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NPR Arts & Life

In The World Of Podcasts, Judge John Hodgman Rules

John Hodgman, left, presides over a live taping of the <em>Judge John Hodgman</em> podcast, as Jesse Thorn looks on.
John Hodgman, left, presides over a live taping of the <em>Judge John Hodgman</em> podcast, as Jesse Thorn looks on.
Jesse Thorn plays the bailiff on <em>Judge John Hodgman.</em> "I'm the guy who hosts the <em>People's Court</em> who's not Judge Wapner," says Thorn, "And I'm also sort of Roz from <em>Night Court</em>."
Jesse Thorn / Courtesy of Maximum Fun
Jesse Thorn plays the bailiff on <em>Judge John Hodgman.</em> "I'm the guy who hosts the <em>People's Court</em> who's not Judge Wapner," says Thorn, "And I'm also sort of Roz from <em>Night Court</em>."

Should the kitchen sink's built-in dispenser be filled with dish soap or hand soap?

Can you stop family members from using your childhood nickname?

Is a machine gun a robot?

These are the kinds of pressing decisions before the court on the podcast, Judge John Hodgman.

Now, Hodgman is no legal expert. He's a comedian, known for his books, like That Is All, and his appearances as a "deranged millionaire" on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.

But on his podcast, which has now run for more than 130 episodes, Hodgman rules on real-life disputes between people who call in, whether siblings, friends, or couples. It's not unlike TV court shows like The People's Court or Judge Judy, but, as Hodgman tells NPR's Arun Rath, "very rarely do we have people who owe money on a car or an apartment."

"More often," Hodgman says, "it's someone who wants to know whether it's OK to instruct the taxi driver to drive through a late-night drive-through after going to a bar."

(As for the taxi etiquette question, Hodgman says, it depends.)

Jesse Thorn, who also hosts the public radio show Bullseye, plays Hodgman's bailiff on the podcast.

"I'm the guy who hosts The People's Court who's not Judge Wapner," says Thorn, "And I'm also sort of Roz from Night Court, which is to say the sassy bailiff."

The show is a vehicle for comedy, but Hodgman and Thorn both say the podcast has an earnest side, too. Jokes aside, they say, Hodgman really does take the job of fake internet judge seriously.

"The best Judge John Hodgman cases," Thorn says, "are always about the relationship between the litigants."

And, by the way, Hodgman ruled in favor of using dish soap, in favor of a litigant determining her own nickname, and he says, without reservation, that a machine gun is not a robot.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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