Humorist John Hodgman Plays 'Not My Job'

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John Hodgman i
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
John Hodgman
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

This segment was originally broadcast on Nov. 1 2008.

Author and humorist John Hodgman plays our game called "So, you're a PC, huh? We'll see about that!" Three questions about the history of Microsoft.

CARL KASELL: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, the NPR News quiz. I'm Carl Kasell. Here's your host, at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peter Sagal.


Thank you, Carl. Thanks, everybody.


SAGAL: Listen, this week, this week we are just bringing the funny. Well, technically we're not bringing it ourselves, but we've invited people who are funny to bring it. We're bringing the bringers of the funny.

KASELL: Next up author, collector of all the world's knowledge, "Daily Show" correspondent and Ayn Rand impersonator, John Hodgman.

SAGAL: John joined us back in November of 2011 along with Paula, Paul Provenza and Amy Dickinson.

Now, it is extraordinary to the extent to which you have become ubiquitous everywhere. You can not only turn on your TV, but your computer, you keep popping up on my computer in internet ads, which is disconcerting.

JOHN HODGMAN: Yes. Well, I enjoy watching you while you work.

SAGAL: Thank you.


SAGAL: But here is - I'm going to get to this. I turn on my TV, I don't see you, I see a guy that Microsoft has hired who looks like you, who they are putting up as a defense against the implied slander of your ads.

HODGMAN: I have no idea what you're talking about.

SAGAL: Come on.


SAGAL: You must have seen this.

HODGMAN: I don't watch television. You know me. And certainly not ads; I loathe advertising.

SAGAL: I know.


SAGAL: But there's a guy at Microsoft who got a job in an ad because he looks like you.

HODGMAN: Yes, I have heard tell of such things. I'm very happy for him. You know, as somebody who has an accidental television career...

SAGAL: Right.

HODGMAN: I'm happy to see that happen to somebody else.

SAGAL: I see your point.

AMY DICKINSON: On purpose.

PAULA POUNDSTONE: That is so one world of you.


SAGAL: You talk about this a bit in your book. How has being a famous minor television personality, as you put it, affected your daily life, John Hodgman?

HODGMAN: Well, you may notice, I'm wearing a tuxedo.

SAGAL: That is exciting.

POUNDSTONE: Yes, very nice.

HODGMAN: I always dress up for radio.


HODGMAN: I'm rather surprised to see that you people are not wearing tuxedos.


POUNDSTONE: You know why? These guys dress up to listen at home.


POUNDSTONE: That's how fancy they are.

SAGAL: They often come in pajamas, John. Count yourself lucky.


SAGAL: But now, as you - because you're a literary guy, an author of books, and now you walk around the streets of New York City, and I presume people go nuts to see you.

HODGMAN: Yes. I used to enjoy the anonymity of being a literary figure and occasionally a public radio figure.


HODGMAN: But now people come up to me, and they point.


HODGMAN: Or they will often say you look like the guy in those ads.

SAGAL: And what do you say on that occasion?

HODGMAN: There's a reason for that.


HODGMAN: The fact is I'm very self-similar.


HODGMAN: I am fractal-like.

SAGAL: Yes, I see.

HODGMAN: Thank you, nerds.



SAGAL: Let us talk about the areas of your expertise.

HODGMAN: Yes, please.

SAGAL: Of which are immense.

HODGMAN: That was my old book. That was the old technology.

SAGAL: I'm sorry, but now we've moved on to?

HODGMAN: The new technology, the upgrade is entitled "More Information Than You Require."

SAGAL: See, here's the thing, your book, as you confess right up, it's all made up.

HODGMAN: It is a book of trivia, much like the old Ripley's Believe It or Not or the Book of Lists.


HODGMAN: With the advantage that all of the amazing true facts in my book are made up by me.


POUNDSTONE: I wish you had told me that before.

HODGMAN: Oh, I'm sorry.

POUNDSTONE: I can't tell you how many bets I've lost.


HODGMAN: Well, then I better not tell you how many I've won.


HODGMAN: You should really stop betting with me on subjects covered in my own book. It's not wise.

SAGAL: You actually have a section on bar bets actually.

HODGMAN: Yes, I do, absolutely. For example, do you know how - it's called a proposition bet.

SAGAL: Yeah.

HODGMAN: You go into a bar, and you find someone who's having a drink with their friends, and you interrupt them. And you say, I bet I can make this match land on its end.

SAGAL: Right.

HODGMAN: And then if they don't hit you, you have a chance to prove it. So here's the trick; this is what you do. You take the match and you attach a little parachute to it and put some glue on the bottom of it. And you preset that in your jacket.

SAGAL: Right.

HODGMAN: And you throw it up in the air and I would say two times out of ten it works.


SAGAL: I'll have to try that. I was also intrigued and somewhat frightened by your explanation of the tradition of eating oysters.

HODGMAN: Oh yes, oysters, well let me tell you. If you enjoy a food that tastes like snot...


HODGMAN: After it has been rubbed on rocks and old silverware.



HODGMAN: Then you may enjoy oysters. But do not listen to the killjoys who tell you never to eat oysters in months that do not contain the letter R: May, June, July, August, Octoba. You know.


HODGMAN: They say that you should not eat oysters during those months because they're the warm months; they're the traditional spawning season of the oyster. And that, of course, is when the oyster tends to beg for its life while you're eating it.


HODGMAN: Which some people find distracting or embarrassing for the oyster.


HODGMAN: But I say, if you're going to eat a creature alive, you have to expect some screaming. That is the carnivore's burden.

SAGAL: Don't you think?



SAGAL: Well, John Hodgman, we are delighted to have you with us. We have asked you here to play a game that this time we're calling?

KASELL: So you're a PC, huh? We'll see about that.


SAGAL: So you play a PC in the commercials.

HODGMAN: Yes, that is accurate.

SAGAL: But we've been watching them for a while and we are beginning to suspect you're not really a PC at all. In fact, we think you're...

HODGMAN: I'm not a computer. That is correct.

SAGAL: No, no, we think, in fact, you're a cruel parody of the actual machine as created by its enemies. So we're going to ask you three questions about the history of the Microsoft Corporation.


SAGAL: Get two of these questions, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners.


SAGAL: Carl's voice on their home answering machine.

HODGMAN: Damned if you do; damned if you don't.

SAGAL: Exactly.


SAGAL: Carl, who is John Hodgman playing for?

KASELL: John is playing for Ron Blackmore of Madison, New York.

SAGAL: All right.

HODGMAN: I'm very sorry, Ron.


SAGAL: First question, in 1976, the young company launched its first print advertisement in a technical journal called Digital Design. What was this advertisement? Was it A: a picture of the young Bill Gates with his shaggy hair and aviator glasses and the slogan, He's a stud?


SAGAL: B: a four-panel comic strip relating "The Legend of the Micro Kid"? Or C: a densely written description of its proprietary version of the Basic computer language written specifically for the Altair personal computer?

HODGMAN: I will say C, and here's the reason why.

SAGAL: Please.

HODGMAN: Because you know I naturally own a lot of very old magazines. And I enjoy going to old magazines because the advertisements in those magazines tended to have thousands of words of copy in them.

SAGAL: They did.

HODGMAN: Isn't that strange? For a video game, they would describe it in thousands of words. I mean, they were very wordy at the time, so that's why I'm going to say C.

SAGAL: I love your explanation, but in fact the...

HODGMAN: No one loved my explanation, don't lie to me.


SAGAL: I'm just trying to make you feel better. The answer was B. It was a four-panel comic strip, "The Adventures of the Micro Kid." He was a boxer, you see, he had speed and power and needed a manager, say a kind of operating system, in order to succeed.

HODGMAN: It sounds great.

SAGAL: Yeah.


HODGMAN: All right, well I lost. Sorry about that, Ron.

SAGAL: No, no, no, you still have two more chances.

HODGMAN: Oh, OK, very well.

SAGAL: Once Microsoft got going in the early 80s, it needed a corporate symbol and it found one, a logo known in the industry as what? A: the blibbet? B: the all-seeing eye? Or C: the exploding head?

HODGMAN: The blibbet.

SAGAL: The blibbet?


SAGAL: You're right, sir.



SAGAL: The blibbet.


SAGAL: The blibbet looked like an O drawn with horizontal lines and lasted a few years. All right, this is very exciting.

HODGMAN: This is the tie breaker.

SAGAL: This is the tie breaker. You get this right, you win.

HODGMAN: I look forward to that.

SAGAL: Microsoft was challenged in its earliest days by another upstart company you might have heard of: Apple.

HODGMAN: I hear they're very good.

SAGAL: Yeah, well...


SAGAL: Microsoft considered Apple, though, to be evil based on what very real evidence? A: if you typed a certain string of characters into the Apple 1 computer, it replied all hail Satan, all hail Satan?


HODGMAN: They call that an Easter egg.



PAUL PROVENZA: Ironic, isn't it?


SAGAL: B: the original price of the Apple 1 was $666.66? Or C: the original code name for the project that became the Macintosh: Lucifer?

HODGMAN: The answer is B.

SAGAL: The answer is B: the original price was $666.66?

HODGMAN: That is my final answer.

SAGAL: You are correct, sir.



SAGAL: Very well done.


SAGAL: Steve Jobs explained that he thought $666.66 would be an easy number to remember. I have to ask. You were so confident. Is that because as an Apple advertisement yourself you are up on the history of Apple? Or did you just happen to know?

HODGMAN: I don't wish to brag, but I'm very intelligent.


HODGMAN: And I did, very luckily, happen to know the answer to that question.

SAGAL: That's amazing. Carl, how did John Hodgman do on our quiz?

KASELL: Well, John's intelligence was on display here, Peter. He had two correct answers, so he wins for Ron Blackmore.

SAGAL: Well done.


SAGAL: A remarkable display of last-minute brilliance.

HODGMAN: I'm just glad for Ron Blackmore.

SAGAL: As are we. John Hodgman is a correspondent for "The Daily Show."


HODGMAN: He's the PC on those "I'm a Mac; I'm a PC" commercials. He is also the author of the excellent, hilariously funny new book, "More Information Than You Require." John Hodgman, thank you so much for joining us.

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