Nerds are powerful, according to Chris Hardwick. And he should know. The self-proclaimed nerd has started a whole podcast and entertainment website based on nerdiness. He'll bring his popular podcast, Nerdist, live to the Boulder Theater tonight complete with stand-up performances, an interview with Colorado-based astronomer Phil Plait, and a section for quemments (a portmanteau of "questions" and "comments"). We caught up with Hardwick in advance of his show about his popular podcast, why he loves Westword, and the rise of the nerd.
Chris Hardwick: First of all, let me just say something about Westword. I went to high school for three years in Denver, I went to Regis High School for three years and then my family moved and I went to another Jesuit school in Los Angeles, but Westword was the newspaper that exposed me to Zippy the Pinhead and Matt Groening. So I have such a deep affection to Westword for showing me those things when I was in high school, like, that's how I first got exposed to Akbar and Jeff and all of the Matt Groening stuff. So you know, that was very important to me growing up as someone who just liked sort of weird nerdy comedy and that was part of my development.
Westword: That's so cool! What made you want to start a podcast?
I worked in radio years ago and I always liked the idea of working in a medium where you just sort of talk as yourself. But I still had some of these old radio ideas in my head so I didn't do a podcast. I had wanted to do one for a couple of years but then I'd always thought, like, "it's gotta be super produced and there'd have to be segments and I don't know how I'm gonna do that." And then a bunch of my friends started podcasts where they were just talking to people. Like, you know Jimmy Pardo or Marc Maron or Doug Benson or Adam Carolla and so it just kind of occurred to me, no no I can just talk to people about things that I care about and they care about.
Right around the time where I started doing the Nerdist podcast I had been up for a big job, it was gonna be a daily show and I thought it was gonna be a really big, career-changing sort of thing and at the last minute it didn't get picked up. And I worked in television for so long and just had always sort of felt--you're really just kind of a pawn in television, you don't really have control over what happens, it's just sort of the way that the executives think they can sell you to marketing departments. That's really how television works. They're not really caring whether the shows are any good. I had really just been a pawn in that for so long and I didn't like the idea that I would lose out jobs to people just cause they were more famous or shows wouldn't get picked up. So when this job kinda got taken away I kinda just snapped in a way that made me go, you know, I'm just gonna do my own thing and emotionally I can't handle being told when to work and what I'm allowed to work on. I wanted to do something that was just for me. So that's why I started the podcast. I didn't really care if anyone was gonna listen. And it's been beyond what I ever could have imagined.
Who are some of your dream guests for the podcast?
I mean, it's limitless. Bill Murray is someone I would love to have on. I think Tom Hanks would be an amazing guest. I'd love Harold Ramis. Tom Lehrer I would love to talk to. I'd love to talk to Richard Branson. I'd love to more scientists. Basically, people who excel in their life path, whatever people are really passionate about and they've managed to turn into something that's meaningful to them. That's where I get really interested.
How do you define a nerd?
I don't think it necessarily has anything to do with what people are into, it's not what people like, but how they like those things. So it doesn't matter if you like Battlestar or Star Trek or Sailor Moon or if you collect action figures or if you're a Magic: The Gathering person or D&D, I mean, those are all things that nerds tend to like, but what makes someone a nerd is how passionate they are about something and how they will try to understand that thing on a granular level, like, more than anyone else in the world. And a lot of times, at the expense of things that they probably should be doing. Like, if you're blowing off work to make sure that scale model that you're building is perfect, that's nerdy. So I think it's the level of which someone has a passion and focus about something that they care about, I think that's what it is.
Why do you think that nerd culture has sort of merged into pop culture?
Because nerds have designed everything that makes pop culture possible: the internet, all of technology, sci-fi movies, comic book movies, The Walking Dead. The only reason that mouth-breathers can watch the Kardashians is because the nerds provide the technology to make that happen. Everyone has smart phones, everyone has computers, everyone has DVRs, everyone has hybrid cameras. Those are all nerd things. And nerds are powerful now. I mean, there are famous nerd billionaires. I think it really boils down to that. Technology is so pervasive that it has sort of made us powerful.
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