It's a new year, baby, and you know what that means? It's time to get your nerd on. If you've set a resolution to expand your cultural horizons or fly your freaky nerd flag even higher this year, there's plenty of geektastic events happening in the Valley of the Sun in January to help keep you on track.
Johnny MnemonicAlamo Drafthouse Tempe
1140 East Baseline Road, Tempe
Before plugging into The Matrix, Keanu Reeves was already getting his cyberpunk on in Robert Longo’s 1995 flick Johnny Mnemonic. Loosely based on a short story by author William Gibson, the film stars Reeves as a data courier (essentially a human USB drive) tasked with ferrying sensitive info that can’t be trusted to online channels. While it’s far from a masterpiece, this cult classic is still a fun slice of goofy sci-fi that plays with Blade Runner’s noir aesthetics. It’s also a time capsule of what we used to think the future would look like in the '90s and boasts a cast full of genre character actors: Ice-T, Dolph Lundgren, and Henry Rollins.
Johnny Mnemonic plays on Tuesday, January 7, at the Alamo Drafthouse in Tempe. Showtime is at 8 p.m. Tickets are $7 and can be bought in advance via the Alamo Drafthouse.
She Kills MonstersMesa Arts Center
1 East Main Street, Mesa
To paraphrase the Bard, “All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely roleplayers.” The venerable nerd tradition of tabletop gaming has exploded over the last few years and has crossed over into that other nerdy pursuit: theater. Vietnamese-American playwright Qui Nguyen brings D20s and saving throws to the stage with his critically acclaimed play She Kills Monsters, about a grieving teen who learns how to deal with death through Dungeons and Dragons. This latest production comes courtesy of the folks at Mesa Encore Theatre, who will be bringing the play’s mix of ogres, faeries, and '90s pop culture to life at Mesa Arts Center’s Farnsworth Studio.
She Kills Monsters runs from January 10 to 26 at Mesa Arts Center. Friday and Saturday shows begin at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m., with a Thursday show at 7:30 p.m. on January 23. Tickets range from $23 to $26 and can be purchased in advance via the Mesa Arts Center box office.
Mystery in the Museum: The Curator's ConundrumScottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
7374 East Second Street, Scottsdale
Museums aren’t just places to admire art. They’re gyms for your brain. You can go and tease and twist up your brain matter as you contemplate great (and sometimes inscrutable) works of art. If you’re looking to do some extra-heavy lifting and get your mind positively shredded, SMoCA is hosting a challenging puzzle night on Saturday, January 11. Mystery in the Museum: The Curator’s Conundrum will transform the museum into a sleuth’s dream, offering a plethora of tricky riddles, compelling brainteasers, and perplexing mysteries to solve. Bring friends, crack the case, and give your brain a workout in the process. There will be a cash bar and light bites on hand, so you won’t go home hungry.
Mystery in the Museum: The Curator’s Conundrum is happening on Saturday, January 11, at SMoCA in Scottsdale. The event kicks off at 6 p.m. Tickets are $25 for individuals, $40 for a pair, and can be purchased in advance via Scottsdale Arts.
Neil HamburgerCrescent Ballroom
308 North Second Avenue
For most comedians, few things inspire the heebie-jeebies like flop sweat. Neil Hamburger is a comedian’s comedian, a living Catskills routine filtered through a Robitussin trip, who exists in a state of perpetual perspiration. Stringy combover in disarray, his entertainer’s suit rumpled and on the verge of disintegrating, Hamburger looks like he’s moments away from spontaneously combusting into a flaming burst of cigarette smoke, whiskey sours, and cough drops. Hamburger is the master of meta-comedy, spitting out setups and punchlines so intentionally hacky that they become genius. He may look and sound like the noise a human throat makes when it gets cleared, but his jokes are music to our ears.
Neil Hamburger is scheduled to perform on Thursday, January 16, at Crescent Ballroom at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $23 day of show, and can be purchased via Eventbrite.
Reclaiming the Fantasy Novel: A Dialogue with Marlon JamesCarson Ballroom, Old Main ASU
400 East Tyler Mall, Tempe
Jamaican author Marlon James made a huge splash in the lit-scene with his extraordinary 2014 novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. An incredibly dense yet propulsive read, Seven Killings takes an assassination attempt on Bob Marley and spins it out into an epic saga about life in Jamaica, New York, and even the afterlife. If the ghosts in that book weren’t proof enough, James’ ability to seamlessly bounce across multiple time periods and protagonists showed he has the right skill set to take a stab at a sword and sorcery epic. With the release of Black Leopard Red Wolf, the first of a planned trilogy of novels set in a fantastical world drawn from African folklore and mythology, James is reclaiming the fantasy sandbox that Anglocentric authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin have been playing in for decades to build his own sandcastles.
The Man Booker Prize winner will be in Tempe for a live discussion with Michael Bennett about the cultural, historical, and literary influences behind Black Leopard Red Wolf. The author will also talk about the relationship between global medievalism and Afrofuturism. The talk is scheduled for Friday, January 17, at the Carson Ballroom at ASU. The event is free to attend but seating is limited. Registration in advance via Eventbrite is recommended.
Dragon TrainingHouse of Cirque
2026 North 11th Street
Dragons have the good life. You breathe fire, hoard dark secrets, and you're the baddest, scaly thicc thang on the block. You can get breathing fire under your belt with some help from the fine folks at House of Cirque. Stilt-walkers and burlesque performers extraordinaire, House of Cirque hosts circus arts classes throughout the Valley. In January, it's holding Dragon Training classes where students can learn how to (safely!) eat and breathe fire. Taught by director Crystal Cruz, these classes are open to all levels of experience.
Dragon Training is happening on Sunday, January 19, at House of Cirque. The class runs from noon to 2 p.m. and costs $75. Tickets can be purchased in advance via Square Up.
All Your Favorite Game ShowsThe Grid: Games and Growlers
525 South Gilbert Road, Mesa
Is your head full of useless pop culture trivia just yearning to be free? You’re in luck. All Your Favorite Game Shows is here to give you a chance to dominate total strangers with the rampaging juggernaut force of your nerd knowledge. Hosted by Paul Goebel and Steve Mandel, All Your Favorite Game Shows brings together both audience participants and local performers for a fun night of naming tunes, calling out the right prices, and hitting Double Jeopardies. Among this month's featured comics are Rebecca Tingley, Nathan Evangelista, Tony Chavira, Steena Salido, Joe Gangemi, Dick Cornelius Strangler, and Russ Kazmierczak, with local actor/comedian Michael Margetis as January's special guest Movie Geek.
All Your Favorite Game Shows! is happening on Wednesday, January 22, at The Grid: Games and Growlers in Mesa. The event kicks off at 8 p.m. and is free to attend.
Worlds of Ursula K. Le GuinFilmBar
815 North Second Street
If there was a science-fiction Mount Rushmore, Ursula K. Le Guin’s face would be chiseled right along with the other greats. A pioneering feminist, Le Guin was a master storyteller, crafting unique and thoughtful takes on fantasy tropes in beloved books like The Dispossessed, The Left Hand of Darkness, and A Wizard of Earthsea. Last year, Le Guin died at the age of 88. Her legacy will be celebrated at FilmBar with a screening of Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, a documentary based on her life and work. Introducing the film will be local author and ASU professor Matt Bell. There will be an informal conversation in the lounge after the event, offering local Le Guiniacs a chance to share their thoughts and their love for the queen of sci-fi.
Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin with Matt Bell screens on Thursday, January 23, at FilmBar. Showtime is at 6 p.m. Tickets are $9.95 and can be purchased in advance via FilmBar.
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Tim and Eric 2020 Mandatory Attendance TourOrpheum Theatre
203 West Adams Street
Some have styled themselves as kings of comedy over the years. Dadaist comedians Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are too anarchistic to lay claim to the crowns. Together and separately, the duo have become the standard-bearers for weird comedy by creating work that walks an extremely thin line between humor and horror that uses gross-out humor, amateur actors, AV club aesthetics, and weirdo homages that are done with a straight face. You never know what you’re going to get, which is why their upcoming Mandatory Attendance Tour is so exciting. Who knows what nightmares they’ll bring to life as they travel across America?
Tim and Eric 2020 Mandatory Attendance Tour is scheduled at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, January 28, at the Orpheum Theatre. Tickets range from $45 to $95 and can be purchased in advance via Ticketforce.