The Schwartz Factor: John Hodgman

The PC guy from those Mac commercials instructs Jason Schwartz in the fine art of preparing and serving canard.

john hodgman

Photograph by Jan Cobb

Back in high school, you started a humor magazine called Samizdat, which was promptly banned by the principal. It wasn’t banned by the principal; indeed, at Brookline High we have a headmaster. For a supposed outsider zine, it was pretty ridiculous. But we did have a policy—now that I look back, a fairly cowardly policy—of not exercising any editorial control whatsoever. I believe there was a comic strip that went under the rubric of “Power Penis.” This is the ’80s; we barely had gotten used to cars. We’re not used to the kind of explicit language you children enjoy today as part of your everyday lives.

What’s your favorite canned Mac/PC question that you get all the time from people like me? To suggest “canned” would be to suggest I’m tired of hearing them. I’m not. But the weirdest moment would have been coming out of a party for the Tribeca Film Festival. There was a very handsome middle-aged black man: “Hey, you’re the guy from the commercials. You’re great!” And I said, “Oh, thanks.” And I went over to meet my friends, but as I looked at him, I’m like, “I’m sorry, are you Chuck D from Public Enemy?” And he was like, “Yeah! You’re the guy from the commercials!” And I’m like, “Okay, but listen, Chuck D. I just want to say thank you. Your music and your style were a real inspiration to me and kind of a lesson on how to be fearless and creative.” And Chuck D said, “No, man, thank you!” “That’s entirely inappropriate, Chuck D. But since you asked, yes, I will pose for a picture with you.”

In your new book, you refer to Massachusetts as a meaningless state. What is the meaning of that? Well, I am a proud son of Massachusetts—the Bay State, so named for its legendary bay leaf industry. I do not actually believe that Massachusetts is meaningless, but I wish that the rest of the country did not look upon it and other “non-battleground” states as pointless. If it were not for Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire would crash into each other.

Watching you on The Daily Show, I admire your ability to fake knowledge, because, knowing very little, I have to BS all the time. What’s the secret? Wear glasses and keep a straight face.

That’s it? Are you wearing glasses right now?

Uh, not yet. Well, that’s why I don’t believe anything you say.

I get that a lot. I don’t believe you.