Chris Hardwick on True Nerds, Trendy Geeks, and The World's Most Important Debate

Comedian and television personality Chris Hardwick is a nerd -- and with a best-selling book, a dedicated YouTube channel, and the long-running Nerdist Podcast - he's leading a powerful uprising of pasty Poindexters worldwide.

Case in point - Hardwick's upcoming Course of the Force, a 135-mile relay race from Santa Monica to San Diego, run by costumed Star Wars fans.

Our Fanboy caught up with The Nerdist in advance of his show at Stand-Up Live this Friday night.

The Nerdist Podcast is coming right at the kick off of Phoenix Comicon. Good timing.

Yeah, we like to plan our shows around cons in cities because it's just more of our audience. It's more concentrated and it does allow us to get in there and see if we can get guests where we might not be able to if we were performing in the middle of the year on an off-con weekend.

The podcast - along with so many of your guests that sit in with you - seems to have ushered in a new level of sincerity in the public discourse. Nerd-dom is no longer about internet snark and being a hypercritical fanboy like Comic Book Guy. Is that intentional?

Yeah, I mean, number 1, I think we were all just tired of being hacky portrayals of what our culture was for so long in bigger media. And I think for someone who's been online since 1993/94, that there's just so much negativity in the world that I think it's just a reaction to say "it's ok to be positive, it's ok to celebrate things." I think people feel that there's some power in tearing stuff down, but I think it actually takes more will to be positive and to build things up.

Phoenix is a nerdy town. Comicon is the big daddy this weekend, but there's something going on every week, from steampunk events to zombie survival seminars, nerd walks and really high quality fan-films. Turn the corner here in town at any time of the year and there are bound to be nerds out actively and publicly practicing their passions. When you're out on the road, do you see this same level of engagement across the country?

Well there are definitely nerds in every city, but there just tends to be higher concentrations in certain places. I don't know exactly what you attribute that to -- of course cities that have a lot of digital industry have a higher level -- but in other cities, sometimes it will surprise you to find out that there's a hub in some town.

I'm amazed that there's a steampunk movement in Phoenix, just because of the people that will go out in wool clothing in Phoenix weather have a type of constitution that should be harnessed by the government in some way.

You mention in your book, The Nerdist Way, that "in the jock versus nerd battle, the nerds have won. The war is over." I'd posit that we now have another battle to fight and that's one of authenticity. Nerds have always been a maligned group outside of the mainstream, but now that everybody wants to be a nerd, what happens to the cachet of the original subculture? Do you think it matters?

I don't think it matters. I think having a little bit of the public's attention allows us to get good messaging into the world. I mean, is it silly that you will see cast members from Glee at a con somewhere? Sure, it's irritating, but the truth of the matter is that though it may be trendy right now, it may not always be trendy. But the people that are truly authentic -- it doesn't matter -- we're still going to be into the stuff we're into, and the thing that true nerds have over trendy nerds nerds is that true nerds will always need to go deeper than the normal people, no matter what it is.

There's always sort of an "abyss" level of nerd-dom that only the most authentic people will truly pursue, and those on the more superficial level will always fall away when it doesn't feel trendy anymore. Trendy or not, I'm still going to be into the stuff I'm into and that's never going to change, and that's why I think the core group is still safe.

Is there a nerd proving ground? Do we need one?

No! I mean listen, you don't want the next generation to go through the hard times that you went through. If your parents worked in a coal mine to survive when they were younger, they wouldn't want you to work in a coal mine. They'd want you to have a better life. I don't want people to go through all the bullying shit. I didn't like it, it sucked. It was torturous, so anywhere that you can support people and make them feel that what they're passionate about is ok, that's the goal. And there's a lot of upside to nerd culture being trendy, because the types of things that we have to consume now are way better than when I was a kid. I mean, a lot of it, quality-wise, wasn't really that great. We just loved it because that's all we had

The Avengers is a result of the fact that nerd culture is on top of the food chain right now. That never would have happened otherwise. If we were still a close-knit group of people running from the sun, hiding in the shadows afraid of mainstream culture, we wouldn't have gotten The Avengers, ever, or if we did, it wouldn't be the quality that it is. So there are definitely upsides to it, and I think we have to remember that our group - or at least my group growing up was socially discriminated against, so we have to remember that the key is not to discriminate against other people now because we're trying to protect our culture.

We have to remember that we need to be bigger than that and open-minded and accepting enough to help some of the people that are a little more on the fringe, but maybe want to learn more. We have to be educators in that way.

You play table top RPGs with Patton Oswalt, you obsess over Doctor Who, you hosted a show on PBS. But, just to quell any lingering doubt about your geek cred, I hoped that you'd weigh in on an issue that we're currently debating here in Phoenix.

Go ahead.

Who is the most important physicist of the 1980s - Doctor Emmett L. Brown or Doctor Egon Spengler - and please show your work for full points.

Hmm. Alright. Well, listen, I don't know how you can top a scientist who cracked time travel. The ramifications on that basically ripple through both sides of the time stream, but Spengler - he figured out a way to actually trap and hold a ghost indefinitely. (Laughs) But he didn't "crack" ghosts, he just figured out a that they are a scientific happenstance that could be measured mathematically. He didn't create or destroy them, whereas Doc Brown literally ripped a hole in the space-time continuum. (Laughs) I mean, the power that you have of being able to go back a thousand years and introduce technology -- you could literally change the course of the universe. That's pretty relevant, rather than, you know, crossing your proton beams and exploding a marshmallow man to save the world.

Ok. Well, I respectfully disagree, but you're a guest in my city so --

Wait, why do you think that Spengler was more of relevant scientist than Doc Brown?

Because Spengler's work solved one of humanity's most enduring mysteries; the notion of life after death - and don't forget, also the ideas of inter-dimensional travel. Gozer came from another dimentsion and the Ghostbusters touched that ethereal plane. That's pretty substantial, depending on your stance on Doc Brown's technology and whether or not you believe he's travelling through time and dimensions.

Then you start getting into string theory and different models of the universe, which they didn't get into in the movies...but here's how you judge the relevance: Which contribution would be more relevant outside of their worlds? Time travel is always going to be relevant in any reality, but the Ghostbusters are only relevant in a reality where there are ghosts. I'm sticking by Doc Brown.

The Nerdist Podcast Live with Chris Hardwick talks geeky at Stand-Up Live this Friday. Tickets are $25.

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