After emerging into pop-culture consciousness as host of MTV’s rowdy mid-1990s dating show Singled Out, Chris Hardwick landed a starring role on UPN sitcom Guys Like Us, which was canceled after a mere 12 episodes. Sounds like a good reason to reason to be discouraged, right? Yet, nearly two decades and a resume full of minor film and television roles later (Terminator 3, House of 1000 Corpses et al), the 44-year-old comedian and actor has evolved into an unlikely post-modern-media mogul, leading a geek empire via his Nerdist podcast network and dual hosting duties for Comedy Central’s @midnight and AMC’s Talking Dead (not to mention his musical-comedy duo Hard ‘N Phirm).
And this coming Tuesday, June 7, Hardwick will touch down at our very own Tarrytown Music Hall as part of his 1D10T stand-up tour. Several days prior to his arrival in Westchester, we asked Hardwick to give us the scoop on what’s in store for audiences that evening, how his stage and TV personas differ, and how he maintains his nerd cred.
Be honest: What do you know, if anything, about Tarrytown?
I don’t know anything about Tarrytown. Yet. The first question I always ask before I go to a new town is, “Who has the best donuts?” Donuts and pizza are things that I love to sample in a town, because I just feel like it tells you a lot culturally about what people like and what they’re into. So those will be my first questions about Tarrytown. And then I will delve into the history of Tarrytown. “When was it founded? What was its primary industry? And what really makes it different?”
Do you put pressure on yourself to make each tour stand apart from the previous one?
Well, it’s sort of the reverse of a music tour. A music tour, you release an album and then you go on tour and you play all those songs. With comedy, jokes are sort of like magic tricks: If people are going to make the effort to get out of their houses, go park their cars, get a babysitter if they have to, and go sit in the show, then they want to make sure it’s something they haven’t really seen yet. Once your special airs, you can’t do those jokes anymore. They’re legitimately done. So, the jokes that were in [Comedy Central’s] Funcomfortable, I can’t ever do them again. The next two years will be devoted to going on the road, building this next special, and building the relationship of new material with audiences.
Do you differentiate your act from night to night, even down to the crowd banter?
Even if you did see two of my shows back-to-back, they would never be exactly the same. A lot of it revolves around interacting with the audience. So every show really is different, and it depends on the crowd. Some crowds are chattier than others. It’s just kind of talking to people and establishing little relationships throughout the show with different people in the audience and going back to them. There is a community element to the show, as opposed to just coming out on stage and saying all the jokes I’ve said and leaving without really connecting on a personal level. I don’t work like a robot where you turn me on and then I just say all the things that I say and then I leave.
Does your stage persona differ at all from who we see on TV?
No, they’re pretty much the same. I mean every show has a slightly different energy to it. @midnight has a different energy than Talking Dead, or any of the other shows that I’ve done. I think the big difference, though, for people who only knew me from Talking Dead, would be, “Oh wow, that guy actually gets a little filthy sometimes.”
Of all your different projects, did one take off more than you’d anticipated?
Well, I mean I didn’t expect Talking Dead to be as big as it was. I had no idea. And @midnight was another thing that, you know, we loved the show when we were developing it and we all thought it was special, but we never thought anyone was going to watch it. The podcasts, too, I had no idea anyone was ever going to listen to. We just did it because it was fun. At first I was just talking to my friends, then it became a way to trick people I wanted to meet into chatting with me for an hour. I didn’t expect any of it to go anywhere. I just started picking projects that were fun for me that I wanted to spend time on, and that was it.
It seems like when you’re having fun, audiences enjoy themselves more.
Because they can tell if you’re authentically engaged in something and when you give a s–t about it, or if you’re just collecting a paycheck. People have a different energy when they’re working on things they’re interested in than when they’re just trying to flog through the day and survive.
At this point, do you just do standup so you can avoid being barraged with questions like, “Who the hell did Negan kill?!”
[Laughs] People ask me that anyway, it wouldn’t matter if I did standup or not. I was shooting something in a really small town in northern California, in one of those towns with a town square. And like this older barber was kind of leaning against his barbershop and I was walking by, and he shouted to me across the street, “I think it’s Glen!” I thought it was really funny, because that’s the last person I would have ever expected, an old barber. I don’t really mind, because the show’s supposed to be engaging and create conversation. I’m really tickled by it. If you know who Negan had killed in the last episode, we wouldn’t be having these conversations. It’s kind of fun knowing that in October there’s this little thing that’s waiting that I’ll get to experience. I honestly don’t know who it is. I’ve instructed them to not tell me anything. I’m a bad liar, so it’s less stressful when I can speculate without fear of spoiling anything. I’m more of a fan ambassador than an executive producer for the Walking Dead.
How do you hang on to your inner nerd, even as you outgrow some of the archetypal traits?
It’s funny, if you saw older pictures of me, even from 10 or 12 years ago, I don’t think you would go, “That guy doesn’t fit that archetype.” The truth is it’s really hard now to keep up with everything because I’ve built so many things around the things I love, so I’m not as much a consumer as I used to be. People have always questioned my nerd-cred. But I think that’s pretty normal. I don’t blame them for that, I just think its kind of funny that the insult used to be people calling you a nerd, and now the insult is people telling you that you’re a fake nerd. It really signals that there’s been a shift in the way that we think. It’s just the crappy part that comes with the overwhelming good part that this section of culture is accepted now, and people who like these things are not regulated to the dark corners of the world without a real sense of community.
You’ve said that a nerdist is “an artful nerd.” What advice do you have for those harnessing their inner nerdist?
Having the ability to focus on something is really the defining quality of a nerd brain, an obsessive quality to focus on something to the degree that most people would not bother, you know? People with our type of brain will try to understand something more than any other person, and that’s very empowering. So, in addition to understanding and aggregating information about other things, I just think the defining marker is if you are a creator at the same time. And do you use those obsessive powers for good, for constructive things, instead of destructive things.