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John Hodgman’s new book explores the gift of losing status

Transcript

Alison Stewart: From frequent flyer programs to exclusive hotels and secret societies, there are many ways people chase status. But as writer and comedian John Hodgman tells it in a new memoir, there's as much of a story in losing that status as in gaining it.

PBS NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker recently sat down to chat with Hodgman to find out more.

Christopher Booker: It was a pair of short-legged cattle herding dogs that confirmed one of John Hodgman's creeping suspicions.

John Hodgman: That's Linus the corgi and Chompers the corgi two extremely popular corgis on Instagram. I learned this when they were invited to the same exclusive party that I was and I realized they were more famous than me.

Christopher Booker: Though it had been a few years since he lost his status, as, what he calls a famous minor television personality it was the corgis who really humbled him.

John Hodgman: There was no sense hiding my feelings. It was terrible not to be on television to learn that you were not even as famous as the least famous dog on the Internet. But it is a pleasure to be human.

Christopher Booker: While Hodgman may enjoy being human, his new book, Medallion Status, is an explanation of what it felt like when the world reminded him that was indeed what he was.

John Hodgman: These are just true stories from my life. In this case my life as a very famous minor television personality and all the secret rooms and first class lounges and exclusive parties that even the minor-est fame affords you. And then what it felt like to be kicked out of those rooms and to come back down to earth as a regular human being

Justin Long: Hello, I'm a Mac.

John Hodgman: And I'm a PC.

Christopher Booker: Ironically John Hodgman had earned his "medallion status" -- a name he borrowed from a high-prestige frequent flyer program during the time he spent playing a non-human.

John Hodgman: Well at first I got to download those new drivers and erase that trial software that came on my hard-drive.

John Hodgman: I could not walk in an airport without people saying I'm aPC

Justin Long: What's going on PC?

John Hodgman: PC's getting an upgrade. Because more than anything else I've ever done or ever will do more eyes were laid on me then than ever before.

Christopher Booker: From 2006 to 2010, Hodgman was one-half of Apple's wildly successful "Get a Mac" campaign.

IT guy: Actually the iMac's and the MacBooks' built right in.

Christopher Booker: In the commercials, he played a PC in conversation with an actor playing a younger, hipper Apple computer.

Therapist: Mac, why don't you say something nice about PC?

Justin Long: Okay, easy, PC, you are a wizard with numbers

Christopher Booker: PC struggled to understand how and why he was always falling short.

John Hodgman: I guess you are a little better at creative stuff.

Justin Long: Oh, thank you.

John Hodgman: Even though it is completely juvenile and a waste of time.

Jon Stewart: Please welcome John Hodgman. John.

Christopher Booker: Hodgman's foray onto the small screen had started with an appearance on the "Daily Show with Jon Stewart," following the publication of his first book in 2005. That went so well that the show invited him back as a regular contributor.

Jon Stewart: I sense if I may, and I don't mean to embarrass you. I sense Hodgman-mania.

Christopher Booker: A few months later Apple called. And you said no at first.

John Hodgman: Oh yeah. It's true. I was a dummy.

Christopher Booker: But they came back.

John Hodgman: I think about that and I get chills because what if they said, "oh to that we've got a million other people to think about this." How different my life would be and how not. Not just in terms of famous success but in in richness and experience.

Christopher Booker: Yeah, we probably wouldn't be talking.

John Hodgman: We'd probably be great enemies.

Justin Long: Hey PC, want to see the website and home movie I made?

John Hodgman: Oh, I am so creative and all my programs are so easy to use.

Christopher Booker: During his run of 66 commercials for Apple, Hodgman continued to contribute to the Daily Show, while landing additional acting roles.

John Hodgman: I just don't like your uterus don't get me wrong, your eggs are in great shape, but you have a T-shaped uterus.

Christopher Booker: In 2009 he was even asked to roast the President of the United States.

John Hodgman: Is the president truly nerdcore? Or is it all just an act? As fake as those obviously prosthetic ears.

Christopher Booker: All of these experiences, provided Hodgman a level of access few are granted.

John Hodgman: Not just the the the Sky Club at JFK and not just you know luxury hotels and so forth, but you know the secret gifting lounges at the Emmys where swag is given away to you simply because you exist while being famous and literal Masonic lodge meetings where leaders of the world are meeting in secret to have a party and you realize every conspiracy theory is true. And it's part of my obligation I suppose to show what is going on in there and showing how status and fame and power and all these small little vestments that we put on are really actually very flimsy and deserve to be pulled off every now and then so that we can really see ourselves.

Christopher Booker: But after the Apple campaign ended and then Jon Stewart went off the air, Hodgman says, the invitations started to slow and then came the run in with the Corgis.

John Hodgman: We all lose jobs or we age out of jobs or we get dumped by someone or a teacher takes us aside and said you're not doing a great job. We all lose status and even though it might make you defensive and angry if you take a moment you can also reflect you can readjust who you are and what you want to do in your life and you can be better. So humiliation is a you know, except when it's purely cruel it's actually a kind of gift you know and it is part of the same impulse that leads to humility.

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