A hilarious and honest new book in which John Hodgman, New York Times bestselling author of Vacationland, leaves vacation behind and gets back to work as a still somewhat famous person . . . and then loses his job
After spending most of his twenties pursuing a career as a literary agent, John Hodgman decided to try his own hand at writing. Following an appearance to promote one of his books on The Daily Show, he was invited to return as a contributor. This led to an unexpected and, frankly, implausible career in front of the camera that has lasted to this very day, or at least until 2016.
In these pages, Hodgman explores the strangeness of his career, speaking plainly of fame, especially at the weird, marginal level he enjoyed it. Through these stories you will learn many things that only John Hodgman knows, such as how to prepare for a nude scene with an oboe, or what it feels like to go to a Hollywood party and realize that you are not nearly as famous as the Property Brothers, or, for that matter, those two famous corgis from Instagram. And there are stories about how, when your television gig is canceled, you can console yourself with the fact that all of that travel that made your young son so sad at least left you with a prize: platinum medallion status with your airline.
Both unflinchingly funny and deeply heartfelt, Medallion Status is a thoughtful examination of status, fame, and identity--and about the way we all deal with those moments when we realize we aren't platinum status anymore and will have to get comfortable in that middle seat again.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Obligatory Maine Content
If you read my previous book you know that I spend part of the year with my family in an unnamed coastal town in Maine. Of course the town has a name. I just kept it secret. But some of you figured it out anyway. Some of you sent me some very nice letters and postcards at my post office box there (PO Box 117, Unnamed Coastal Town, Maine, Zip Code Redacted). But none of you sent me creepy things, like boxes of moths, and none of you came to invade my home. So I can't write that book, unfortunately: the true story of you invading my home. That one would have been a huge bestseller. Now I have to write this one instead.
However, one young pair of John Hodgman fans did come to town. A nice young man and woman, plus their baby. They said they weren't there precisely to see me, but they had read my book and were passing through town because of it. "It's John Hodgman!" they said, in that way I've heard before when people recognize me-that up-tilting mix of surprise and familiarity, as if to say: You exist! You're not just a television ghost, but a real person, and here you are outside the library, in a fight with your wife!
My wife and I were fighting because we had just discovered that the passenger footwell of our Jeep had flooded with a hot reddish liquid. It was seeping into the footwell from unknown engine holes. (I don't know a lot about cars.) It smelled like burning tin foil and looked like blood and lymph, and I was freaking out.
"Just call Libby and tell her we can't watch her children today, because we are afraid our Jeep is maybe bleeding to death," I was saying to my wife, loudly. "That is very reasonable!"
I was speaking with the kind of shameful sharpness that gets in my voice when I know I am powerless. If you had told me that in fact the heater core had failed and the Jeep blood was in fact engine coolant, it would have sounded equally supernatural to me, dangerous and unsolvable. I also knew my argument was futile. Our friend Libby has two little children, a boy and a girl, who are very cute. As our own children have aged, my wife has become addicted to these other children. They are among the select group of young children that she follows on Instagram. That's what you need to know, parents who post pictures of their children on Instagram. My wife is stalking them. The Jeep could explode and she would find a way to get over to Libby's and take care of them.
That's when the young couple approached us. They said, "It's John Hodgman!" and then instantly regretted it, once they saw the panic and shame on my face.
"Yes, it's me," I said. "I'm sorry."
They accepted my apology, and we chatted. I don't remember the young man's story, but the young woman apparently had created an illustration of me for an article in a newspaper that I also don't remember. Also I don't remember their names. My wife and I admired their baby, which was one of the cuter babies (not all babies are cute. Sorry, babies). They asked about the house in town where the Famous Author had lived, and I told them that it has a new owner. I happily revealed its secret location to them. As you'll see in this book, there are no secrets anymore.
(If you don't know what Famous Author or house I'm talking about, just read my previous book, Vacationland. There, I tricked you into buying it.)
I was glad to talk to them. I enjoy being seen and recognized. So many people go through life without being seen at all, not even by their own family, so I know what a gift it is. And frankly it doesn't happen often these days, as I am not on television that much anymore. So if the young couple are reading this, this is to say thank you. I'm sorry I do not remember your names or where you published that illustration. I was pretty high on engine coolant at the time.
And if you are reading this, thank you, too. This story is not an invitation to come see me in Maine. I still prefer that you stay away. But thank you for letting me know I can trust you.
There will be no more Maine content in this book.
Not long ago I was still on television sometimes. I was appearing on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart less and less frequently, but I had a lot of guest-acting gigs on some prestigious shows. I played a variety of mustache creeps: a scheming literary rival; a deranged fan who claims he legally owns an actress whom he has been stalking; an evil FBI agent who interrogates a beautiful young woman and makes her cry; a psychiatrist who pulls his patients' teeth from their heads because he thinks insanity lives in the gums. He also pulls out the teeth of his own children.
For a while, this typecasting bothered me, and I fought against it. I refused the role, for example, of a man who keeps pregnant women in his basement so he can sell their babies. This role was very upsetting, in part because it had been a straight offer to me. The producers didn't even need me to audition to know that I was just right, the perfect person to keep women imprisoned in his basement. And apparently they were correct. I was the perfect person, because after I turned them down, the movie fell apart.
I didn't have to audition for the evil FBI agent either. You have probably seen that show. It's the one where a woman with a lot of tattoos turns up naked in a bag in Times Square. The woman has amnesia, and no one knows who she is. But she has a large tattoo of a name on her back, the name of the handsome FBI agent who is the other star of the show. This FBI agent is not evil. He is a nice man played by an Australian actor. He has no idea why his name is tattooed on this random amnesiac woman's back. He doesn't know her name or history any more than she does. But because he likes the tattooed woman, and because she punches and kicks good, the FBI says, Welp, let's go ahead and make her an honorary member of this elite law enforcement agency that people train for years to become a part of. Why not?
(Part of my evil FBI agent's motivation was that this office of the FBI was handling its hiring practices a little . . . haphazardly. And honestly, my guy had a point.)
When I was cast as the evil FBI agent, I had to shave my beard and get a new haircut. The hair-and-makeup man who cut my hair was named Craig. He asked me if there was anything he needed to know about my hair.
"Yes, Craig," I said. "My hair is extremely fine and limp, and my face is very pale and round, especially when I only have a mustache. One thing I've learned is that, unless you square off my haircut and use a lot of product to give it lift, my hair just flops forward over my forehead, and let's just say it gets pretty Hitler-y. Pretty fast."
"Got it," said Craig. And he cut my hair and styled it. And when he was done, I looked like Hitler.
"Don't you think I look like Hitler?" I asked.
"Not at all," said Craig. "You look great."
Then I went to the fake interrogation room to pretend to yell at the beautiful young woman. This was not the tattooed woman, but her friend. The interrogation room had a one-way mirror in it, and from time to time I would catch myself in it and get mad. Ugh, I would think. Look at Hitler over there, yelling at that nice woman. Between takes I would finger-comb my hair back to try to de-Hitlerize it a little. Then Craig would just sneak up behind me before the cameras rolled and re-Hitlerize it.
"You don't look like Hitler!" he would whisper as he finished. I don't know why he was doing this to me.
One nice thing about this job was that it filmed only twenty minutes from my home in Brooklyn. Every morning I would drive myself in and park, go inside, do my work, and then drive home again, just like a straight-up dad. It was wonderful.
One evening, I dropped my car off at the garage near our apartment. The garage attendant, Patrick, smiled and said, "Hey! You look like Hitler!"
"Thank you!" I said, improbably. "That's what I've been trying to tell everyone!"
He looked me over again and laughed. "You really do look just like Hitler!"
OK, now wait a minute, I wanted to say. I don't look just like Hitler. I mean, Hitler did not wear eyeglasses. And Hitler also had a pretty specific mustache, which is not like my mustache at all. And why are you telling me a second time? The first time you said I looked like Hitler, it might have been out of surprise. You might have been trying to warn me of something I didn't know. But now you know I do know, and you're making me feel bad. You know that this is a tipping relationship, right? I give you a gift every Christmas, so maybe just, as a good business practice, don't compare me to one of the great monsters in history?
Of course I tipped him-extra, in fact. I wanted to thank him for being honest and confirming that Craig was gaslighting me all along. And also, even when you're only a little bit famous you have to be generous. You don't want the garage attendant going behind your back saying that Hitler stiffed him.
My time on the show was short. Eventually the tattooed woman tired of me being mean to her friend and shot my character in the chest. I thought that meant the show had to be canceled, but no. Somehow, the show went on without me, and it is now a big success.
I was very sad that they killed me. I liked my friends on the show, and I liked my commute. It seemed to me that my exit from the show didn't have to be so final. I could come back somehow. Many other characters on the show who have died later came back as flashbacks, or hallucinations. The creator of the show is a friend of mine, and from time to time I would text him different scenarios in which they could bring Inspector Hitler back.
For example, I wrote, what if my character had been wearing a bulletproof vest, and I didn't die after all, and when the Australian FBI agent finds me on the ground, he is just a little too. . . . you know, Australian . . . to tell the difference?
Another idea. What if the tattooed woman who shot me had dreamed the whole thing? What if, like, there's a scene where she's in the shower, and she glances into her armpit and says, "That's weird. There's a tattoo in my armpit that I never noticed before. It's a tattoo of me shooting John Hodgman in the chest." And that meta-tattoo proves to her that the whole event is a false memory, implanted in her mind by a mysterious secret organization dedicated to me being alive and still on television shows?
Or how about this: What if my character has a twin brother, only this one doesn't have a Hitler haircut, and he doesn't want to do anything evil or bad because he's a really good guy. And even though I don't have any training in law enforcement, and I didn't go to the FBI academy, and I wasn't even found in a bag in Times Square or anything, they let me in the FBI anyway. They make me an FBI Series Regular, which is not technically a real FBI term, but certainly is better than "FBI Guest Star" when it comes to TV residuals. I would be my own reverse-evil-twin good guy and I would join the good guy squad and solve crimes and be liked for once. The creator enjoyed these scenarios, and he told me they would never, ever happen.
One time, however, I got a break. I was cast as a charming older mentor to a young woman. The woman was an aspiring classical oboist. My character was eccentric, but for once I was not a pure monster. I enjoyed it. I felt like I was getting away with something.
I was going to be in two episodes of the show. In my first episode, the Beautiful Oboist and I were to meet at a party in a mansion. We are there for a fund-raising event for a symphony orchestra, a stuffy society party that unwinds into genteel depravity over the course of the episode and ends up lasting until dawn.
When I read the script, the Director told me that we would not be shooting the episode in the traditional way, in bits and pieces out of chronological order. He would be shooting the episode in a series of long, real-time shots. The entire extended cast, along with dozens of background actors, would be assembled in an actual mansion on Long Island. We would pretend to have a party as the camera crew drifted in and among us, filming the important parts discreetly, like a documentary, all night long.
Even though the whiskey was apple juice and I was told not to eat the canaps, this was my kind of party. I never had to think about where to stand or what to do-that was all decided for me. And if I wanted to talk to someone, that person had to talk back to me because it was in the script, and they were filming my every word like I mattered. For a shy narcissist, this was a good time.
All the actors were extremely skilled and attractive and dressed beautifully. Also, I was there. I was, arguably, one of them. The Director had loaned me his own canary yellow linen shirt to wear beneath my dinner jacket. When I put it on, I could not stop smiling. I felt like a younger brother wearing his older brother's shirt to prom. Better, actually. I was wearing his shirt to the beautiful, nice-person acting party I felt I had been crashing since the first time I was ever on television. But this time I was invited.