Our world today hardly resembles the one our parents grew up in. We have pocket computers that give us information in seconds and occupy us when solitary. The phrase “going viral” does not result in getting vaccines. Being considered a nerd is not a death sentence for your social life. The modern notion of a nerd (or geek or dork) has evolved in the last ten years. In trying to understand this shift, Austin Fusion Magazine had the pleasure to interview Chris Hardwick to see if he could help in deconstructing the “nerd.”
Hardwick has reinvented his career to revolve around his love for all things nerdy — from hosting “Talking Dead” on AMC to performing a song with Mike Phirman (as comedy pairing Hard ‘N Phirm) in which they recite the numerical value of Pi. It hasn’t always been like this though, as Hardwick crossed over to the Dark Side in his twenties and gave into addiction.
“When I grew up in the ’80s, the nerd culture was not a cool thing to be a part of, but that didn’t stop me from being a part of it,” Hardwick said via phone interview. “When I got older, I felt I had this opportunity to start over. I tried to fit in with whom I thought were mainstream popular people. I ended up drinking a ton because I was never comfortable with who I was.”
He is not embarrassed to talk about his struggles and he does not regret this period of his life. Instead, he views it as a learning experience. “If I hadn’t gone through that, I wouldn’t have an appreciation that I have for it now,” Hardwick said. “You try to figure out who you are and you make a lot of mistakes, and those help strengthen the resolve of the person you end up becoming.”
Listening to him converse about this subject of nerd-hood makes one wonder if Hardwick had a time machine in his youth to time his rise perfectly with the Nerd Revolution. He has a simple answer to the catalyst question, “Technology drives our culture, we’re consuming our culture through technology, and nerds make that stuff.” A perfect example is Amazon’s top gift for the 2011 holiday season, the Kindle Fire. Reading has been around for thousands of years, but in the 2010s we are consuming book through an electronic device.
Another reason for this cultural acceptance is the fact that in today’s information age, anything a person could have ever wanted to know or are interested in is literally at one’s fingertips. “Everything is everywhere because of the internet. Things are smashed up in our faces, and people aren’t as surprised by it. People don’t have to feel crazy for liking weird stuff anymore because entire communities are built around them,” Hardwick added. San Diego Comic-Con may be the biggest, but nerds can come together to celebrate their love for niche products at the multiple comic-cons throughout the year.
Hardwick is not your image of a typical nerd. He is attractive and fit, but sees being a nerd as something that starts on a deeper level. “People who love these kinds of things tend to have a really overactive imagination,” he said. “They love to be enveloped and try to understand this other world as much as possible, and attach that to their identity. There is also an amount of escapism. “
Taking a deeper look into the rabbit hole that is modern nerd culture, it is easy to see why there has been a shift in acceptance and accessibility. It is fair to say that our society as a whole could be considered “nerdist,” in which case, an argument could be made to crown Chris Hardwick the Nerd King.
In 2010, along with all of his other niche hosting gigs, Hardwick and his fellow nerd friends Jonah Ray (SXSW interviewed) and Matt Mira decided to release a podcast called “The Nerdist.” As the name suggests the podcast incorporates nerd culture into their weekly episode release, and they talk to icons in the world like Nathan Fillion (episode 65) or JJ Abrams (episode 149). “The Nerdist” may have started out as a podcast; but now they are taking the show on the road. When asked about the reception at the shows, there is an audible change in excitement, “It’s been insane. It’s way beyond what I ever thought it could be. I’m doing the thing that doesn’t feel like work to any of us.”
Hardwick also released a book last November titled The Nerdist Way. In the book, he shares his insight into the nerd and using their talents and characteristics as a tool to better their lives. He got inspiration for the book from a Wired article he wrote awhile back. For Hardwick, writing about topics that hit close to home made the process of becoming a writer easier.
“It made me not afraid to write very specifically about my experiences,” he said. “You don’t, and shouldn’t, have to program for everyone anymore. It’s that idea that if you try to speak to everyone, you end up talking to no one. I felt more comfortable writing about specific experiences for a specific kind of brain.”
Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, there has definitely been a Nerd Revolution in our generation, and, in the midst of it, Chris Hardwick has maneuvered the waters and shaped a wonderful career for himself. Of all the things that he has a hand in, from the book to his hosting gigs, the podcast to performing as a working stand-up comedian, what is most apparent about his work is that it is something he enjoys.
“When you’re doing what you love, it puts you in a better space in the world and it makes you more open…all your cylinders are firing, and people are going to notice,” Hardwick stresses. “It all just comes back to doing stuff you love.”
Written by Lisa Mejia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Images c/o Chris Hardwick