Comedian Chris Hardwick on hipsters, sobriety and the true meaning of being a nerd
In 2013, being called a nerd isn't the insult that it once was. Practically no one uses the term negatively anymore, and there's no shortage of people who proudly wear the nerd badge as a cultural identity. But if there's still such a thing as a king of the nerds, the honor would probably go to standup comic Chris Hardwick (or Peter Jackson). Hardwick's wildly popular comedy podcast The Nerdist is at least partially responsible for the geekster population boom.
Chris Hardwick will perform five shows at Comedy Works May 2-4.
In anticipation of his upcoming five-show run at Comedy Works beginning May 2, we caught up with the surprisingly well-dressed Hardwick to get into an ultra-dweeby meta-debate about just who has the right to call themselves a nerd -- while occasionally digressing into topics like hipsters, post-music MTV and the moment Dennis Miller stopped being funny and suddenly became an asshole.
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Westword: You went to Regis High School in Denver as a kid. Were you into comedy back then? Was there anything going on in Denver in the late '80s?
Chris Hardwick: Well, I've always been into comedy, but I wasn't performing then. I just consumed every piece of comedy I could find -- comedy albums, HBO specials, things like that. I had stacks of VHS tapes. As a teenager, I was too young to get into comedy shows. I'm not even sure what was around in Denver back then.
It's interesting to think of a teenage "comedy nerd." Typically what we think of as nerds at that age are people who are into sci-fi and computers. Was there a scene of social outcasts who were into comedy?
No, I was pretty much it. Nobody I knew was into comedy like that. This was before the Internet, so I wasn't able to find people on a forum or social network. Regis was a small school; there couldn't have been more than a couple hundred people there. There were kids who were into odd things, but not comedy the way I was.
After leaving Denver, you eventually landed a spot hosting Singled Out on MTV. It's a cliche thing to complain about today, but wasn't that the time that people first began whining about music videos being replaced with shows like yours?
Yeah, they've been saying that since about 1988. That's when MTV realized that shortening people's attentions spans began to work against them. People weren't watching video shows anymore, so they started putting on shows like Remote Control and The Young Ones and began programming like a network.
People have been complaining about that forever, and they seem to complain about it even more now. But when you think about the videos they were playing back then, it was the same twelve videos over and over. If you look at shows like 120 Minutes or Headbangers Ball, they really only played a handful of videos.
After you left MTV, you eventually decided to quit drinking, got your life together, and became a successful comic. It seems there are a lot of stories like that in comedy -- Russell Brand, Marc Maron, Ben Roy -- but in rock, it's usually the opposite. Sobriety and happiness in a musician typically lead to shitty music and irrelevance.
I don't know if that's true; I think that's a myth. Maybe it's the case for some people. First of all, people can still have conflict even if they don't drink. I'm sure if we did the math, people getting sober was good for them. You can't focus if you're drinking all the time. It takes focus to succeed at something; there's a certain economy of energy that you have. If you're prone to do things to the extreme, then you can either focus on drinking all the time or you can focus on work.
Maybe there are people who are lucky enough -- or perhaps unlucky enough -- to have people to do things for them, so they can continue that lifestyle of drinking every morning and night. But I'd say in general, I would disagree. I used to think that when I quit drinking I wouldn't be creative anymore, but that wasn't the case. I wouldn't be able to think clearly.
I'm not saying you need to be fucked up in order to make great art, but I think sobriety lends itself to comedy in a way that it doesn't for music. Comedy requires focused thinking, as does music, but music is inherently less cerebral and therefore can be done easier with an absence of mind.
Maybe. I don't know. That's a strong statement. I don't know the answer, but I would like to see data to support either side. I've heard people say that before. I'm sure it's somewhere on the Internet. I think the results could be surprising.
It takes a lot of hunger to get up in front of people and try to make them laugh, and I think as some comics and musicians start to get older, they get less hungry and become comfortable.
Continue reading for more from Hardwick.