"Yes I promise to be the anti-Charlie Sheen Detroit," comedian Chris Hardwick quipped when asked what Detroiters can expect from his two June 10 shows at the Magic Bag. "I don't charge seventy-five dollars a ticket and I actually have jokes."
Hardwick represents the polar opposite of pompous windbags everywhere with his embrace-your-nerdiness material and positive, nurturing attitude. It would have been easy for him to follow that trail of tiger blood if he had seen life differently. Many of us remember him as the host of MTV's Singled Out where he arguable played a role in catapulting Jenny McCarthy and Carmen Electra up to uber-babe status. It would have been no problem for him to build on this and create a Hollywood stud mystique around him like Sheen and so many others have done. But keeping it real seems to be the basic building block that makes a Chris Hardwick.
"I never really got any dates from Singled Out," he admits. "It was because I felt more like an awkward nerd sucked into the frat party that show was."
It was during those years that Hardwick seemed to be working to find his unique voice. He had the paradoxical, vacuous-but-creative entertainment industry to be both inspiration and bad influence. He had good influences, like a close friendship with actor and fellow nerd Wil Wheaton of Star Trek fame and regular gigs on the perpetually smart G4 TV.
It was finally the loss of a television pilot he had placed high expectations on that became a turning point for Hardwick.
"I got so mad," he says, "that I finally said 'Screw it, I'm going to do exactly what I want to do, instead of feeling like a little piece of kelp in the ocean of the entertainment industry.'"
That's when Hardwick teamed up with Web Soup writer Jonah Ray and podcaster Matt Mira to create The Nerdist Podcast. Since early 2010, the hour-long podcast has been exploring everything smart, nerdy and cool that they can get their hands on. With guests ranging from Zach Galifianakis to the cast of Doctor Who, they aim to illustrate the "nerdification" of pop-culture.
"Nerds are the driving force in pop-culture these days," he says, "even our soap operas are now about vampires and werewolves."
According to Hardwick, the underlying feature of a nerd can be diagnosed as "creative obsessive: anyone who gets obsessed with the details and minutia of a subject – be it technology or comedy or whatever, but then turns that into something creative and new. It's those people that the podcast is about."
It seems to have struck a chord. The listener stats on the podcast now rivals the numbers of most cable television shows. That's a fact that caught the attention of at least one TV exec. Last week, Hardwick announced that BBC America has picked up The Nerdist format and cast for transformation into a television show.
When asked how he would react if the pilot for The Nerdist on television was ultimately not extended, Hardwack was characteristically upbeat. "There's no real security in this business. If it doesn't happen, I'll still do the podcast and everything else."
"Everything else" for Hardwick seems to be following a triple-fold path of G4 TV hosting gigs, podcasting and stand-up touring. The stand-up potion is the core that the other two feed on. It's the thing he is the most nerdy about and is where his hosting persona stems from. The role of smart comedian is a comfortable one for him.
"The more stand-up I do, the more I get the kind of audience demographic that gets what I'm about," he says. "My shows are accessible to everyone, but for the most part, when I crack Atari jokes, everyone gets them." | RDW
Chris Hardwick • 6/10, 7 p.m., 10 p.m. • Magic Bag • 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale • 248.544.3030 • themagicbag.com • $20