That venerable 21st century form of entertainment known as the podcast can be as wonderful (so much variety… and usually, free!) as it is frustrating. With hundreds upon hundreds of podcasts available on virtually every subject of interest, how the hell do you separate the wheat from the chaff? For those bringing you the entertainment in MP3 form, it can be an equally tricky venture; when you're putting that much time and effort into something and usually not getting paid for it, you can only hope that someone will actually be listening.
In Chris Hardwick's case, he doesn't seem to have much to worry about; the actor, stand-up comedian and host of G4's Web Soup — as well as unabashed nerd, evident if you're keeping track of every time he drops a Doctor Who reference (or three) — decided earlier this year to venture into podcasting and, along with pals Jonah Ray and Matt Mira, unleashed the Nerdist Podcast, an hour-long explosion of comedy and geeky banter with a different guest each week that quickly took off (the inaugural episode with guest Tom Lennon was an instant iTunes #1 download) and has gained in popularity ever since.
On April 5, Hardwick and friends took to the stage at Largo for a premiere live taping of the podcast with one of their coolest guests so far, Mythbusters' own Adam Savage. Would the Nerdist Podcast's intimate sit-down chats play as well on stage in front of an audience? In short: Holy crap, yes.
Without spoiling all the details of the show before it gets uploaded onto ye olde interwebs (it'll hit sometime next week — in the meantime, waste no time listening to recent episodes with the likes of Andy Richter, Jim Gaffigan and Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda), the gang pretty much brought down the house that Flanagan built. A longer, slightly varied spin on the show's loose conversational format, the chat was preceded by Hardwick's introductory stand-up and followed swiftly by Savage — known for his very funny, little-boy-giddy antics as he and the Mythbusters crew make stuff go “BOOM!” real good on the Discovery Channel, but not known as a comedian per se — making his stand-up debut.
The result? Savage positively killed; raunchy and hilarious, but tinged with an endearing “aw, shucks” demeanor that had the crowd in stitches. (As well as the Nerdist guys themselves, who sat behind him on stage. It's kind of a shame that the podcast won't capture their reactions, Hardwick looked like he was about to fall off his chair at least twice.)
A terrific chat followed including, in no particular order: Savage's love of prop re-creations like his replica of Deckard's gun from Blade Runner; a fair amount of awesome giggles aimed at his unflappable Mythbusters partner, Jamie Hyneman; some tantalizing previews of upcoming Mythbusters episodes, including one involving a water slide that we can hardly wait to see; Savage's anecdote via his friend Penn Jillette about the dangers of getting chimps and midgets in the same room together; and an in-depth expose of the apparently lethal sexual prowess of Fisher Stevens. (Yeah, we'd like to explain that one but words fail. You have to hear it firsthand. )
After the show, we sat down with Hardwick and his Nerdist compadres to discuss how great the live podcast went and how pleased they are both with the response to the podcast and the excitement of having a fun, creative outlet outside of their regular gigs.
L.A. Weekly: The guests you've been getting have been incredible in the relatively short time you've been doing the show.
Chris Hardwick: We've been really lucky and what's been fortunate is, every time we get another guest of a certain ilk, I think that helps. Like, we just had OK GO on one, and if I had just emailed them out of the blue and was all [twee voice], “Would you please do our podcast?!” and I'm not friends them and don't know them, I'm sure they'd be like, “Ehhhh… thanks, but no.” Because I'm sure they get asked to do stuff all the time. It's been helpful to say we've had [other name guests] on the show, and it puts people's minds at ease when they can go, “Oh, these guys aren't accidentally going to punch anyone in the face during the podcast, and they aren't gonna murder anyone and throw them in the trunk.”
Jonah Ray: One name will beget another.
CH: Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park was the first stepping-out-of-my-friends-zone one. He's someone I met through a mutual friend and he's super nice and very smart. I feel like that's sort of the new thing of the early aughts, the “Will you please do my podcast?” It just so happens that all these people, like Joel McHale and Jon Hamm and [Jim] Gaffigan, they're all just super nice guys.
Matt Mira: It's the 'Successful Comedians' Bringer Show.
L.A. Weekly: So how did the idea for the show originally come about?
CH: I had been working on a pilot for a long time and I really thought it was going to get picked up. All the executives were like, “This show's gonna go!” and it was gonna be one of those could-change-your life kind of shows, for the better. And then at the last minute in January after about five months of working on the show they decided not to do it. I was up at SF Sketchfest and I got so mad. I was like, “Fuck this! I'm just gonna do a podcast!” I did it as a reaction to losing a job, and I felt like I needed some control over something.
JR: Proper nerd rage.
CH: It was nerd rage! And I was like, “As long as I channel this rage, then it'll be worth it…”
MM: I believe I got an email that night.
CH: Yeah, I called Jonah and Matt on a Thursday, like, “Hey, you guys wanna do a podcast this weekend.” And they're like, “Sure!” And I called Tom Lennon and asked [if he'd be the guest] and he said, “Sure, come over!” So I bought all the equipment the next day, we went to Tom's on Sunday, and on Monday it was up on iTunes.
L.A. Weekly: And now, not to denigrate Anamanaguchi [the chiptune punk band who perform the podcast's theme song], because they're amazing, but who sung the original theme song that was on that first podcast?
CH: That was Tom! Because Tom is a great guitar player, and he has all these guitars at his house and he said, “Oh, I'll sing you a theme song!”
JR: People still request it!
CH: Someone put it on YouTube as just its own song. It's exactly a minute long, that's how good Tom is. But we had so much fun doing it, and we had no format. We're like, “Hey, let's keep doing this until it's not fun anymore!”
JR: It's almost as if we would do this anyway, there's minimal effort on our part.
CH: I think we are because we're not making any money doing this!
JR: But there's no endpoint, there's no reason for it except for it. Which makes it so much fun. Like, there's no end…
L.A. Weekly: It's not like Lost.
JR: Yes, exactly. We're not working toward a disappointment!
MM: Maybe you're not.
CH: If you just hang out in a room full of comics, they just fuck around. It's fun to hang around comics.
MM: They're conversations we would have if the microphones weren't there, and I think that's a lot of what everybody listens to our show likes.
L.A. Weekly: That definitely comes across, and also it seems to be part of the genesis of the show, being of a certain mindset, like there's nothing too nerdy to be off limits. Although sometimes one of you will back off a reference if it sounds too nerdy…
JR: Not me. Never me.
MM: It can be a little interview-y sometimes, but that's because we're genuinely interested in what their answers are going to be.
JR: And this is the best kind of interview where you genuinely get a sense of who the person is, not just question-answer, question-answer… It's more just listening to them hang out, you get a way better sense of who they are.
L.A. Weekly: Well, for example, someone like Jon Hamm who is on an enormously popular show and has to do lots of press junket interviews and talk shows, he sort of has to be “on” in those cases but on your show he was just really laid back and cool and funny.
JR: That's like, there was this show on a while back that was called “Fishing with John,” and it was a guy who would go fishing with like Tom Waits or Jim Jarmusch and sometimes it really was just hours of dead air! But you got a better sense of who those guys are because they were just hanging out.
CH: I think an hour is the perfect amount of time [for the podcast] because you can get into stuff and you get a sense of someone, but it's not so long… although the live podcast will be probably be an hour and a half, hour-forty. But it's a special! It's a live special. The Q&A stuff… as a fan I'm excited for other fans who get to ask questions.
We're five or six episodes ahead. What we have in the can is OK GO, Mike Shinoda, Eugene Mirman and God's Pottery, Bill Burr, Matt Walsh. Then this one. And then I have a whole list of people…
L.A. Weekly: Yeah, what's your wish list? Who is the “get” that you would love to have on?
CH: Harold Ramis. Without a doubt. Here it is… In 1999, there was a company that would screen movies simultaneously at all these colleges. They were pre-screenings, and then they would have actors and directors from the movies come out, and I would host these. And they would stream it to all these different colleges and people would get to ask questions and I would moderate. I did that for Analyze This when it came out. It was Billy Crystal, Robert DeNiro and Harold Ramis. So I'm backstage with Harold Ramis and I didn't get to see the rest of the movie because I had to go back and get ready, and he asks me, “So, what did you think of the movie?” I was like, “Oh, well I saw up to this part, but then I had to walk back…” And he goes, “Oh! Well here's what happened…” He explained the rest of the movie in so much detail, and he was so excited about it, I just fell so much more in love with him than I already was, because he genuinely loves what he does! That experience really stuck with me, so I feel like he would be amazing to get on.
MM: And the man wrote Ghostbusters!
CH: Ghostbusters! What about Groundhog Day?! Fuckin' Caddyshack!
MM: Hey, I love Multiplicity. I really do!
CH: So I think he would be the nerd-god-dream guest. I would love to have Steve Martin on, but I feel like he's a little shy, and we fuck around so much… I don't think he'd agree to do it, first of all.
JR: He doesn't really seem like the riffing type.
CH: He doesn't really seem like he'd like us making Doctor Who jokes lobbing over his head.
JR: I don't like that. I'd side with Steve Martin!
L.A. Weekly: Here's an idea, if his pilot goes to series and he's in town, you should get David Tennant.
MM: Oh my god, I would love that.
CH: I was pitching an idea to Adam Savage about something else and we were talking about David Tennant… I mean, I'm such a fan. I wouldn't want him to be scared, though. Like [nerdy voice], “Remember, the one episode when the Daleks…?! And then the human Daleks?” But he'd be great. So, David Tennant… when you're reading the L.A. Weekly…
JR: Shoot [us] an email!