Dan Shafer

John Hodgman, “Deranged Millionaire,” at Turner Hall

By - Apr 2nd, 2012 04:00 am

“Deranged Millionaire” John Hodgman interacts with the audience at Turner Hall (Photos: Erik Ljung)

John Hodgman is a comedian with an underrated skill – he excels at playing the villain.

Whether it’s offering contrarian advice to Jon Stewart as The Daily Show’s “Resident Expert” in running segments, “You’re Welcome” and “Money Talks,” playing Jason Schwartzman’s archenemy in the hilarious, now-defunct HBO comedy Bored to Death, or most famously as the decidedly un-hip Personal Computer in Apple’s Mac vs. PC ads, the comedy increases the more deplorable his characters become.

Hodgman threw his socks into the audience and performed barefoot.

Hodgman’s persona has taken yet another hateable form, that of the “Deranged Millionaire,” fitting for the era of the 1 percent vs. the 99. His Milwaukee show was the third in his “M Cities of the Midwest Tour,” which also took him to Minneapolis, Madison and M-Chicago.

Upon taking the rearranged-for-comedy Turner Hall stage, he quickly displayed his outlandish eccentricities by knocking over chairs, demanding a gin martini from someone in the front row, and taking off his socks and hurling them at unsuspecting members of the audience (and subsequently performing barefoot for the remainder of the show).

He then thanked the audience for coming, saying he was thrilled they chose his show over his two biggest rivals, Garrison Keillor (playing across town at the Milwaukee Theatre) and sports (the Bucks were playing the Grizzlies across the street at the Bradley Center).

Hodgman recently completed his third book of “Complete World Knowledge” (read: fake trivia), That Is All. Next Chapter Bookshop was there with copies of his book, which Hodgman stayed to sign. His tour is a s

His performance was part-comedy show, part-book lecture (at least the kind about books of made up trivia), part-sketch comedy, and part-Mystery Science Theater 3000, as opening acts, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett of MST3K and RiffTrax.com, began the night as many openers do, with “songs nobody wants to hear,” before riffing through an absurd ‘70s educational video on the topic of “Patriotism.” Hodgman joined them for the second video, not as himself, but as Game Of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, where he made light of the writer’s lack of new material.

Despite capturing moments of brilliance, Hodgman’s performance was ultimately too scattered and lacked the right amount of cohesion to maintain any comedic flow over the course of the night. He never quite struck a balance between the “Deranged Millionaire” and his actual self for enough time to give the show any momentum.

John Hodgman as “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin.

One moment, he was hurling mayonnaise packets and 5-hour energy into the crowd to help the audience prepare for the coming apocalypse, and the next he was quietly and articulately telling a nuanced, made-up tale about the history of magicians. He ended the show with a completely inexplicable ukulele sing-a-long.

At one point, he brought back the opening acts and invited three more audience members to participate in a reading of sorts that never totally made sense. Some parts of the act played to such a niche audience (he identified different classifications of nerds by the response to his jokes throughout the night) that it was hard not to feel like I was missing something.

And I probably was. There are many ways to enjoy the comedy of Hodgman – be it through his books, his TV and film roles, his podcast, “Judge John Hodgman” or through social media, where he has a strong presence on Twitter and Tumblr – and some of his material plays to such an niche audience it’s impossible for some jokes not to go sailing over the heads of many. However, some material was just the opposite. Subjects like Rick Santorum, hoarding-based reality shows, and the Mayan-predicted end times were funny, but not in a way hasn’t already been done.

Not many comedians can be both high-minded intellectual and total clown. Hodgman’s efforts toward this are certainly ambitions and often extremely funny, but his many talents didn’t quite translate to a headlining performance on stage.

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