Interview: Jean Grae and John Hodgman are both Felix Ungers

Jean Grae and John Hodgman will be at Port City Music Hall on July 9th. I talked with them about what folks can expect, and they touched on — among so many other things — what annoys them about The Walking Dead (not enough messy eyebrows or scenes dedicated to tidying) and how they are both Felix Ungers.

The show will include conversation, variety show elements and, a carnival wheel constructed by MYTHBUSTER Adam Savage (who will not be present). There will also be  games, songs and a special guest.

NOTE: Jean and I had a lovely and nerdy conversation that preceded this one and I’ll release that tomorrow.

Jean, you met John when he found and enjoyed your video for Kill Screen. When you finally met, was he anything like you’d expected him to be? 

JG: I never have an expectation of people because it never works out the way people think. That’s how it works with me, at least. People will say, “Oh, I didn’t expect you to be like this,” and I will be like, “Why? I don’t know what you thought you were going to get.” So I never approach people like that. But it was instantaneously very comfortable, and this [performance] we’re doing is very comfortable as well. I’d thought mostly that I didn’t have any more fucks to give. I’d reached an age where I figured that was the case. People were saying, “There’s no space for this,” or that what we’re trying to do doesn’t exist, but I’m letting that go. I don’t have any more fucks to give. I’m 40, I don’t care. And it applies to so much of what I am doing, podcasts, performance and otherwise. I really enjoy going into these things not caring.

JH: Oh, what I was hearing through the cell phone connection was, “no more thoughts to give…” and that this process has given you more thoughts to give, and I was wondering what the hell you were talking about. Then I understood, “Oh, these are fucks. Jean had no fucks to give. But then she found a few more?” Ah, that makes more sense. When you think about it, maybe our show should be called ‘Thoughts and Fucks,’” where we’re representing our individual personalities. Our thoughtfulness and our fuckfulness.

AS: John, part of your career has been defined by some degree by odd-coupledom. And your visibility has largely been persona driven. In this case, it seems like you are John Hodgman, or as close to John Hodgman as it gets, teamed up with Jean who is a great rapper and artist, which is itself also a bit of an odd couple. 

JH: Well, as you know I am a notoriously a lousy sportswriter in New York City and I found myself in need of a roommate… I appreciate the reference, and as much as I wish I could identify with Oscar, I am profoundly a Felix in every way. I am a neat freak. I am neurotic in my core. But I think that what you say is not entirely true. I don’t think that the creative collaborations I’ve had have been particularly odd. I am long in collaboration with Jonathan Coulton, but we both went to college together. We’re both white guys who went to Yale. There haven’t been a lot of differing world views. It’s a lot of Bruce Campbell and Mystery Science Theater 3000. The only way that we could play off each other as opposites in some way was for me to claim that he was raised by wolves outside of Connecticut and that I found him, which is obviously not true. I think what is true, though, is I have created a lot of exaggerations of myself to speak through in my books and on the Daily Show. Though as Donald Trump became more and more a politician, major public figure and now president, what comedy could I do with the deranged millionaire [persona] that could compete with the long-form improv that he was doing.

JG: [laughs] “Long form improv!” [laughs]

JH: I wanted to take stock of who I was honestly as a person and part of that was truly figuring out what thoughts I had left to give. Part of that was putting myself on stage alone without any schtick or costume and also on stage in collaboration with people I didn’t know as well as Coulton and people who came from a different world than I did and who I enjoyed very much. That includes Jean, obviously. So guess I will say that I am Felix Unger to John’s Oscar Madison. Is that fair, Jean? 

JG: No. That’s bullshit. 

JH: Tell me what’s fair.

JG: No, it’s not utter bullshit. I have been perceived more as an Oscar and it’s also interesting for me to play that but it seems like the idea of me is that I am all over the place and no, I need things done in a certain way and to play Katamari and to make sure everything is cleaned up in a certain way and a certain place. 

JH: I think we are both Felix Ungers. And we have our Oscar Madison moments but I think we’re both Felix Ungers.

JG: It seems like it’s an odd pairing, but it’s really not. 

JH: Do you know why I don’t like The Walking Dead, Jean? 

JG: No! 

JH: There aren’t enough scenes of them neatly stacking canned food. 

JG: [laughs]

JH: That’s a big part. Prepping and stocking your survival cache is a big part of post apocalypse and I want to see more of that.

JG: But it is! In Alexandria, they have the pantry and the pantry is extremely well maintained. My issue with The Walking Dead, and it plays against the same thing but maybe a little differently, is that I am very annoyed with Rosita’s eyebrows. I don’t see where she’s getting time to wax, I don’t see how they’re so immaculately maintained. It really bothers me. That’s not real.

JH: There are definitely a lot of problems with suspension of disbelief, but all I am asking for is more scenes in the pantry. I want a Chris Hardwick hosted after-show called “Talking Pantry.” 

JG: The pantry would be a great place for you to go a little crazy and do a mock podcast from. 

Okay, what is your pitch for folks coming to the show? A pitch or a threat will be sufficient. 

JH: A pitch or a threat? A threat?

AS: Why not? 

JG: [laughs]

JH: Like, I should threaten them with something bad that will happen to them if they don’t come to the show? 

Why not? It’s a new era of how we communicate with the broader public. Threats are on the table. 

JG: I think he’s requesting a threat. 

JH: Here’s what I have to say. Yes. From the outside, Jean and John is probably the most important conversation that civilization has to offer. Obviously the work we are doing on stage is a big part of my effort to decentralize the straight white male experience…

JG: As it is mine as well.

JH: But Jean… It’s really mine. I do it the best, Jean.

JG: You’re alright. I’m just saying that if they want to see straight white male privilege in action, that really one might think they should watch you during the show but it’s really me. 

JH: Obviously we’re speaking to a lot of really true Maine issues in society, but the fact of the matter is that we’re just friends who like talking to each other. When I thought that I had no more thoughts to give, talking to Jean makes me funnier and smarter and makes me remember that I do have some more thoughts to give. It’s true. I’ve done my bit solo, but joking with and being instructed by and learning with Jean has been a lot of fun. So I guess what I am saying is Portland, if you don’t enjoy fun, and you don’t want to see the two most adorable and interesting people on Earth spinning a big wheel full of topics at a variety show that will involve games and adult beverages and good times, then I don’t care. Go and eat some goddamn best food in the world or whatever. 

I like that you had such a nice and sweet thing to say about your working relationship with Jean and you delivered on the threat. 

JH: It’s not a threat. Here’s the thing: If you just go eat oysters at Eventide and skip our show, I’ll understand. But you’ll never know what you missed and it will never happen again.

JG: I, too, understand if you choose food over doing other things. I just think it would be detrimental to your life. You could do something else, yes, but also I will find you if you do. 

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.