The 4th Annual Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival returns this August and geeks are going wild. For four days socially awkward friends can celebrate with workshops, performances and special events.
Transgender speaker/video creator Jackson Bird is headlining the festival along with another online sensation, Team StarKid.
Jackson Bird is the spokesperson and communications director for the Harry Potter Alliance where he produces HPA's online videos. Bird's YouTube channel addresses topics such as gender identity and social justice.
Windy City Times: How are you?
Jackson Bird: Great, but my voice is gravelly. I just got back from GeekyCon. It is down in Orlando. It started as a Harry Potter conference but now it is multi fandom. It is the community celebrating and sharing their art. It is the same people that run the new BroadwayCon and the upcoming Con of Thrones for Game of Thrones fans.
WCT: Are you into Game of Thrones or Harry Potter?
JB: I do like [them]. I wish I had more time to read the books. My day job is working for a nonprofit called The Harry Potter Alliance. I am head of video and partner relations. It is an organization that uses the power of fandom and popular culture to mobilize fans toward social action. We have a lot of online activism but also IRL chapters in 30 nations around the world.
It is about activism and leadership. We do everything from disaster relief to literacy. Right now we are doing a transgender safe spaces campaign.
WCT: Have you been to the new Harry Potter ride in California?
JB: I haven't but GeekyCon that I just went to is right next door to Wizarding World in Orlando so I go to it every year. They are doing a conference in October at the new park so I a excited to go.
This weekend, the new book came out so we all had a big midnight release at the conference.
WCT: So no wonder you lost your voice!
JB: Exactly. There was a lot of talking and performing.
WCT: Where are you from and how did you get started in this business?
JB: I grew up in Texas but I have lived in New York City for six years. I grew up acting and making stupid videos. I did student film festival things in high school. When YouTube started in 2007 it first seemed a like a cool place to put up videos that my friends could see then I discovered there is a whole community. The early YouTubers all knew each other and people talked to each other on there. That is where I heard about The Harry Potter Alliance and got involved with it as an intern when I was in college.
Through them, I started posting my videos with a little bit of a following. From there I evolved into my own YouTube stuff and speaking engagements. Will It Waffle has been my own thing for the past couple of years. I just throw random foods onto waffle irons to see what happens. It's not science, it's not cooking, it's barely comedy!
WCT: I watched the hot dog one and it worked.
JB: The hot dog one was weird because I used a recipe, which I usually don't. Some people didn't like it because it was prepared. I thought it was delicious so it was worth it.
WCT: Have you had an accident trying to waffle something?
JB: One year I tried to do Christmas pudding. I wanted it to be authentic by lighting it on fire and that was not a good idea. I didn't burn anything down but boy was that flame bigger than I expected!
WCT: Was it a big decision for you to talk about being trans on your channel?
JB: It definitely was because at that point I was representing the Harry Potter line so I was the face of the organization. I had also been on YouTube for quite a while. I wasn't famous but had a significant following. Not being public about my transition wasn't an option. When you transition you physically change, your voice drops, your face changes. Usually you go by a different name and pronouns. The only way to do that privately was to quit my job and my YouTube.
The thing that kept me going was knowing how little media representation there still is. The lack of that affected me for a really long time. Even to have a few people look to me and see themselves would make it worth it. That has been the case so far so I am really grateful to exist in a loving inclusive community. I have had very little backlash. So many people have come to me and told me that sharing my story has helped them.
WCT: What will your appearance in Chicago be like?
JB: It is not just speaking on panels but I get to perform. The various people can share their talents with the attendees. I love that kind of conference. I am really looking forward to Nerd Fest. I am doing an improv game at some point in the night.
Team StarKid and I have some scripted performances and we are on a number of panel style games. I am doing a workshop on YouTube for comedians wanting to get started and get their name out there.
WCT: Are you excited about the new Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie?
JB: I am really excited. Eddie Redmayne mentioned in several interviews that he watched several of my videos to help prepare for The Danish Girl and Fantastic Beats. He was trying to study the Harry Potter community but then found my trans videos at the same time. It was mind boggling to name dropped like that. I am so excited to see how he does!
The Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival runs Aug. 11-14 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets may be purchased at Stage773.com or 773-327-5252.