In Medallion Status: True Stories from Secret Rooms (Viking, Oct.), comedian Hodgman discusses airline perks and fleeting fame.
What compelled you to focus the book on “fame and especially its dwindling”?
One after the other, my television jobs went away, most notably The Daily Show in 2015, when Jon Stewart retired. That job had profoundly changed my life and put me, rather implausibly, on television. When that was over, it was a big change, and I find that when changes happen, it’s when stories happen, too.
You write that you became obsessed with maintaining elite frequent flier status with your “beloved” airline after you began to work less. What happened?
It’s like a video game. It’s addictive. You get a dopamine rush when you hit certain levels—gold, platinum, diamond—and eat certain power dots. For a moment, you’re the Pac-Man, and the ghosts of self doubt that have been chasing you all your life, you can turn around and eat them. Loyalty programs are a clarifying metaphor for the different kinds of fake statuses we are chasing in our lives that we would probably be better off not worrying about.
You talk about being recognized less in public. What’s worse, being famous for a time or never being famous at all?
Being famous even at the weird middle-grade level of famous that I was is always a terrific experience. But even if you are never famous in the way I was famous, specifically—on The Daily Show for a time, and doing some television ads, then being a bit actor on a bunch of cable shows—everyone has the experience of having something slip away from them. Whether that is status in your career or with your airline or even status in your family, when you grow from being a dad of young children, where you are revered, to being a middle-aged dad of teenagers, where you are mocked—and rightly so because you are making puns all the time—having that status drop is hard to deal with.
You once tried and failed to get invited to a Golden Globes party. Have you ever crashed a party?
No. I’d never do that. My whole career feels like crashing a party. It’s imposter syndrome. Well, let me tell you, sometimes, when you feel like you have imposter syndrome, you are an imposter, and, sometimes, they find you out. Mine is the story of what happens when that happens.
You’ve written five books but don’t enjoy writing. Why?
Writing is not something I want to do. It’s hard and lonely. The reason I write is because my brain has a malfunction in it and I can’t help it. I can’t help but make these connections that illuminate what I’m experiencing. And while the process is not fun, when your brain chooses to reveal itself to you, it’s enlightening.