Obviously, and obviously it was pretty much due to one single stroke of providence: four minutes on The Daily Show. While Daily Candy and the New York Times Book Review were critical and extremely influential early supporters. Dutton and its sales force were my heroes in their dogged belief in the book. But I remained skeptical. Inside I knew that most humans would still approach an excessively eccentric book of fake trivia with some hesitation, or I should say, plain confusion. I knew that many readers might not trust their initial impulse to like the book, wondering if perhaps it was simply too weird or trivial to invest their time and money in. And by November my feeling was they were saying more or less no thank you on presidents with hooks for hands.
Then The Daily Show and Jon Stewart did more than just put the book in front of a lot of eyeballs, although that was critical too; they essentially told their audience to not be afraid, that it was OK to like this weird thing, and that made all the difference, and I will never stop thanking them. The transformation-in how the book was seen by the public, and covered by the press, and treated by the bookstores, not to mention the plain old sales of the book-was dramatic. It happened literally overnight, as I flew back to Seattle to resume the scheduled book tour, bewildered and wondering what had happened.
Your book is an almanac. How did you choose that format?
The book is most immediately lovingly modeled on The Book of Lists, a 70s-era publishing sensation collecting lists of historical oddities and strange bits of trivia-author's last words, the sex lives of the European leaders, what Sasquatch ate for breakfast, that sort of thing. But that book itself was a sort of homage to the very old American publishing tradition of almanacs: little popular reference books full of weather predictions and facts and folk wisdom dating back to Ben Franklin's 18th century publishing sensation, Poor Richard's Almanac. This was the kind of literature I always loved-marginal, designed to be quickly read and forgotten, yet full of strange, amusing wisdom.
Are you working on a new book?
Yes, a continuation of The Areas of My Expertise called More Information Than You Require. It will be the second of a proposed three volumes.
On stage you performance seems incredibly comfortable, almost effortless. Do you have a background in acting?
No, but I had hosted a monthly literary/comedy/instructional lecture series called The Little Grey Book Lectures for several years in Brooklyn-whatever limited chops I could bring to The Daily Show, for example, I developed there. But I feel I've learned almost as much in just the past few months at The Daily Show, and on the stage of the Mac ads with director Phil Morrison.
You travel with a personal Troubadour, Coulton. How did you end up working together?
Jonathan Coulton is a super-genius whom I met at Yale in 1989. He is a singer songwriter, one of the funniest and most talented people I have ever known, and an inspiration. He also has an enormous beard, which is hilarious. When I began doing the Little Gray Book Lectures I immediately hoped that he would contribute original songs to the show, and since then I have conned him to accompany me on tour so that, through the magic of music and beards, we might make the reading aloud of lists of fake trivia not boring.