Last weekend, almost exactly a year after seeing John Hodgman perform his “Vacationland” stand-up show in Boston, my partner and I revisited the same theater to see “Live Justice”, a touring, on-stage edition of Judge John Hodgman. I have written plenty in the past about my years-long admiration for this podcast, and everything transferred to a live experience fantastically well. The show featured a handful of format adjustments to turn it from an ordinary episode (as the podcast’s producers do indeed record it) into an evening of entertainment, including musical interludes by Juliana Hatfield and a “Swift Justice” segment of rapid-fire hearings in between the two full-length feature cases.
I’d written last year that as much as I enjoyed Hodgman delivering scripted comic monologues, I missed the oddly intimate spontaneity of his judicial persona as he helped real-life people navigate through various of life’s lesser disputes. I don’t feel in the least bad or pandered to that I got exactly what I wanted a year later. We had a great time.
A couple of observations particular to the live experience:
The context of a thousand ticket-holding people watching the cases in person, rather than a scattered and time-shifted podcast audience hearing a Skype conversation among a few people, made the atmosphere feel just a bit more fraught than I would have expected. I fidgeted a little during at least a couple of moments.
The evening’s first featured case involved a disagreement within a young husband-and-wife couple over her enormous shoe collection. The topic cozied with certain stereotypes all by itself, and the addition of hundreds of entertainment-hungry eyes in the same room threatened to shift the show’s normally light-hearted framing of “internet justice” into something more sinister. Hodgman seemed aware of this — though I don’t know if he prepared for it or realized it on the fly — and to my eye steered the case away from becoming overcharged.
(I fully admit I might not have noticed had he not admitted his discomfort with the case once it ended. He asked Juliana Hatfield, while she set up her gear, whether she enjoyed watching — in so many words — a bunch of men discussing the size of a woman’s shoe collection while she sat under hot stage lights. Despite his misgivings, I think he stuck the landing perfectly.)
Of the four litigants involved in the two featured cases, two were people of color. I thought that pretty great, especially since I’d pigeonhole Judge John Hodgman as a very “white” entertainment, if I had to. (The cases are screened and vetted well ahead of time, so props as appropriate to the show’s producers.)
On that note, having correctly and respectfully guessed one litigant’s intercultural heritage based on the nature of evidence submitted (her enjoyment of a comfort-food specific to India), the judge later made a rare misstep by beginning a case-wrapping monologue with “You come from a land where…” Her deadpanned “I’m from Lowell” brought the house down. Hodgman accepted this moment gracefully, dropped that particular subject, and moved on.