‘Ragnarok’ a review of John Hodgman’s apocalyptic stage show


Last week Netlfix experienced ‘the end of the world’. No, the video service didn’t reach a bitter and inevitable end at the talons of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered Aztec serpent god. Instead, Netflix premiered Ragnarok, the apocalyptic themed comedy show, featuring John Hodgman.

John Hodgman began his minor celebrity by appearing as the ‘PC’ in Apple’s Mac vs. PC campaign. He has since contributed to This American Life, The Daily Show with John Stewart, as well as performing in HBO’s Bored to Death. He is also the writer of a triptych of books comprised of ‘complete world knowledge’, which are humorous essays, and made up facts about history and the world around us. THAT IS ALL, the final book in the trilogy, details the end of the world as predicted by the Mayan calendar on December 21st 2012.

To publicize his book, Hodgman put together a comedy stage show themed around his ‘deranged millionaire’ persona, and his comedic predictions for the end of the world. The show, titled Ragnarok, was filmed on December 21st 2012 at Brooklyn’s Bell House, and is streaming on Netflix right now.

I feel compelled to clarify that, though Ragnarok is billed as a stand up special, it is something quite different. Ragnarok exists as an amalgam of vaudeville, lecture and one man show. It uses more theatrical sensibilities i.e. sets, musical interludes, and yes, even props, to invite us into his imaginative, apocalyptic world. On a stage dressed to look like an underground bunker, complete with cot, framed picture of H.P. Lovecraft and several jars of hoarded urine, it feels like we’ve stepped into the mind of our host, playing his deranged millionaire character to the hilt. Ragnarok is like an episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle hosted by Mr. Burns and transcribed by George Plimpton. Too much?

The apocalyptic theme of the show goes a long way in providing context for the evening’s events. Between the set dressing and comedy content, we become fellow travelers in our host’s Howard Hughes-like machinations. We are drawn into concepts ranging from post-apocalyptic sports talk, to the benefits of using mayonnaise as both a conditioner and urine stain remover. There are a few moments where it seems like he’s trying to riff to make time, but these moments are entirely made up for by Hodgman’s utter sincerity* as he closes the show with an audience sing-along. And that is when Ragnarok succeeds the most, when Hodgman does what he does and isn’t trying to ape modern stand-up routines. When he feels like he’s sharing his own sensibilities instead of conforming to an industry standard.

Ragnarok is a strange beast, and if you’re into the comedy of folks like Daniel Tosh or Dane Cook, you may not enjoy this show. Hodgman’s humor is fanciful in nature, excelling at escaping the mundanity of everyday life with esoteric high concepts. He tells jokes to keep the chess club and comic book fans rolling in the aisle. This show is a love letter to the AV kids who may not have been the most popular in school. For them, John Hodgman is a nerd god, albeit one without feathers or talons.

If you enjoy dry, nerdy wit and over the top discussions on the details of post-apocalyptic life, Ragnarok is a must see. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to play Fallout 3  while listening to the siren songs of Cynthia Hopkins.



*His TED talk still makes me laugh…and get a little misty-eyed.

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