Chris Hardwick is a nerd. And he’s damn well proud of it.
He’s certainly a busy nerd to say the least. Between working as a stand-up comedian and actor, hosting G4’s “Web Soup” and AMC’s "The Walking Dead" discussion show “Talking Dead,” overseeing content on his Nerdist blog and writing a book (“The Nerdist Way"), Hardwick’s busy schedule has led many to lovingly christen him “the nerd Ryan Seacrest.” Hardwick prefers the moniker "Nerd Overlord."
One of the central projects in Hardwick’s life, however, is the Nerdist podcast. A weekly interview show centering on “what it really means to be a nerd,” the show is hosted by Hardwick and often features his fellow comics/friends Jonah Ray and Matt Mira.
Tomorrow, the Nerdist crew makes a stop at Atlanta’s own Variety Playhouse. The show will consist of both a live taping of the Nerdist podcast as well as stand-up performances from Hardwick, Mira and Ray.
Two years after first launching the project, Hardwick still finds the podcast to be an enriching and fulfilling experience.
“[The podcast] became a home base for everything,” Hardwick said in a phone interview with the Wheel. “It just helped me to get my voice into the world in a way that it wasn’t before and get people to come out and see live shows and meet people that I’ve always wanted to meet or just talk to people about things I’ve always wanted to talk to them about.”
The majority of Nerdist episodes feature a lengthy conversation with a notable guest. Their guest rooster includes comics (Bill Burr, Patton Oswalt), actors (Neil Patrick Harris, Bryan Cranston), filmmakers (J.J. Abrams, Kevin Smith), musicians (Weird Al Yankovic, Ben Folds), writers (Neil Gaiman, Stan Lee) and even The Muppets.
“Initially, [the podcast] was supposed to mirror the types of conversations that happen backstage at comedy shows, where comics just kind of talk and goof off and try to crack each other up,” Hardwick explained.
This basic premise lends a show an informal atmosphere — it’s the kind of show where the hosts are more likely to engage their guests in active discussions than grill them about upcoming projects. According to Hardwick, this marks a stark contrast to the colder, more impersonal interviews that many of the show’s guests are used to.
“Sometimes it takes a good five or ten minutes for them to realize that we’re just having a conversation and we don’t have any other agenda,” Hardwick said. “We want them to be comfortable and have fun and feel positive about it.
Sometimes, this comfortable atmosphere can lead to startlingly intimate discussions. In a recent episode with Jeff Tweedy, the Wilco frontman went into a lengthy discussion of his past addictions to painkillers. And, in one of the show's best episodes to date, the group sat down with renowned voice actor Billy West, (of "Futurama" and "Ren and Stimpy" fame) who went on discuss everything from his career to his schooling at the hands of hostile nuns. West even dropped hints regarding his abusive childhood at the hands of his father.
“You never know where [the conversation is] going to go,” Hardwick said. “The idea of switching directions never really factors in. We just start talking and the conversation goes where it goes.”
While the podcast has earned critical praise from publications like Rolling Stone
and The A.V. Club
as well as thousands of enthusiastic fans, Hardwick is all too aware of the show’s dissenters. According to Hardwick, their criticisms run the gamut from not asking the right questions to sound quality
“Negative voices are louder than positive voices,” Hardwick said. “I think what’s really happening—and I’m guilty of this too—as consumers, we are totally spoiled because we’re so used to getting things whenever we want that…We feel like we’re entitled to have things that way. And if it’s not, we f--king complain about it.”
To illustrate his point, Hardwick recounted a recent survey that concluded that Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant who famously quit his job over the airplane PA system and then exited via the evacuation slide, scored higher positive ratings than Sully Sullenberger, the pilot who safely landed a plane full of passengers in the Hudson River following a mid-air collision with birds.
“That means that 12 percent of the people they surveyed were like, “f--k that guy who saved all those people’s lives!’” Hardwick laughed. “So, there are haters for everything in the world.”
Internet trollers aside, Hardwick is all too happy to have a successful project that allows him to just let loose and have fun with his closest associates.
"I’ve worked on too many things in my career that I thought was going to be 'the thing' that changed the game and they never did," he said. "I certainly didn’t expect goofing off with my close friends would turn into a career. I just wanted to do this because it was fun and it’s mine and it’s something the industry can’t get its hands on."
Hardwick also relishes the opportunity to show a side of his guests that is not normally shown to the public, whether revealing that “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm is an avid gamer or having “Spider-Man” star Willem Dafoe talk about an early stab at stand-up comedy.
“Everyone has a story,” Hardwick said. “What podcasts do is humanize people to the public. You look at certain people and you’re like, “that person’s a robot” but we say, ‘no, there a person just like you or me -- they love things and are hurt by things.’ That’s the fun part about the podcast. And there’s tons of dick jokes. It’s drawing people out emotionally and dick jokes.”
Between running an online empire and interviewing some of the industry's most well-respected (and nerdiest) entertainers, Hardwick has certainly etched out quite the career for himself. As Mel Brooks would no doubt say, "it's good to be the Nerd Overlord!"
— Contact Mark Rozeman.