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John Hodgman: 'Twas The Night Before This Day

Dec 17, 2013
Originally published on December 24, 2014 9:17 am

"A Visit from St. Nicholas," popularly known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," is a favorite poem among many who celebrate Christmas. But when it comes to holiday verse, why should Dec. 25 get all the attention? We invited comedian, author and eschatology aficionado John Hodgman back to Ask Me Another as a Very Important Puzzler, to accompany host Ophira Eisenberg with a rather spirited reading of the classic poem, with the lines rewritten to be about some less popular holidays and days of observance. Get ready to pay tribute to Pi Day (March 14) and Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19).

Eisenberg also asked Hodgman about the gift he wanted most as a child but never received: Big Trak. "Big Trak was essentially a programmable attack drone," said Hodgman. "If you had a completely intricate inch-by-inch map of your house in your head, you could actually make it do things. Otherwise, it was great for banging into walls."

Later in the show, Hodgman picked up his ukulele and joined house musician Jonathan Coulton for a duet of "Auld Lang Syne." Hear it as a web extra on this page.

This segment originally aired on December 17, 2013.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


Now, to get us in the holiday spirit, please welcome comedian, author, and "Daily Show" contributor John Hodgman.



EISENBERG: Hi, John. Are you ready for the holidays?

HODGMAN: Which one?


EISENBERG: Do you celebrate Christmas?

HODGMAN: Yes. Not ready.

EISENBERG: Not ready?

HODGMAN: Any others? New Years? Not ready.

EISENBERG: New Year's. Oh, how do you get ready for New Years?

HODGMAN: I'm not ready.

EISENBERG: Yeah, OK. So you wouldn't know.

HODGMAN: Saturnalia? Ready.



HODGMAN: Already covered in oil.

EISENBERG: I'm happy to hear that.


EISENBERG: Do you remember...




EISENBERG: Would you like to fantasize about remembering?

HODGMAN: Yes. Yes, let's pretend that I remember.

EISENBERG: OK. What toy or puzzle, anything, gift that you wanted as a child most...

HODGMAN: That I didn't get? Big Trak. Why?

EISENBERG: You didn't get that?

HODGMAN: No. Tim McGonagall got it. Ugh.


EISENBERG: So is that Big Trak? That's like with the little cars that go around and around on a track with the...

HODGMAN: You know nothing about Big Trak.


EISENBERG: ...with the little guns?

HODGMAN: Big Trak was essentially - it was a programmable attack drone.


HODGMAN: It was a tank and you could program in a pattern for it to follow. So it would go forward and then you could say take a left, take a right. If you had a completely intricate inch-by-inch map of your house in your head, you could actually make it do things. Otherwise, it was great for banging into walls.



EISENBERG: All right. Let's welcome our first two contestants, Scott Chinn and Victoria Wong.


HODGMAN: Hi, Scott. Hi, Victoria.

EISENBERG: Victoria, what gift did you want as a child?

VICTORIA WONG: Well, on birthdays we always went out to dinner somewhere and for some reason I always wanted to go to Sizzler.


HODGMAN: What are you talking about "for some reason"?

WONG: Like, the shrimp is flying around in the commercials and, like...

EISENBERG: Yeah. It's exciting.


WONG: And they never took me to Sizzler.

EISENBERG: Never? Scott, how about you?

SCOTT CHINN: Well, I actually got this gift. My parents were pretty good about it. But I remember it was...

EISENBERG: Oh, wow. Look at the bragger onstage.


HODGMAN: Only child. Only child.

CHINN: Yes, I am. That's true.

HODGMAN: Oh, yeah.


HODGMAN: Oh, yeah. No, I'm also a member of the super-smart-afraid-of-conflict- narcissist club, sir. I can spot an only certainly a stage away.

CHINN: But it was a ridiculous gift, too. Because the first thing I thought of when you asked this question was when I was 10 years old for some reason I wanted this deluxe collector's set of "Citizen Kane." When I was 10.


CHINN: And it was, like, still in the VHS-era but it was a giant box with a book and photos and, like, a snow globe with Rosebud in it.

EISENBERG: So this first game is called 'Twas the Night Before This Day. And John, as a wordsmith, I would love it if you would describe what they are about to do.

HODGMAN: Well, Ophira and I will recite the famous poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," popularly known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." Except we have rewritten the poem to be about some less popular holidays as part of public media's war on Christmas. Wow. It's funny you would just write that in the script like that. That's amazing.


EISENBERG: Every once in a while on this show we like to take a stance.

HODGMAN: Yeah, why not? Ring in when you know which special day each stanza is about. The winner of this game will move on to our Ask Me One More final round at the end of the show. And I will begin. Are you ready? 'Twas the night before this day, my prepping is done. I'm pranking my friends. It's just good-natured fun. It's a worldwide phenomenon, an annual hoax, in hopes that the gullible fall for some jokes.


EISENBERG: Victoria.

WONG: April Fool's Day?

EISENBERG: Exactly. Yes.


HODGMAN: Well done. Celebrated April 1 in the United States, April 4 in Canada.

EISENBERG: That is not true, all right?

HODGMAN: I joked you all.


EISENBERG: Here's your next question. On this day we honor a constant in math, reciting a number with an infinite path. And to prove this day's not just for those with nerd lust, we'll eat a dessert boasting fruit in a crust.


EISENBERG: Victoria.

WONG: Pi Day.





HODGMAN: Wow. Cleaning up, cleaning up.

EISENBERG: Do you know what date that is, by any chance?

WONG: March 14th?




HODGMAN: If you round down. If you round down, yes.


EISENBERG: Is there a whole thing where some people are like, no, we celebrate it on the next day?

HODGMAN: Not yet. Not yet.


HODGMAN: Are you ready for the next one? Now pizza, now bean dip, now hot wings, now guac. On this day the beer is consumed 'round the clock. The players will frolic with helmets and pads. To be honest, I kind of dig watching the ads.


WONG: Super Bowl Sunday?

EISENBERG: Victoria is correct.



EISENBERG: On this day of revolt in 1789, ze prison was captured, ze king zaw ze zign. Le fete nationale leaves despots in its wake though we don't know who really said let zem eat cake.



CHINN: Bastille Day.


HODGMAN: Hooray.


HODGMAN: Ophira, let me just break in for a second. You did say you were Canadian, right?

EISENBERG: Yes, yes.

HODGMAN: That was a terrible French accent.


EISENBERG: I wasn't doing a Quebecois accent, just so you know.

HODGMAN: Ah. I see.

EISENBERG: I was doing someone from France that has lived a long time in Canada and moved to Brooklyn.

HODGMAN: Je comprends.


HODGMAN: Don't arrr-gue, me hearties. This matter is weighty. Instead of hello you should say ahoy, matey. If you don't use this lingo it's you that I'll smite. Happy this day to aarr-all and to aarr-all a good night.



CHINN: Talk Like a Pirate Day.



HODGMAN: And, weirdly, also Boxing Day. Isn't that strange?


HODGMAN: We would've accepted either.

EISENBERG: That was a really amazing and aggressive pirate. I loved that.

HODGMAN: That was my Quebecois accent.

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah. Exactly.


EISENBERG: Fantastic game. Victoria, we'll see you and John Hodgman again at the end of the show.

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.