John Hodgman on the Birchmere, drinking in D.C., fax machines, secret societies and new stage show ‘I Stole Your Dad’


John Hodgman is an author, comedian, “The Daily Show’s” deranged millionaire and a failed
apocalypse prognosticator. (Brantley Gutierrez)

In 2012, John Hodgman predicted the world would end. When it didn’t — as documented in his 2013 Netflix comedy special “Ragnarok” — he wasn’t sure what to do next. “I had staked a lot of my professional reputation on the world ending,” he says. “I really had made no plans for what would happen in my life if the world did not end.” Hodgman, 42, started hosting so-called “Secret Society” shows at a bar in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he worked on new material for small, eager crowds. The result is “I Stole Your Dad,” a loose stand-up show that “The Daily Show’s” deranged millionaire will perform at the Birchmere on Thursday.

Are you all set to chat?
I’m DTC, down to chat.

That’s a new one.
I just made it up. Rudi, you are at the birth of something big. DTC is going to be the latest useful text jargon.

It’s what the kids are saying today.
I’m just gonna start saying it and it’s going to give the illusion that I’m young and relevant.

What were the “Secret Society” shows that birthed “I Stole Your Dad” like?
I ended up calling the shows “Secret Society” because I chose not to announce that there would be a comedy show. I would let people know via word of mouth and I wanted to keep the contents of what happened in there a secret, in part because I love secret societies, but mainly, though, to reduce people’s expectations of entertainment to the lowest possible level, so that I could get onstage and discover what it is I had to say.

Which was?
I discovered quite a bit about myself and about what my preoccupations these days are, which include: dressing up as Ayn Rand, the many state songs of Tennessee, marijuana, how college students are beautiful sociopaths, and my own memories of being a weird, only child — a member of the super-smart afraid-of-conflict narcissist club.

This is the third time you’ve played the Birchmere: Do you like the dinner theater aspect of the venue?
I love food, first of all. It’s more than just loving it: I require it to live. I literally would die without it. And I like the food that they make there. They have a great backstage with one of my favorite things in the world: a fax machine.

Have you used it?
It has become something of a tradition the past couple of times I’ve been there that I will tweet out the fax number before the show, and I will highlight some of the more amusing faxes that come through.

The Birchmere also has a brick wall, which is good for comedy.
I guess that’s true. I tend to face the audience when I perform, so I don’t really notice what’s behind me but this time, maybe I will.

Is what you’re doing now closer to traditional stand-up comedy — less a one-man show, like “Ragnarok” was?
I refer to what I do as my imitation of stand-up comedy that is getting better. I once expressed concern to Eugene Mirman: “I’m concerned about doing what I do in a stand-up comedy context — that people will be upset. Is what I’m doing really stand-up? I want to give the audience a good show.” Eugene kind of looked at me for a beat and said, “If you’re standing onstage and making people laugh, that’s comedy.”

Will I be telling more personal stories about my life? Yes. In part to move on from the persona of the resident expert, or the deranged millionaire, to the persona of John Hodgman, famous John Hodgman impersonator.

Last year, when you performed at the Birchmere, you ended up at The Passenger, a D.C. bar that you realized used to be the Warehouse Theater, where you had done some memorable book readings in 2005.
I don’t like to drop names, I love to drop names. It was Rachel Maddow who said, “You should go drink at The Passenger.” We went to the address — I was traveling with Al Madrigal from “The Daily Show” — and the minute I got out of the cab I went, “Oh, I’ve been here before.” It was a magical night because they treated us very nice and I said, “There was a theater upstairs,” and I was able to go back up into that room and remember that night where we did two shows, put away a quite a bit of bourbon and had a really good time. Those are the best shows — not that you have to put away a lot of bourbon — but those shows where you and the audience feel like you had the time of your lives.

Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria; Thu., 7:30 p.m., $25; 703-549-7500.

Rudi Greenberg is Express' Weekend Pass editor and comedy columnist.
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