More Information Than You Require: John Hodgman and Jonathan Coulton Take Manhattan

Our collective love for both John Hodgman and Jonathan Coulton has been pretty well documented here on I’ve officially declared Coulton’s new album, JoCo Looks Back, to be the greatest thing since sliced bread (specifically, bread made out of Soylent Green, then fed through a slicing apparatus by a crazed cyborg, that is). And, as Joshua Starr writes, Hodgman’s new book More Information Than You Require is an absolutely brilliant collection of absurd trivia and bizarre anecdotes, picking up where his first volume, The Areas of My Expertise, left off: mole-men and hoboes and hook-hands and all.

Hodgman’s style strikes a perfect balance between his utterly warped material and the sheer facetiousness of his pedantic, bone-dry delivery. In many ways, his work reminds me of Woody Allen’s late-60s and early-70s writing, and I mean this in the best possible way (for those don’t know, Woody Allen actually used to be a very, very funny comedy writer before he mutated into a weird old British lady who makes unsatisfying movies full of pretty people attempting poor Ingmar Bergman imitations. You can look it up). I first became a Hodgman fan when he began contributing to This American Life a few years ago, so I guess I’ve always thought of him more as a writer than as a performer, and it actually took me a while to make the connection to his Daily Show appearances, Mac ads and subsequent rise to ALL-POWERFUL CELEBRITY SUPERSTAR GENIUS, or whatever it says on his business cards these days.

His sudden rise to guest-appearance-on-Battlestar-Galactica-heights of fame just seems like one of those great, but rare, cosmic cases of Things Working Out Exactly As They Should, as does the fact that Hodgman and Coulton have been close friends and collaborators since they met as freshmen in college. As they did on the book tour which accompanied the release of The Area of My Expertise, JoCo and Hodgman have been traveling the country (hobo-style, probably) to promote the new book and album, and at long last they arrived back in New York last Friday, just in time to make what was touted on Hodgman’s website as their “FINAL APPEARANCE OF THE YEAR together at the Wired Store, a mysterious gadget emporium that appears but once a year in NYC’s ‘Chelsea’ District.”

Needless to say, I was ready to brave freezing cold and relentless snow sleet wintry mix and, if need be, C.H.U.D.S. in order to finally see Coulton and Hodgman together. So I set out with my fellow fan-nerd and compatriot Pablo Defendini to find out what happens when geniuses collide. Well, not so much collide as “hang out and give a reading, play some songs, sign some books, whilst bantering wittily throughout.” We were not disappointed.

After Hodgman introduced him as his “feral mountain man friend,” Coulton kicked things off with some Book Tour theme music, after which Hodgman read a selection from the book titled “Possible Contacts With Alien Life” which moves from Enrico Fermi’s attempt to logically disprove the existence of aliens to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dune, Christopher Walken, and sinister Portuguese doctors, culminating quite naturally, if unexpectedly, in a truly sweet love story (a video of Hodgman performing the same selection can be found here). The piece demonstrates Hodgman’s remarkable talent for constructing a well-crafted story while showcasing the stupendous wealth of geek knowledge that he draws upon so effortlessly in the process of proving that, sometimes, True Love means not even caring if your spouse was abducted and replaced with a clone one sunny day in Portugal. And I think that’s something we can all agree on.

During the Q&A session, someone asked whether More Information Than You Require would be released as an audiobook (answer: probably, but it hasn’t been recorded yet), and Coulton got to talk about licensing his work under Creative Commons (w00t!) and whether he ever misses writing code. Apparently, he still writes a little code from time to time (A full-time musician who writes code in his spare time? Coulton: “Yeah. I’m the luckiest man in the world.”)

When asked if he ever misses his job as a former literary agent (for Bruce Campbell, among other people), Hodgman deadpanned, “I miss the naps.” Finally, I got to ask about Hodgman’s plans to update his list of fake presidential trivia (See Table 21 under “The Presidents of the United States: Are They The New Hoboes?”) to reflect the results of the last election. Though Hodgman wouldn’t comment on whether the president-elect might be a replicant or secretly has a hook for a hand, he definitively shot down the assertion that the next president could possibly be a Time Lord. Apparently, Obama is clearly too dapper, “too natty” in his fashion choices to be a Time Lord—also, no observable scarf. So that answers that.

Next, Coulton performed a few songs, including the geek anthem “Code Monkey” and my new all-time favorite holiday tune, “Christmas is Interesting,” finishing up with “The Future Soon” (Catchiest. Revenge. Fantasy. Ever.); afterward, he stayed to hang out during the book signing. Both Coulton and Hodgman turned out to be extremely gracious and approachable, happily mingling and talking with fans (even the annoying ones who ask goofy questions about the plausibility of presidential TARDIS-travel). It was an absolute pleasure to meet both of them (and, yes, we shook hands…so, if you’re wondering, those hands were not, in fact, hooks. Unless they have really fabulous prosthetics). As noted, this was their last joint appearance of the year, but Coulton has shows scheduled all over the country starting in January, and with Coraline coming out soon (and computers that aren’t gonna sell themselves…yet) 2009 should be a year of Rampant Hodgmania, so check out their sites and Twitter feeds at @hodgman and @jonathancoulton. And, of course, as always: Beware the Mole Men. That is all.


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