John Hodgman says he’s always been fascinated with the term “Vacationland.”
But it wasn’t until he started vacationing in Maine, and actually bought a house in Brooklin recently, that he says he recognized “the wry and purposeful irony” of the nickname.
“We have discovered beaches that are made of soft sand, instead of nice rocks, and we have discovered water that welcomes you with relaxation instead of challenging every cell in your body to a duel to the death with its murderous cold,” said Hodgman, during a phone interview in August. “So the term ‘Vacationland’ for Maine makes me think to myself, ‘What am I trying to get out of a vacation?’ If you are a person who secretly thinks you don’t deserve pleasure or happiness, then Maine is perfect for you.”
Hodgman is calling his latest one-man comedy show “Vacationland” in honor of the state where he spends summers at “painful beaches.” He will perform in Portland Sunday at Port City Music Hall.
Hodgman grew up just outside Boston, in Brookline, Massachusetts, and he and his wife also have homes in western Massachusetts and Brooklyn, New York. He promises to talk about Massachusetts, which he calls “the birthplace of rage” during his shows as well.
This “Vacationland” tour is not the first time Hodgman has dug up some comic fodder in his analytical comedy. In 2013 he was leaving Maine after a summer vacation when he met a banana salesman, Jonathan Niederer, at the Kennebunk service plaza on the Maine Turnpike. Hodgman was intrigued by Niederer’s singing spiel (“Fresh bananas heah”) and decided to talk about Niederer on his “Judge John Hodgman” podcast. The podcast made Niederer something of a celebrity, and caused Hodgman fans to visit Niederer and get their pictures taken with him.
Hodgman hadn’t taken the time to chat with Niederer before the podcast. But in August 2014, after Niederer had become a minor celebrity, Hodgman stopped into the service plaza in Kennebunk to visit with him.
Hodgman has been vacationing in the Blue Hill area for years, but just recently bought a house in Brooklin.
Hodgman, 44, began his career as a writer. But not really because he wanted to write.
“I liked the idea of wearing a beret, of the lifestyle,” said Hodgman. “Well into my 20s I wrote very serious and pretentious short stories because that is what I thought writers did.”
But then he wrote a story for the literary journal McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern in the voice of a “deranged literary agent.” People liked it, and Hodgman had found his style. He wrote an almanac parody called “The Areas of My Expertise” in 2005, and went on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart, on Comedy Central, to promote it. That spot led to a series of appearances by Hodgman on the show. He often appears as the show’s “resident expert.” He continues to have a freelance relationship with the show and likely will appear again in the future.
Around the same time he landed another TV role, as the nerdy, bumbling PC in Apple Mac commercials. His character was supposed to be a poor substitute for the hip Mac, personified by Justin Long. But in many people’s minds, Hodgman’s funny PC was easier to relate to and the star of the ads. The commercials ran until about 2010.
Growing up near Boston, Hodgman was the only child of a nursing administrator mother and a “businessman” father. He says to this day he’s still not exactly sure what his father did (something to do with a state-funded venture capital firm) but assures people that when he says “businessman” it is not “a euphemism for organized crime.”
Being an only child allowed Hodgman to develop a perspective on life that still fuels his comedy today.
“I was left alone to indulge my pretentious enthusiasms, including watching a lot of public television,” said Hodgman. “As an only child, I am a member of a worldwide club of super smart people afraid of all conflict. I was not tested by siblings, I had no competition. So all conflict seemed potentially fatal to me. I spent my teenage years trying to become a 45-year-old gentleman bachelor.”
He never quite made it.
Instead he’s a 44-year-old father of “two human children,” extolling the virtues of Vacationland.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $20 to $30