Chris Hardwick started his showbiz career as co-host of MTV's "Singled Out" in the mid-1990s, which, um, maybe was cool. Now, as ruler of a growing Nerdist empire, he's making nerds more popular than ever.
In addition to his hit Nerdist comedy podcast and blog, the stand-up comedian, actor, TV personality and voice artist reviews gadgets on "Attack of the Show," hosts "Web Soup," contributes to Wired magazine and has authored a book, "The Nerdist Way," which drops Nov. 1.
He also appears at nerdtastic events, like last weekend's Wizard World Chicago Comic Con, where I tracked him down as he decompressed after being mobbed by fans who had just watched him moderate a panel with sci-fi icon Patrick Stewart and his son, Daniel.
Hardwick rubs elbows with a lot stars, but he still geeked out when another icon from 1980s movies "Sixteen Candles" and "The Breakfast Club" happened by us.
"Anthony Michael Hall just walked in the room," Hardwick whispered excitedly during our chat Saturday in the Wizard World green room. We talked about his love of "Doctor Who" (he and talk show host Craig Ferguson could be considered America's most famous fans of the series), his upcoming BBC America special and what TV he's geeked about seeing.
You moderated the San Diego Comic Con panel for “The Walking Dead” and…
I did, yes … It was super fun.
Obviously you’re a fan of that show.
I love that show, yeah. I got the first, like, four episodes before they aired and then I was so into the show, but then I had to wait like five or six weeks until I could see the last couple episodes.
Right, I know what that’s like. I see you four or five episodes and you watch to review, and then…
[Doing excited voice:] “Yeah great, now I’m hooked on the show and I have to wait!”
But you don’t watch it on TV on TV, right? I think I heard you say in one of the Nerdist podcasts you watch without commercials. Do you wait for theDVDs , or get a lot of early screeners?
Oh no. Well, I do get a lot of screeners. I watch a lot of stuff on streaming or DVR, but this is mainly because of my schedule. And I watch a lot of stuff on planes on my iPad. So, like I watched the whole first season of “Louie” on one trip just being on planes several months ago.
Since I write about TV let’s talk about what you are looking forward to on TV this fall.
What’s coming out in the fall? Tell me and I’ll tell you if I’m looking forward to it.
There’s this “The Nerdist” special coming to BBC America.
[Laughs.] That is true. That is coming out on television. I’m looking forward to that. But we don’t know what’s going to happen with it.
How did that come about?
I guess it came about because I’m a huge “Doctor Who” fan and I talk about “Doctor Who” on Twitter all the time. This was right when Matt Smith took over [as the Doctor] and I thought he’d be a great guest on the podcast. And this guy from BBC America, Devin Johnson, was following me and just said, “Hey, if Matt Smith’s ever in L.A., I’ll try to set it up.” And he was, and he did! And then we had him on the podcast. And Craig Ferguson is also a huge “Doctor Who” fan, so Craig asked me if I wanted to come on [his “Late Late Show” on CBS] when Matt was on. And so I did and then we just started having conversations with BBC America.
They said, “We have this thing called ‘Ministry of Laughs’ and we’re interested in having you [host it].” And I said, “Well I have a podcast I want to turn into a television show,” and they go, “Oh, well let’s try both.”
So that was really sort of how it all came about, just by being a rabid “Doctor Who” fan.
Have you already filmed it?
Yes. We shot it, I don’t know, maybe six weeks ago, two months ago. And Craig Ferguson was the guest. And then there’s a second surprise guest, and that’ll air Sept. 24. And if people watch it, we’ll do more. And if they don’t watch it, we probably won’t do more. [Laughs.] Because that’s how television works.
Are you looking forward to the second half of this season of “Doctor Who”? [From Curt: It starts Aug. 27 on BBC America!]
Have you seen any of it?
I’ve just seen a preview, you know? But purposely stayed away from the last, you know, as they get closer you get more in-depth trailers and I’m staying away from it so I can fully be surprised by the show.
You’re not a spoiler guy?
No, no, no, no. I’m not a huge spoiler guy. And I get a lot of spoilers because people assume that I’ve seen everything the second it comes out, so whether it’s “Doctor Who” or whatever, but they’ll … say this on Twitter, “Can you believe such-and-such happened on this show?” I’m like, “Ah, crap. I didn’t see that yet!”
But it’s just sort of what comes along with being so open about all the things that I love. People just respond before I’ve had a chance to see stuff. But that’s all right.
“The Dark Side of Being the Nerdist.” Have you watched “Doctor Who” forever?
I got the Tom Baker episodes when I was a kid on PBS. And the show always kind of scared the crap outta me just because of the way it was shot and it was so eerie … I hope this doesn’t piss off any Whovian fans of yours, but it had like a certain, Sid and Marty Krofft vibe to it, you know? [It looked] super inexpensive. You know, “We’re shooting this in a warehouse.” [Laughs.] I don’t know, it just felt…
Like “H.R. Pufnstuf?”
Kind of. Without being that, you know, ridiculous. But then I didn’t follow the series in the 1980s or the one that they did in the 90s. But when they rebooted the show, some friends of mind who had been long-time fans and were super into it were like, “It’s so good! It’s so good!”
So you came back when Russel T Davies rebooted it?
WithRussell T. Davies, yeah, when Russell took over, it was the [Chris] Eccelston [Doctor]—a couple of seasons after that started I was like, “I wonder what this is all about.” And then instantly I was way into it. Yeah.
I just heard you tell somebody that you likedDavid Tennant and Matt Smith equally as the Doctor, but in different ways.
But I also liked Christopher Eccleston. They all just play him in different ways where you kind of go, “Oh yeah!” They’re all just aspects of that character’s personality because of who the actors are.
I was sad to see Eccleston go, ’cause I really loved his take on it. But then I was sad to see Tennant go and, you know, someday when Matt is not the Doctor any more, I’ll be sad when that happens. You just get attached to these guys. You get attached to the characters, however they play them.
But then the next one comes along and because the whole idea of the regeneration is that they’re different anyway, right?
To a degree, yeah, yeah. Which is, you know, just a very clever way for the network to be like, “Well, we can keep making money off this show forever. Oh yeah, these are different aspects of his personality.” Well, they just hired a different guy.
You’re right. What’s the regenerated Chris Hardwick going to be like?
[Laughs.] Oh my God. I don’t think—wait, you mean if I regenerated, who’s the next person going to be? Oh geez. I don’t know.
Or how is he going to be different? Is he going to relax more maybe?
Maybe he’ll be a little more laid back. Maybe he’ll be an Asian girl.
You seem to work a lot.
I seem to stay busy, yes. Yes, yes, yes.
How do you juggle all those jobs?
Everything’s very modular. So it’s really just, the sort of full-time career is really just a bunch of part-time chunks that I can move around. So that’s really all it is.
And do you find any of it to be a task, like a real job?
No, all of it’s fun. I mean, yeah sometimes it feels like, “Oh, I’m kind of tired, I’ve been working for 14 hours.” But it’s all great. It’s all fun. I just wrote a book and I’d heard that that was going to be a miserable experience. But it was actually really, really fun.
Now that nerds are cool, do you find that there are nerd poseurs?
Yeah. I get accused of it … I like what I like and I have the [bleeping] chess trophies to prove it. [Laughs.] And I still have all my original [Dungeons & Dragons] books. But I don’t think being nerdy is about being into a certain thing, I think it’s just a certain mindset. I talk about this in the book a little bit. It’s not about whether you like “Battlestar” or “Stargate” or whatever. It has to do with the way you approach the world, which is in a very kind of hyper-critical, anxious, obsessive way. I think that’s what makes people nerdy, not whether or not they like a thing.
Or whether they know everything about that thing?
Yeah, exactly. We get emails from people, like if something comes up in the podcasts and we didn’t know about an episode of something or an issue with some comic or something that happens in a specific game, they’re like, “How can you call yourself a nerd and not know this?” And it’s like, there’s only so much time in the day. We cannot literally consume everything, you know? We get through what we can. But obviously some stuff is going to slip through the cracks because we have jobs. [Laughs.]
Right. Do you think that there’s nerd-on-nerd, um…
Yeah, nerd-on-nerd violence?
Hazing, bullying, whatever you want to call it?
Oh yeah, go on a message board. A nerd’s mutant power is knowing more about something than anyone else and being smarter than anyone else, at least in his own mind. So, they will let you know how stupid you are in a very colorful way.
So it’s just like any other group, I guess?
I guess so, yeah. Except I feel like a nerd group can make you feel worse than any other group ’cause … they will really break it down, in a very structured format, why something you said or something you like sucks. [Laughs.] So they’re very thorough. But that’s why they’re nerds.
Fair enough. Off-topic, but I saw this mentioned on the Nerdist site: Cheetos, crunchy or puffs?
Crunchy … Actually, flaming hot. Flaming hot crunchy.
Back to Fall TV; there’s a lot of sci-fi coming out.
Well, I’m looking forward to “The Walking Dead.” I’m waiting for the “Walking Dead.” Yeah, that’s gonna be huge. …
“Terra Nova” is coming, and “Fringe” is back also on Fox.
I just got the first couple of seasons of “Fringe.” I know what you’re talking about on what you heard on the podcast. I do like to wait until a show is a few seasons in, ’cause I’m just impatient. And once I’m into something, I don’t like waiting for it, so I just want to be able to watch it all. That’s how I watched “Buffy” years ago; I just bought the DVDs after the series wrapped and just watched the entire seven seasons in a month.
It’s hard for you to avoid spoilers doing it that way.
Yeah, I guess so. But I still manage to avoid enough of them, I guess.
So “The Walking Dead” is your big one this fall.
Basically “Walking Dead” and “Who” are the two big ones. And “Who” is soon.
Yes, and BBC America is doing a series of Who specials first.
I’m on it. I’m on them.
Oh yeah, I suppose you would be with your connections with BBC America. One last thing. You get crazy business on the Nerdist site. How does somebody else who does podcasts get 100,000 downloads a day? Get on TV?
I don’t know how that happens. I definitely think it helps to have the kind of platform ecosystem, you know, where there’s a TV show and we can refer to the podcast and then we can refer to the site and that can refer back to the podcast. We’re just sort of laying roots in a lot of different places so everything can kick itself around and help promote each other. So I think that’s been pretty helpful. And Twitter’s been pretty remarkably helpful. I guess that’s it.
WHERE CAN YOU CATCH CHRIS HARDWICK
- Nerdist blog and podcast
- @nerdist on Twitter
- Hosting “Web Soup” at 7 p.m. Wednesdays on G4
- Hosting “Ministry of Laughs” at 9 p.m. Saturdays on BBC America
- Commenting in the “Doctor Who” specials airing Aug. 20, 26 and 27 on BBC America
- Hosting “The Nerdist” special at 9 p.m. Sept. 24 on BBC America
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