What was once a word used to assert adolescent alpha male dominance over the guy who would eventually become your boss is now a nearly complete empire run by the once-oppressed. Unlike the Habsburg, Incan or Qing, this one has its own channel on YouTube, complete with Weird Al, Neil Patrick Harris and, well, cute shit exploding, among other nerdly things. Oh, and there…will…be…puppets. Henson puppets.
We caught up with Chris Hardwick, high emperor of the multifaceted project Nerdist, and his business consigliere Peter Levin to talk about the channel, plus bowling, nerd-cred, and why getting whacked in the face with a toy lightsaber can ultimately be a good thing for a lot of people.
This past weekend, Nerdist — a brand that includes a website, the NerdMelt series of comedy shows at Hollywood's Meltdown Comics and a variety of regular podcasts with anyone and everyone hip and nerdy — announced a YouTube Channel lineup that will blow minds and soil Star Wars Underoos (do they still make those?).
In addition to a Neil Patrick Harris puppet show, Weird Al celebrity interviews and even astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the channel is slated to include everything otaku and pop candy, like Cute Things Exploding (self-explanatory), Comic Book Club Live (also pretty self-explanatory), Puppet for President (a Henson Company show following the presidential campaign of puppet Marvin E. Quasniki), and a show based on the website Awkward Family Photos that will be mostly awkward family videos. Hardwick even got the Kids in the Hall together to curate some of their favorite episodes and talk about them.
Last year Hardwick partnered with Levin, the man who brought us fanboy newsletter Geek Chic Daily, to begin assembling the Nerdist Channel and to add more business acumen to the Nerdist Industries empire. The duo hope that the obsessed, the creative and the obsessively creative will find a home at the channel and that the whole enchilada (figurative, not literal) will efficiently take nerdity from its creators to your brain as quickly as possible.
“The most breathtaking part of it is the efficiency of getting things done,” Levin says. “There's no waiting for a draconian network development process, there's no politics involved, it's streamlined on every front … which makes it really fun.”
When asked about his nerd credentials, Levin demurs slightly: “You can be nerdy about anything. It's really where obsession meets creativity.” When pressed, he says, “Look, I've been to the last 18 Comic-Cons. I'll bet on myself in any video game against you guys,” before proceeding to list all of the nerd-based entertainment deals he has brokered in his career. 'Nuff said.
“That's the alpha male coming out … but, yeah, he has been to more Comic-Cons than anyone I know,” Hardwick confirms.
To accusations that branding and repackaging the term “nerd” waters it down or takes away his cred, Hardwick responds, “I picked all of the people I wanted to work with, and it's sort of a weird reality come true. … It's humble-braggy to say, but it's true, I wake up in the morning and go, 'I'm going to sit down with Brian Henson today and talk about the channel, then I'm going to the Weird Al shoot,' and it still blows my mind that I get to do that … I'm the same person I was before … I still know [the Yankovic song] 'Nature Trail to Hell' top to bottom. … Any of those critics in the same position would pretty much do the same thing I'm doing, I think.” He adds, “We're not trying to be anything but ourselves and do what we want to do.”
This man can undeniably walk the nerd walk — despite his MTV beginnings, most notably hosting Singled Out with Jenny McCarthy.
One of the Nerdist Channel highlights beyond all highlights will be the interactive Course of the Force, a lightsaber relay from Santa Monica to San Diego as a lead-up to Comic-Con in July. Registrants will relay a lightsaber “torch” every quarter of a mile for the duration and the channel will cover it live, in its entirety. All proceeds will go to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
The idea, all Levin's, came when getting unceremoniously woken up by his young son. “My son likes to wake me up by whacking me in the face with a plastic lightsaber, and it got me thinking,” he says. Levin, who ran a segment of the 1996 Olympic torch relay, combined that with the face whack and added it to his Comic-Con history for the perfect blend of philanthropy and pop-culture obsession — a nerd-lympics, if you will.
“However you want to move that torch is up to you — you can have a hundred people carry on a platform like Xerxes if you want to. You just have to move that torch a quarter mile,” adds Hardwick.
For those looking for more athleticism, Nerdist Channel will see its founder pitted against famous opponents in Chris Hardwick's Celebrity Bowling. “Chris is a really really solid bowler. I got the idea for the show watching him school all these people at his birthday party,” says Levin. Son of legendary pro bowler Billy Hardwick, Chris apparently dominates the lanes and will use those skills against celebrity chefs and the like. While he may pop up from time to time in other shows, this will be his only regularly starring program. We can think of nothing nerdier than bowling — well, maybe cosplay bowling, and that can't ever be ruled out for the Nerdists and their ilk.
So, with a Mos Eisley-scale variety of content, enough cred to fit in a TARDIS, and a Federation of Planets' worth of geeky philanthropy, we have no doubt that the Nerdist Channel will be off to a good start. Stay tuned for the April 2 launch. We're hoping for an epic win.