Chris Hardwick is many things: actor, stand-up comedian, musician, podcasterand self-confessed nerd. The contributing writer for Wired magazine even has a critical role on the YouTube's Nerdist Channel.
Before coming to Chicago for some stand-up gigs at Zanies, he chatted with Windy City Times about nerdism, gay men and censorship, among other things.
Windy City Times: Hey, Chris. To start things off, could you talk a bit about the Nerdist Channel.
Chris Hardwick: Sure. We basically created a YouTube channel earlier this year as part of an initiative YouTube created [concerning] original content. They don't tell us how to run it creatively; they just provide the platform. At first, it was a natural extension of the podcast (at www.nerdist.com/category/podcast&, and then we created our own video content. We even have a show with Neil Patrick Harris and puppets [Neil's Puppet Dreams]. I love bowling, so we have a bowling show. It's all rooted in fandom and passion.
WCT: When did you first embrace your nerdism?
CH: Well, it embraced me when I was a kid, and that was it; I was in for life. I grew up during the computer/video-game revolution, so I was the perfect age. I don't know what I would've done if I had been born in an earlier period.
WCT: I heard you talking recently about how you feel nerds have the power nowand it's so true.
CH: Oh, yeah. The nerds create so much of what rules our culture now: technology, video games, sci-fi, horror; so many things that are a part of who we are as a species right now are because of nerds. We're in a technocracy right now, and nerds control that.
WCT: I have to ask you about Comic-Con. I love that everyone is quite welcoming of each other.
CH: I hope this isn't disrespectful in any way, but Comic-Con is like a nerd "coming-out." It's a safe zone where you can celebrate what you want without any fear or judgment. It's connects specifically about what you're into. It's also the only large-scale sense of community that some people have. It really is a celebration.
WCT: I think that's true of some demographics and almost any subculture. There's an annual event here called International Mr. Leather (IML), and there's total acceptance there.
CH: [Laughs] That's awesome.
When you think about it, you spend a lot of your young life trying to fit in; you want to be an accepted member of the tribe. [With events like these,] you can find other members of your tribe and connect with other people.
WCT: By the way, I saw (on YouTube) you, Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory and the singer Pink sitting on a couch together. That was just surreal to see.
CH: That was Rove McManus' show. [Laughs] It was surreal to be there, but it was really fun. Jim was fun; he's a theater guy, you knowa real actor. Pink is really funny. And I love Rove; he was like the Conan [O'Brien] of Australia and then [quit] for a while. It's now an Australian talk show that's based in L.A.
WCT: I have a hypothetical: If you could host any three people, living or dead, on your own talk show, who would they be?
CH: Bill Murray, maybe [inventor/engineer] Nikola Tesla andI'm not a super-religious person, but it'd have to be Jesus Christ. I would have to ask him what's true and what's not.
WCT: That's quite a line-up.
CH: Maybe I shouldn't put Jesus there. I'll say Bill Murray, Tesla and… I always wanted to get Steve Jobs on my podcast before he died. Every sector he touched [involved] a very clear vision; there was computing, music distribution, mobile technology. That would be an interesting [interview].
WCT: So you read his biography?
CH: It is long. [Laughs] He did a lot of stuff. I love Steve Jobs but, unfortunately, I have to work; sometimes I work 15 hours a day. Some days I want to enjoy things like the average consumer but I don't have the time. So I have to read that and [George R.R. Martin's] Song of Fire and Ice.
WCT: I want to ask you about a quote you said. Did you say, "I wish I was cool enough to be gay?" I guess someone asked you about your sexual orientation.
CH: Oh, yeah; I get that all the time. I think gays and nerds have a lot in common; you may have had struggles growing up because you didn't fit in with the collective mass. People end up pushing through that and doing what they want to do.
I'm weirdly more complimented if a gay man on Twitter says I'm attractive. I just feel that my gay friends are pickier than my female friends. [Laughs] I performed at a comedy club in New York and afterwards these guys asked me where this gay club is. My first thought was "I must be dressed well." [Both laugh.]
WCT: I have to say, by the way, that I love your chemistry with [talk-show host] Craig Ferguson.
CH: Oh, he's the best. Craig's not a nerd even though he's a Doctor Who fanbut that's because he grew up in the British Isles. He's like the older brother or uncle you want to have.
WCT: OK, I have to admit something: I've never seen the TV show The Walking Dead. [Hardwick hosts the companion show Talking Dead.] However, I know about its ratings. What do you think it is that draws so many people to it?
CH: I think it's just a good drama. The fact that it's about zombies is almost secondary. You're super-invested in the characters. Robert Kirkland described it once as "a soap opera with some zombie crap in it," which I think is great. At the end of the day, it can't be just zombies; there has to be good people drama.
The other thing is that most shows just don't start killing off main characters; no one is safe on that show.
WCT: I do get that. I feel the same way about Game of Thrones.
CH: Yeah, I love that show. If you like Game of Thrones, you'll like The Walking Dead.
WCT: I have a question about stand-up comedy, in general: Is anything ever off limits?
CH: That's such a great question, and it's a question that's really relevant right now. I've been doing stand-up full-time since '98, so the Internet did exist thenbut before, you could say anything in a club and it wouldn't be taken out of context.
I think a lot of it has to do with the intention of the performer. If the performer intends to be hateful, I think that sucks. Sometimes someone will tweet one line that's taken out of context, though. If you think about the core of comedy, there's probably something that's offensive to someone. Comedy is a defense mechanism; comedy is about taking a horrible thing and trying to ridicule those horrible things to gain some sort of power over them.
Sometimes people take one thing out of context and I'm like, "Hey! You weren't even there." There's a lot of injustice in the world but I think, as a culture, we're addicted to outrage. People love getting outraged at other people because it makes them feel better about their own livesbut are they really in the position to cast stones? When it comes to comedy, I have the philosophy that I can be offended by everything or nothing.
There's no censorship in America from a legal perspective, but there's a lot of social censorship where people say, "You can't say that!" You can react how you want, but I can say it. Comedy is comedy, and it shouldn't be taken that seriously.
Comics are, like, "Where do you draw the line?" When you're doing comedy, you don't want to write from a place of fear.
The other part of comedy is that it has shock value. As a young comic, you say shocking things to grab the audiences. But as you get older, you realize that it's just shock for shock's sake, and you start talking about things you believe in. In the end, I think intention is very important.
Hardwick is performing Thursday, Dec. 13 (7:30 and 9:30 p.m.), and Friday, Dec. 14 (8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.) at Zanies in Chicago, 1548 N. Wells St. He's also performing Saturday, Dec. 15 (8 and 10:30 p.m.) at Zanies in Rosemont, 5437 Park Place. Tickets are $30, plus a two-item food/beverage minimum; visit www.zanies.com, or call 312-337-4027 or 847-813-0484.