CHICAGO — Last summer, my wife and I spent a memorable weekend in Bar Harbor, Maine. We hiked through Acadia National Park and made the low-tide crossing to Bar Island for a spectacular view of the harbor and the park.
Comedian and author John Hodgman, star of his “one-human” show “Vacationland,” sees Maine a bit differently.
In a phone interview Monday from Los Angeles, where he’s filming an episode of the Comedy Central show “@midnight” to promote his tour, he describes Maine as a place “where you would not be tempted to relax or go swimming, because the beaches and waters of Maine do not allow you to do that. They only test you. They test you with profound coldness of water, and they test you with profound pain on the beaches, because the beaches of Maine are made of rocks and knives.”
Hodgman does not drop these judgments blithely; he is, by anyone’s measure, a New Englander, having been born and raised in Brookline, Massachusetts, attending college at Yale and, more recently, spending time in rural Maine and Massachusetts in what he describes as “the self-exile that I and my family have gone into.”
He’s not particularly exiled at the moment. Sunday night, he was onstage at the Emmy Awards, part of the group accepting the award for a variety talk series for “The Daily Show.”
Though Hodgman has been a part of the show for 10 years, he still portrays himself as a humble outsider: “Last night was very similar to my entire experience with ‘The Daily Show,’” he says. “How did I get here? Why am I so lucky to be here? And when will they find out I don’t belong here? That was how I felt on the stage last night. I imagined that I was going to be tackled by security at any moment.” Luckily, he wasn’t. Instead he was congratulated personally by presenter LL Cool J backstage, though Hodgman plays this down as well, wondering if LL Cool J thought to himself the next day, “Did I not just congratulate the stagehand last night? A weird, bearded stagehand.”
In less than a week, while Hodgman is on the road with “Vacationland,” the new format of “The Daily Show” will be launching, with the young Trevor Noah at the helm. Hodgman confirmed that he will still be involved, though his characteristic “deranged millionaire” character may not. “I will be continuing, though the capacity is still something to work out,” he says. “It’s a chance to start over and try out new things and new dynamics. I can’t have the same rapport with Trevor Noah as I did with Jon (Stewart). … There’s a different dynamic that I look forward to exploring with him and figuring out what to do next. Basically I’m just going to sit there and be a guy in glasses saying ridiculous things with various ridiculous facial-hair iterations.”
Hodgman’s current facial-hair iteration is something between a mustache/goatee combo and a full beard, a look he describes as either “the IT guy for ‘Duck Dynasty’” or “the part-time accountant for the Church of Satan.” Still, he believes that every “human who can grow a beard” should do so at some point just to get an idea of “the secret man who lurks inside of them,” even if that secret man isn’t a particularly flattering dude. “People say, ‘Why does your beard look terrible?’ and that’s just because I’m terrible,” he deadpans. “I mean, this is what it reveals.”
But despite the absurd characters he’s played on “The Daily Show” and the theory he espouses over the phone that maybe the character of Donald Trump and his current campaign is actually Andy Kaufman’s longest con — “I do feel like the world tuned into Trump … sometime after Andy Kaufman had been gone for a couple of years” — and the satirical books he’s penned, he’s looking to get more personal with “Vacationland.”
“Part of the show is talking about how a vacation in Maine forces you to examine your choices,” he says earnestly, “such as why I didn’t go someplace more comfortable.”
Seriously though, he means it. “These past couple of years have marked a transition from a certain stage of my life and career as a surprise 30-year-old minor television personality into a more seasoned and grizzled comedian who is also a middle-aged weird dad with a mustache.”
Hodgman and his mustache will be on full display during his show, letting any who may have considered a trip to Maine to be a relaxing, invigorating experience know that they’re only in for existential questions and terrible, character-revealing facial hair.
“Not only is the comedy in this show more straightforward, personal and sincere than any I’ve done before,” he says, “but also I hope they glean that I honestly love doing this. I love giving each audience my honest everything, every night. And I hope maybe they will also buy a poster. They were painted by Adam Hughes. They are very nice, and I will sign them after, if you like.”
Yes, John Hodgman will sign your poster. But make sure you shave first.
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