Now is a pretty good time to be a nerd, especially if you’re Chris Hardwick. Hardwick is already a G4 staple and internet favorite, and since launching his Nerdist podcast in February 2010, he is finding an even greater legion of fans. Dubbed one of the greatest podcasts by Rolling Stone, the Nerdist features fun, funny and informative conversations with the likes of Kevin Smith, Zooey Deschanel and The Doctor himself, Matt Smith.
Thanks to the podcast’s success and popularity, Hardwick is expanding his Nerdist Empire into the realms of television and print. The TV adaptation of the podcast premiered in September, and Hardwick’s book, “The Nerdist Way,” hit shelves in November. He’s even recorded a pilot for a new show co-starring his friend and comedic partner Mike Phirman.
I had the opportunity to speak with Hardwick recently, discussing all of this and his new chimp sidekick Bingo.
Where did you go to college? What was your major?
I went to UCLA [and majored in] philosophy.
What made you choose that for a major?
Um, because I liked it (laughs). I knew I wanted to be a comedian and I thought philosophy, being able to dissect topics to an irritating degree, would really be valuable for comedy.
Nice! Well, that makes sense. So, how and when did you meet Mike Phirman?
We met at UCLA, actually. There was a comedy group of stand-ups that would meet once a week and help each other write material, and then we would perform together at dorm shows, and I met Mike at that. He had a guitar and we hopped up on stage at one show and just sang a couple of dumb songs and we were like, “Hey, this is really fun!”
The next year we entered the big UCLA musical competition – one of our big events of the year with 5,000 people – and all these fraternities and sororities and bands put together musical numbers. So, we’re these two nerdy guys with this dumb comedy song and we end up winning the competition! There’s a trophy at UCLA in the Alumni Center that actually says “Hard n’ Phirm.” So that made us happy.
Awesome! That’s much better than my college where we had the Pat Sajak classroom...
Oh, that’s weird!
Yeah, it was kind of weird... So, obviously you guys have a pretty unique sense of humor, whom do you list among your comedic influences?
Tom Lehrer, They Might Be Giants, any old, black and white musical health film that you could find... [laughs] Contemporaries, I guess it would be Flight of the Conchords, Tenacious D, Weird Al, people like that.
So, since I brought up Mike Phirman, I hear you’re doing a show called “Hard ‘n’ Phirm’s Musical Time Hole.” Tell me about that.
That’s for IFC and we are just delivering the pilot to them today. We basically go back in time and help historical figures solve problems with stupid songs. [laughing] And we have a chimp sidekick named Bingo, because why wouldn’t you?
Well, hopefully they decide to pick it up, because with that premise, how could you go wrong?
I mean, seriously! What the hell, IFC?
You’ve both had the opportunity to participate in w00tstock with Paul, Storm, Wil Wheaton and all of those guys. I got to see it when it came to Chicago and it seems like it was just one big party on stage. Was that what it was like to be a part of it?
Those are all of our friends and so that’s exactly what it is. Everyone’s just kind of screwing around, but on stage and in front of people. It’s a real treat to perform with your friends and people you respect and people you trust. We know that if we run out in the middle of a show with something crazy, that the rest of the guys will pick up on it and start riffing on it. It’s a really great environment. It’s such a fun show.
Based on the popularity of things like w00tstock and your Nerdist podcast, do you think that, for all of us who grew up as nerds, it’s finally kind of cool or acceptable to be one?
That’s a good question. It’s almost, kind of irritatingly, a buzz word. People say “nerd,” but I think most people don’t really understand it. They just know that comic book movies do well, that video games do well and these are typically things that nerds love. And because of the digital culture that we are now – nerds made that. It’s popular to be a nerd, because nerds are providing most of the things that are feeding pop culture.
I referenced your Nerdist podcast earlier, and you’ve had a bunch of awesome guests on it, like Nathan Fillion, Kevin Smith, Zooey Deschanel, the RiffTrax guys. So, what criteria determines whom you ask to be guests?
It’s just people I like! People I like and people whose careers I respect. I want to talk to them as friends and also find out more about what they do. I‘m fascinated by processes and why people do things they do, so I’m sort of a student on the show. I have a curiosity about what makes people tick. So, being able to sit down with Bryan Cranston or Jon Hamm or the Muppets, and just talk to them about what makes them do what they do is fun for me, because I actually learn stuff.
So, as part of your Nerdist Empire, you’ve been working on your NODE social networking project. Tell me a little about that.
The NODE is basically a social network with enclosed, private data right now, and it’s a few thousand people, and I wanted to just experiment with a community. Social networking and social media is so ubiquitous now, but a lot of it is very...vapid [laughs]. And so I wanted to put together a group of people, of creative nerds, who would support each other and help each other, collaborate on projects. It really is about collaboration and creation and positivity.
There’s so much vitriol on the Web, because the downside of nerds is that they revel in being smarter than you and they want to let you know that by any way necessary. They will try to level you with words, and it’s just like, the world is hard enough, we don’t have to be shitting on each other all the time. Why not have a community of people that support each other and root for each other? So it’s been really fun. It’s sort of taken on a life of its own, and people from the NODE have started podcasts and other projects, made T-shirts, I mean, it really is developing into something that is way better than I had imagined.
That’s great, I love the idea behind it. So, is it going to go public any time soon, or will people still need the invite to get in?
For now, you still need the invite to get into it. I kind of wanted to see what would happen with it over a period of time. I wanted to see if this experiment would work first, before really devoting a ton of energy. So many people go and spend so much time and resources building a thing and they don’t have the people, and then they’ve wasted time and money and then there’s no one there. I think it’s not about that. I think you have to build the community first, and then you can craft a real destination around that, so it’s more representative of what they want and what they like.
I hope it’s successful enough for you guys to go public with it, because I think it’s a fantastic idea.
Oh, well, thank you!
In May, it was announced that you had landed a deal to develop The Nerdist Podcast into a show for BBC America – have you started work on it?
Yes, we shot it and it [aired] September 24...after “Doctor Who.” And it was fun, Craig Ferguson was on, Matt Smith was a guest...and Matt Mira and Jonah...and Mike Phirman is the music guy on the show, so you can just watch us screw around in front of an audience. People came dressed in costumes in the audience. A girl came dressed as a TARDIS and a few people came dressed as Fraggles. It was a really fun show.
In addition to your ever-growing Nerdist Empire, your book, “The Nerdist Way,” came out in November. What can readers look forward to? Give us an idea about what all the book involves.
I feel like nerds have a very specific way of viewing the world, and they’re very intense and they will focus on things to a very molecular level, sometimes at the expense of anything constructive in their lives. You know? Like, once they get fixated on something, it’s all about that thing. But I think the innate, sort of mutant power of the nerd is being able to focus, because if you want to get anywhere in life, you have to focus on things in order to achieve goals. So, a lot of the book is first person – “Here’s what I did and here’s how I realized all this stuff, and here’s some things I did to shift my focus off things that weren’t really benefiting me, to things that were benefiting me and helped me achieve some of the things I wanted to achieve.”
Nerds are just overthinkers. We have this constant internal monologue that gets in the way, so some of it is just saying to people, “You don’t have to listen to everything your brain says, if you ignore it sometimes and get it out of your way, you can do things that maybe you previously thought you weren’t going to be able to do.”
Obviously, you’re a gadget guy, so let's end on a gadget-related note. what are some recent gadgets that you’ve fallen in love with?
I was playing around with Google TV for a while, which was fun. The company Jawbone that makes Bluetooth headsets, they make a wireless Bluetooth speaker for your iPhone or smartphone, anything that has Bluetooth, and it streams music to that speaker, and it’s phenomenal! The sound is amazing, and it’s small and kind of rubbery so you can drop it and travel with it and bring it around. It’s my favorite gadget right now, because I love music and I love being able to take music with me on the road without having to have headsets. It just a really great little device. It’s called the Jambox, they’re $200. I wish they were a little less, but it’s still a great device.
For more information on Chris Hardwick, and tour dates for the live Nerdist podcast, visit Nerdist.com.
Be sure to check out our review of "The Nerdist Way."