For those of you who don't know who he is and don't feel like clicking the above link to his Wikipedia entry, Hodgman is a writer and humorist who has started to become more well known due to his appearances on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as a "resident expert." Nomi and I have enjoyed his segments, and one of his comments actually caused us to jump out of our seats. He was referring to towns that have "SMILFS" (Soccer Moms...) and then, looking straight at the screen, said, "I'm talking about you, Brookline, Massachusetts." What we didn't know then was that Hodgman actually grew up in Brookline and attended the high school, so his love of the town's "SMILFS" is probably genuine. (And that's as far as I will go on that topic.)
So when we heard that he would be was in town to promote the paperback edition of his book The Areas of My Expertise, we decided to go hear him. We got to the Booksmith around 6:20 pm and found the downstairs reading room already packed, which is not suprising given his local connections and level of celebrity. Around 7 pm the event began. It had been billed as a reading from the book, but it was more of a performance. Hodgman appeared with his friend, singer Jonathan Coulton, and the two of them riffed off of the topics in Hodgman's book. The book is essentially a compendium of true facts that Hodgman completely made up, including his history of hoboes in the United States and stuff about squirrels. I would try to reproduce some of what they did here, but I suspect that in my presentation the humor would not come through.
After the main part of the show, they switched to a Q&A format, for which Hodgman passed a walkie-talkie around the audience. I wanted to ask him a question, and in the end, I got to be the last person to ask a question. The walkie-talkie didn't make it to me, but he encouraged me to speak up and approved of my standing up to be heard. I introduced myself as a Town Meeting Member from precinct 9 (to which he noted that it was the best precinct in town, although he admitted that he had no idea which precinct he grew up in). I explained that as a TMM, I was disappointed that he had not made any endorsement on the town's warrant articles over the past few years, as it meant that rather than knowing how to vote from him, I had to listen to my constituents instead. (The joke fell flat.) So I asked him his opinion on the upcoming warrant article to create more parking in Putterham Circle.
(Digression: What Hodgman probably didn't realize was that I was taking my cue from Stephen Colbert, who interviewed Jeff Daniels on the October 27, 2005 episode of The Colbert Report. Daniels lives in Chelsea, Michigan, and when he was on the show, Colbert had a copy of a local newspaper in front of him during the interview. Daniels claims to be very involved with his adopted hometown, and so Colbert asked Daniels for his opinion on the bond issue to raise money for the new courthouse. Daniels didn't know much about it, which was amusing, but I can't really fault Daniels. Many people are concerned with their town local issues but aren't always able to keep track of every one.)
Hodgman seemed most amused by my question. He started off by saying that of course he keeps close tabs on what happens in the town of Brookline, and noted that he had signed up on the town website to receive weekly reports on town news. (I sheepishly admit that if there is such a mailing list, I'm not aware of it. Then again, Hodgman could have been indulging in truthiness.) At first he begged off the question, noting that as a media personality, he had to stay neutral on local issues. But in the end he seemed to take a side, as he noted that anyone living in Brookline would realize that of course Putterham Circle needed more parking.
The reading ended at around 7:45 pm, and Nomi and I waited on line for over an hour to get our book signed. Hodgman stayed very nicely in character when we met him. He kept calling me "Matthew" no matter how much I corrected him, and he signed our book to "Town Meeting Member and Mrs. Town Meeting Member."
Copyright © Michael Burstein; photo copyright © Nomi Burstein