Author John Hodgman's Fake Presidential Trivia What makes someone presidential? Is it experience, wisdom –- or the ability to turn things invisible? Author John Hodgman misinforms us about George Washington, Howard Taft and the Electoral College.
NPR logo

Author John Hodgman's Fake Presidential Trivia

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Author John Hodgman's Fake Presidential Trivia

Author John Hodgman's Fake Presidential Trivia

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Now, here's a man who knows a lot about politics, or at least he sounds like he does - John Hodgman. You might have seen him on "The Daily Show" or in these commercials.

(Soundbite of TV ad)

Mr. JOHN HODGMAN (Author, "More Information Than You Require"; Humorist): Hello. I'm a Mac, and I'm a PC.

SEABROOK: Hodgman is the PC guy. When he is not on TV, Hodgman is an expert. At what? We're not quite sure. But his latest book tackles American presidents, the truth and the fiction. OK, a lot of fiction. And so, I asked him to meet me in a place where we could talk about our nation's executives.

SEABROOK: We're standing here in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.

Mr. HODGMAN: Yeah, what is this? Some sort of a museum?

SEABROOK: I'm standing here with John Hodgman, who is an expert on many things. His new book is called "More Information Than You Require."

Mr. HODGMAN: That is accurate. It is much more than you require.

SEABROOK: So, let's start with George Washington. Apparently, according...

Mr. HODGMAN: Here, you have the very famous Lansdowne portrait of George Washington. You know, from the beginning, the founding fathers were not sure what the presidency was going to be. John Adams wanted a citizen who had no particular special powers, such as the ability to make things invisible. They were against that. Whereas his rival, of course, Hamilton was very much an authoritarian, and he wanted a president who would be akin to a king and would involve whoever held the position having hemophilia because that is the royal sign.

SEABROOK: Which one was the noted - most noted in your book for being large.

Mr. HODGMAN: Oh, Taft. Oh, yes. William Howard Taft. Now, see, here's the thing...

SEABROOK: Oh, my goodness. This is a beautiful painting. It has...

Mr. HODGMAN: And it's a beautiful painting. He was our 27th president.

SEABROOK: He's got a very nice mustache...

Mr. HODGMAN: Well, see, here's the thing - here's the thing about Taft.


Mr. HODGMAN: You get to Taft, and what do you think? Gigantic fat man. Come on. We all know that he got stuck in his own bath tub. OK. We all know that he had to get a new bath tub when he got stuck in that one, because he filled it with cream cheese, and he couldn't eat his way out, and he got stuck again. Fine. We all know that he outgrew his desk in his office, and he had to have a resting slab. And he kept a bowl of live frogs next to him that he would eat as he held cabinet meetings. We all know that the oval office used to be the round office until he got in there. Fine. Look, can we just lay off? He wasn't a bad man.

SEABROOK: Right. What would be the purpose of using any of this?

Mr. HODGMAN: He just happened to be large, and it completely overshadows - his fatness completely overshadows the fact that he has a hilarious mustache.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: He just has a fine mustache.

Mr. HODGMAN: I know, that's why they called them largestache.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: This portrait here of FDR.

Mr. HODGMAN: Yeah, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

SEABROOK: It's very interesting.

Mr. HODGMAN: A lot of people don't know that that's his name, which is now FDR, that what it stands for. Yeah.

SEABROOK: Oh, really. FDR. Yeah. This portrait of FDR, I should say, is...


SEABROOK: Is quite interesting, that show his hands in several different poses at the bottom of the portrait.

Mr. HODGMAN: Yes. This is the famous 1945 portrait of FDR by Douglas Chandler.

SEABROOK: He's wearing a cape.

Mr. HODGMAN: Yes. He's showing off his famous Batman cape, that he later wore at Yelta (ph). And, of course, at the bottom, you see all of his replacement hands. FDR, you see there, three or four pairs of hands there. FDR had - could replace his hands at will. As you know, he was one of the nine U.S. presidents who had a hook for a hand. And for time to time, you know, when he had to make public appearances, he would replace the hook with a model hand, and these were some of the fake model hands that he used.

SEABROOK: I wonder if you could give voters who are little worried about going to polls, about the voting machine, like work or whether there will - the candidate some sense of...

Mr. HODGMAN: Why would you think I know anything about that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: I just...

Mr. HODGMAN: I think the main concern that people have with electronic voting machines is that, when they touch the machine, they're going to get a terrible electric shock.

SEABROOK: Is that what they're worried about?

Mr. HODGMAN: That's the main concern, and that's going to happen.


Mr. HODGMAN: Oh yes. You will get a terrible electric shock if you touch one, but it's necessary.

SEABROOK: Does it matter which candidate you touch?

Mr. HODGMAN: No, no, no, that's a built-in situation. Don't worry about that. The computer will pick the candidate for you. But when you touch it, it will give you a shock to make sure that you're actually a human and not a robot that's been deployed to fix the election.


Mr. HODGMAN: Yeah.

SEABROOK: I want to talk to you a little bit about the Electoral College.


SEABROOK: It's something that's very difficult for voters, Americans to understand.

Mr. HODGMAN: Right.

SEABROOK: And I was very interested to see that, in your book, you included an explanation finally of the Electoral College for people.

Mr. HODGMAN: Well, most people think their vote counts for something, but, in fact, in our system, the popular vote is tallied up and then put into a crate and then wheeled down the long hallway of identical crates, much like at the end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

SEABROOK: It's like that?

Mr. HODGMAN: And then set aside and never looked at again. And then, the real business in electing the president occurs at the Electoral College. Now, Electoral College is located in Upstate New York. And electors are people who are selected by the individual state legislators, men and women who know better than you do about what you want.

SEABROOK: Proportionally, that the population is representative.

Mr. HODGMAN: Proportionally their population. It is representative, I suppose, is designed to make sure that less popular states and states that don't belong to the real America, Massachusetts, Vermont, you know those states, have some nominal involvement in the electoral process. And the electors all gather at the Electoral College, and after a brief swearing in ceremony, they are shaved from head to toe. And then they submerge themselves in the sensory depravation tank full of kind of nutrient solution where they float about in a trance. And then, they attempt to predict who will be the next president of the United States. And the beauty of the system is, they are almost always correct. From time to time, they will give the presidency to someone who did not earn the popular vote.

SEABROOK: Suggest?

Mr. HODGMAN: Well, Rutherford B. Hayes.


Mr. HODGMAN: His fraudulency, as he was known back in the olden days when people were scandalized by that sort of thing. And then again in the year 2000, when they chose Rutherford B. Hayes again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HODGMAN: There was a kind of a glitch in the system. But luckily, in our constitution, if Rutherford B. Hayes or if any president who is picked, who is not running and is not alive, then the presidency automatically goes to whoever is running whose father had been president at least once before.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: John Hodgman, thanks very much for coming to talk to with us.

Mr. HODGMAN: Thank you very much.

SEABROOK: John Hodgman's new book is called '"More Information Than You Require."

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.