At 39, Chris Hardwick doesn't look all that different from when we first met nearly two decades ago, in his first television gig as host of MTV's short-lived game show Trashed (I was a contestant). When he laughs, his face still explodes into the same boyish grin as it did then.
Over the din of a packed lunch crowd at the Griddle on Sunset, we giggle while discussing comedy that we both like, such as Bobcat Goldthwait's raunchy film Shakes the Clown. "I haven't seen that movie in years," Hardwick says. He then does exactly what one expects of the man behind Nerdist.com: He whips out his iPhone and declares, "I've got to see if it's on Netflix Instant!"
Hardwick has gradually become a staple on the alt-comedy scene in the ensuing years, both in his solo stand-up act and with his old UCLA buddy Mike Phirman as the musical duo Hard N' Phirm. Since he launched Nerdist last year, however, Hardwick's profile has surged as a Renaissance man among geeks.
"I figured out that you can kind of design a career that is a bunch of part-time jobs," Hardwick explains. "Sometimes I can get double duty out of things. Someone says, 'We'd like you to moderate a panel with the Zucker brothers,' then I can say, 'Oh, I'd like to make that a podcast as well.' It's the same reason that people diversify stock portfolios. If I have all my eggs in one basket and that job goes away, I'm fucked."
So in addition to cranking out two Nerdist podcasts a week, Hardwick writes for Wired magazine, blogs on Nerdist.com, hosts G4's Web Soup and, most recently, took over space at Meltdown Comics in Hollywood as the "Nerdist Industries" base of operations, kick-starting an ambitious slate of live comedy, comic book–related panel discussions, writers' workshops and more. He also helped create Node, a social-networking community still in beta testing, along with business partners Rachel Masters and Athena von Oech.
"We wanted it to be a social network that is devoted to people actually saying relatively significant things instead of just, 'Here's what I had for breakfast'–type status updates," he explains. So far, experiments in "nerd-sourcing" (like crowd-sourcing, but extra nerdy) have resulted in songwriting, art projects and even offshoot podcasts like the female-driven Nerds in Babeland.
Born in Kentucky and raised in Tennessee and Colorado ("I always felt out of place there, if that means anything," he says of the South, which receives some ribbing in his stand-up), Hardwick has always been a massive comedy fan. With the Nerdist podcast, however, he's aiming not just for laughs but also to find out what makes his guests — ranging from Mad Men's Jon Hamm to Mythbusters' Adam Savage — tick.
"I get shit for using the word 'process' in every episode but ... finding out what that is and how people work is endlessly fascinating to me," he says. "So when people say, 'Well, the show's called Nerdist, I thought it was going to be all about video games and comic books or whatever,' I'm, like, 'Yeah, what's nerdier than deconstructing [creative] processes?' That's about as nerdy as it gets!"