John Hodgman Talks 'Cats, 'Downton Abbey' at Twain Lecture

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By Michael Abrams

On Saturday evening, best-selling author and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart correspondent John Hodgman graced the ARC Arena with his brand of irreverent humor in the 7th annual Mark Twain Lecture Series on American Humor & Culture. After an opening by local blue-grass revival band The Rusty Spurs, Hodgman worked through a 40-minute stand up set, followed by a tableside discussion with Chair of the English Department and Twain Lecture Series Director, Ben Click.

The crowd of students, faculty, and local residents started trickling in an hour before the event started. The three-part group, The Rusty Spurs, provided opening entertainment while the audience eventually grew to fill an entire set of bleachers and additional floor seating. Hodgman took his place on stage while the band was still playing, and started the night off with a surprise when he and Professor Click sang a number with the group.

As the band cleared the stage, Professor Click came out to introduce the lecturer. Click thanked the SGA and Programs Board for helping to organize the event, as well as President Urgo and other faculty for “moral support as well as money.” He went on to tease Hodgman throughout his intro, joking that at Yale Hodgman received a degree in “Literature and Dungeons and Dragons.” By the end of his words, Click put jokes aside and welcomed to the stage “a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and a very very funny man.”

Hodgman transitioned into a stand up set covering the gamut of his life experiences. Starting with youth as an only child (what Hodgman calls the “Smarty-pants Narcissist Club”), Hodgman eventually worked through his opinion on popular sports (“Soccer is just one ball away from the Ancient Mayan sport called ‘Running Back-and-Forth’”), parenting, and the popular British television show Downton Abbey.

Though he secured laughs consistently throughout his time on stage, Hodgman’s humor tended to be on the absurdist and unexpected side. He told the crowd he earned a claim to fame writing “fake trivia” books, which included little known facts such as that “FDR had a hook for a hand but we never knew about it because it was shaped like a wheelchair.” Later on, he bemoaned the difficulty of balancing his kids’ privacy with his desire to use their stories for laughs. His solution, he told the audience, was to simply refer to his cats instead of his kids. “One night I was watching Downton Abbey with my cats,” Hodgman told the audience, “when my younger cat asked what Mary Crawley was so upset about, my older cat said, ‘Shut up, I’m trying to watch Downton Abbey.’”

Following his lecture, Hodgman was joined on stage once again by Professor Click, who sat with him for a quasi-interview portion of the evening. Click started off by stumping Hodgman on a few “Southern Maryland Trivia” questions (Hodgman, for example, was not familiar with stuffed ham). Getting more serious, however, the gentlemen went on to discuss which modern humorists are fulfilling Mark Twain’s legacy and the details of Hodgman’s creative writing process.

The night was concluded as Click honored the winners of his Mark Twain inspired art and writing contests.  First-year Breanna Thorne (first prize), junior Shannon Rafferty (second prize), and ’98 alumnus Andrew Kolody (third prize) were honored for their artistic depictions of Twain, while senior Marissa Muldoon (first prize), sophomore Chris Joyce (second prize), and junior Ben Israel (third prize) were recognized for their humorous writings inspired by Twain’s style. All students received an award and a handshake from Hodgman in a fitting ode to Twain’s influence to end the evening of humor.

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