John Hodgman on his Netflix comedy special 'Ragnarok' and what comes next
Many fans know John Hodgman best for his work on "The Daily Show," being the "PC" to Justin Long's "Mac" in old Apple commercials or making appearances on television shows like "Community" and "Bored to Death." But the comedian spent a good portion of 2012 touring the country doing an apocalypse-themed standup routine that will soon be coming to Netflix in the new special "Ragnarok."
While Hodgman performed the routine a number of times, "Ragnarok" contains a show very close to his heart. The New York-set show took place on Dec. 21, 2012, the night the Mayans said the world would end, and Hodgman performed his routine to a packed house.
"I was very happy to usher them into whatever unknown awaited us," he tells Zap2it during a recent interview. "I think I was among the most surprised that the thing I least expected to happen happened, which was nothing."
No, the world did not end with the world "being drowned in a tidal wave of blood, or pulled apart by a giant pack of dogs called the Dog Storm" as Hodgman had previously speculated, but instead went on spinning as normal. Hodgman says that the world still existing past Dec. 21, 2012 was the event he least prepared himself for. Instead of the apocalypse taking place, he found himself faced with "the greatest unknown of all, which is what do we do with the rest of our dumb lives now that the world didn't end."
"It is a question I have been having to answer for myself over the past six months," Hodgman admits.
Hodgman hasn't always been a standup comedian, and never even really cared for performing the style of comedy until recently. Describing it as "an ambition I have always been terrified by and have suddenly come to enjoy and want to do more of," Hodgman will find himself performing new material on stage soon. He booked comedy dates at Union Hall in Salt Lake City to force himself to develop new material, which he's been working on ever since the culmination of his apocalypse tour.
The plan wasn't always to have the "Ragnarok" routine end up as a comedy special. In fact, it wasn't until Hodgman was already on tour that he realized he should release what he felt was a special moment in his comedic career.
"My main goal initially was to take this show that I had developed rather accidentally on the road. What had begun as a literally presentation from my book had grown into a true one man stand up comedy show with a beginning, middle and end that I liked a lot," he says. "I felt extremely lucky that right away, before anyone even had a chance to express interest, Netflix said they would want to air it, and from my point of view, that was perfect."
To Hodgman, it made perfect sense for Netflix to be the company to release "Ragnarok." He says he liked the fact that he is putting his work in the "biggest possible library available."
"From my point of view, Netflix was great because my motive was I want to get a document, and to put it on Netflix means that if people want to find it and see it, the greatest number of people will be able to find it and see it," he says. "I feel very lucky to be part of what I think is a real moment of vibrancy in, not just television culture overall in terms of distribution, but Netflix as an emerging creative source."
"Ragnarok" will join good company of Netflix Original projects. "Arrested Development" Season 4 recently was released on the medium, while the comedy "Orange Is The New Black" will premiere on July 11. Netflix doesn't look at viewership numbers the way television networks typically do, and Hodgman hopes that people find his new work on Netflix -- and has an easy way for fans to show their support.
"Not in the interest of self-promotion but in the interest of transparency, I will say everyone in the world likes what they like. If you are interested in my thing and also like what I do as a creator and want me to thrive, it would be nice if you were, on June 20, to subscribe to Netflix if you are not a subscriber and press play on 'Ragnarok,'" Hodgman says. "I've long had a deal with my readers of my books, which is if you purchase my book, under a special arrangement with the publisher, it frees you from the obligation to read the book. Press play and walk away."
He continues, "Here's what I would ask you not to do: Don't press play and pause it and never come back, because that is the thing that Netflix will see. I hope that everyone will enjoy it. I think it's a weird document of a very special night, in my opinion, and I hope that people will enjoy it and I hope that those people who like what I do will know that it would be great -- not a joke -- it would be great if you watched it and let it stream on June 20 or thereabouts. And if you do let it stream, maybe try watching it. You might enjoy it as well. I can tell you how it ends: the world doesn't end."
Hodgman says this is the type of conversation he's had with his fans a lot over the years. When it comes to shows like "Community," in which he briefly appeared as the character "Dr. Heidi," he thinks that fans need to understand how the business model works in order to truly offer shows their support.
"There's a peril to this a la carte media landscape, which is that we think that just by watching a thing, in some way we are supporting the thing that we like. The reality is that 'Community' makes it money by the network selling ad time to an audience that is as large as possible watching live or day of or day after, and then also generating enough episodes that they can then sell to syndication. That's how 'Community' can continue to exist," he argues. "If you do like a thing and you want to support it, you should find out how it makes its money and support it in that way."
"Ragnarok" premieres on Netflix on June 20. Here some other talking points from Zap2it's conversation with Hodgman.
On whether he'll return for the "Bored to Death" movie
"I was in 'Bored to Death' because I knew Jonathan Ames from long ago when we were both just weird wizards, literary preachers wandering around downtown New York performing on small stages. And so I remain friends with him since. I know that he's working on the script. I've been given indications that I would have something to do should a movie materialize, but the first thing that has to happen of course is the script is done and a movie materializes. I know the script will be done. Jonathan is an incredibly diligent and brilliant writer, but after that, with any movie, there's so many factors that have to align themselves in order for a movie to actually get made. I really hope so. First and foremost, I hope a movie gets made. To me, as a lover of comedy, to see those three guys in action together was such an unexpected delightful bit of chemistry. If I were to have any small part in it, that would just be the greatest, but I make no presumptions whatsoever."
On who he, as a huge "Doctor Who" fan, thinks should play the next Doctor
"I love almost all of the Doctors Who. The only ones I don't love are the ones I'm not familiar with. But Tom Baker, that was my first Doctor Who. I offer this only because I know that it is impossible because the Doctor is a British character -- though he is a time-traveling alien, he is also in both his hearts utterly British -- but I would like to see Paul F. Tompkins play Doctor Who, but only if I could play the Master. ... I have all faith in Stephen Moffat that he will look at whomever, a wide, wide range of actors and will be utterly color and gender blind in his consideration, presuming that he's continuing as showrunner. But the team will look at a wide, wide range of actors across all sorts of backgrounds and genders and so on, and I also have equal faith that they will pick an amazing actor who will bring an amazing new life to that show. I just hope it's Paul F. Tompkins. I mean, isn't it time for an American Doctor?"
On whether he'll reprise his role as Dr. Heidi on "Community"
"I honestly don't know. There are few things as unpredictable as 'Community,' so all I can say to that is I was glad to ride that bucking bronco of a thing for even a few things before falling off. By bucking, I don't just mean with all the controversy surrounding it, but also just creatively unpredictable. Like, who knows what's going to happen in that world? That's why it's such an exciting show. I'm thrilled that Dan is coming back and I look forward to it, but one of the things that I care most about is that there continue to be community.