John Hodgman Royal Theatre, Toronto ON, September 28
Published Sep 29, 2015John Hodgman, perhaps best known for his work on The Daily Show, Bored To Death or his portrayal as a PC computer in Apple's 2006 to 2009 Get A Mac ad campaign, is the quintessential American storyteller. He referred to himself as just that — albeit jokingly — during his genuinely engrossing set at the Royal Theatre in Toronto. Though his claim was made in jest — giving oneself that title in all seriousness takes the balls of a delusional megalomaniac — it wouldn't have been funny if it didn't possess an ounce of truth. He has, after all, been a recurring contributor for the kingpin of all American storytelling programs, This American Life, as well as the Canadian equivalent, Wiretap.
Hodgman's set led the audience from his home state of Massachusetts to his new home in Maine. The travelogue was dotted with swimming holes, cairns, roadside curiosity shops, fresh water clams, garbage dumps, state of the art garbage disposal units and covens. Enough essentially American pit stops to make Bruce Springsteen green with envy.
Hodgman was the personification of patience; bearded and looking something like a high school guidance counsellor nearing retirement. He was sedate, measured and collected — imagine NPR on stage, with glasses. His stories led more or less directly into one another, with very few hiccups or distractions. He allowed each story to take as long as he needed it to with no sense of rushing to the next punch line. His performance style was a little like Irish comedian Dylan Moran minus the violent outbursts. He didn't require outbursts or punch lines in order to keep the audience listening. He was simply engaging.
It's hard to wrap up John's stories into one singular point or moral. He didn't necessarily need one as the stories were funny enough to stand on their own. At the risk of grasping for meaning, his set seemed to be a dialogue of self-discovery, stumbling upon different aspects of himself in places pleasant and unpleasant, learning most about himself when he's trying to be someone else.
Hodgman ended his set with a rather striking version of the Modern Lovers' classic song "Roadrunner" on the baritone ukulele. Likely chosen for the line "I'm in love with Massachusetts" (the state being so heavy a theme in the first half of his set). He's the kind of comedian who knows when to be funny — that is a helpful aspect of any stand-up comedian — and when a more sober moment might be in order. The song did turn out to be funny by the end, but for the most part, it was just a really cool moment. John Hodgman is a class act, a brilliant mind, and a pretty cool dude.