandalizing living rooms across America with its racy palace intrigue, frequent nudity, and rousing fig tree pruning scenes. It holds up, and I also happen to be co-hosting a podcast about it called I, Podius dropping on the Maximum Fun network sometime before Saturnalia 2019.
Everyone is told by their writing teachers to write what you know. But what most people miss is the other side of that instruction: You have to know interesting things.
Something that recently surprised you:
I’ve become a huge fan of the reverse sear for steaks and chops, discussed expertly and at length by J Kenji Lopez-Alt over at Serious Eats. The idea is to cook your steak slowly, in a low oven (between 200°F and 275°F) with a probe thermometer in it until it just hits about 15° below your target temperature (115°F for medium rare). Then you finish it on a grill (or in a hot pan) to give it all the pretty lines and that deep dark flavor that is the miracle of the Maillard reaction. Not only does the meat cook more evenly, it’s also foolproof and great for guests. You can preset all your steaks to perfect and then keep them handy until it’s fire-time. Works great for burgers as well.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned from your time as a literary agent?
Everyone is told by their writing teachers to write what you know. But what most people miss is the other side of that instruction: You have to know interesting things. That is where travel comes in handy, as well as jobs. As I discuss in Medallion Status, I’ve had a lot of odd jobs—actor, writer, journalist, traffic counter, dishwasher, stock-room attendant and cheesemonger, to name a few. I still resist working only one, because every acting job is a visit to a different country with new people with amazing skills. Every new city on comedy tour is a quest to find an amazing midnight meal (Eventide in Portland, Lantern in Chapel Hill, the lamented Little Pete’s in Philadelphia.) Every Judge John Hodgman podcast is a long-distance conversation with people from all over the US and the world (and a ton of Canadians). If there weren’t the podcast, I wouldn’t know there is a water park in a former zeppelin factory in Germany. I want to go there.
What have you taken away from being in the spotlight?
I’m lucky it didn’t last longer—I never got used to it. It never became boring, and it never got to the point that it felt like I was entitled to it. Fame is like getting bumped up to first class. At first, it is so nice to be seen and treated nicely and called Gold. You’re so happy to revel in all your legroom with all your reclining options and sleep masks and blankies. You know it’s fairly random and you don’t deserve it as you take off. But it’s hard to resist. By the time you land, it’s hard to resist the feeling that you belong there. Like everyone who has lucked into status, you almost immediately convince yourself that you earned it. You belong here while the rest suffer behind the curtain because they didn’t work as hard as you did, or aren’t as smart. That’s when you turn into a monster. And that’s when the trip ends, and you are all thrown out together to the same terminal. The people who flew coach are so happy to be here, to see their friends, to see their loved ones. You are just angry that you have been kicked out of status paradise, and all you want to do is get back on the plane. You have completely forgotten about the German water park inside a former zeppelin factory that you are here to visit. You’ve forgotten what’s important: That it’s not the journey, it’s the destination.
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