Other than George Plimpton, John Hodgman may have been the only boy who ever grew up wanting to be George Plimpton. "Here was an extremely talented writer and public intellectual who was not averse to having fun in his life," says Hodgman. "To asthmatic children in the world, those Intellivision ads he did were a beacon. There was a tweediness out there that I could be a part of."
Like his idol, Hodgman, 34, has forged a career as an urbane literary figure and satirist of the urbanely literate. A Yale grad and former book agent, he has had a short story (edited by Plimpton) published in the Paris Review and writes nonfiction for the New York Times Magazine. But listen to the commentaries he gives as a resident expert on The Daily Show and you'll discover that one of the deadliest potential consequences of global warming is an unfrozen-caveman crime wave. Crack the spine of his faux atlas, The Areas of My Expertise, and you'll learn of Frédéric Chopin's ladybug obsession, Maine's state motto ("Remember the Maine!") and the Depression-era rebellion that resulted in Hobo Joe Junkpan's brief appointment as Secretary of the Treasury. In Hodgman's authoritative prose and hyperrational voice, the joke is that erudition can be a form of madness and that facts are just lies in tweed jackets.
Hodgman's humor requires a high cultural IQ. "I don't consider what I do comedy qua comedy," he says. "It's something much weirder." Nevertheless, his weirdness is in high demand, with gigs on NPR's This American Life and editing the Times Magazine's new "Funny Pages" feature--in addition to The Daily Show and the sequel to Expertise he's writing. "Like Tintin, I'm not one to turn down a good adventure," says Hodgman. "Even when my drunken sailor companion begs me to just stay home in the château for once."