Chris Hardwick is kind of like a Nerd Ambassador – he brings enthusiasm and excitement to every topic he covers, whether it's as host of AMC's The Talking Dead (the live discussion follow-up show to The Walking Dead); in his Nerdist.com podcast, where he asks the questions that everyone really wants to hear to such stars as Tom Hanks, Timothy Olyphant or Walking star Andrew Lincoln; or during his stand-up shows to sold-out crowds (his first Comedy Central stand-up special, Mandroid, hits DVD this week).
"I wasn't ashamed of the stuff I was into, but I was nervous about being open about it; when you're young you don't want people to tell you you're weird, but everything I was into was [considered] a little weird," the 41-year-old Chris tells ETonline. Back in the '70s, being a nerd was something that you could get beat up for, but now an entire generation wears the moniker like a badge of honor: "Traditionally nerd-based culture is now a big sector of pop culture. … It's not niche anymore, so [with Nerdist] we can actually kind of try to blow it up even more."
I spoke with Hardwick while he was zigzagging through the streets of Bloomington, IN, in search of his girlfriend at a local coffee shop just a few hours before a performing a set of two shows. "I'm lost in Indiana right now, trying to figure out where I'm at," he told me, apologetic for being slightly distracted. "I'm turned around – Apple Maps has been kind of a fail here in Indiana."
Asked if he was planning to include some of the Mandroid bits in his performance, the former co-host of MTV's Singled Out laughed, "No, no, you're not allowed to do that. There's no law against it, but it's just bad form as a comic to release a special and then just go on the road and do that material. People pay to see you, and they don't want to see the same jokes that they just saw for free on television, you know? [Comics] don't get the kind of leeway that a band gets, like, 'Yeah, the Stones are playing Satisfaction, sweet!' If you do a joke that's really old, then what happens is people on Reddit and Twitter just go, 'Real original, you're just doing old jokes!' But bands do it all the time."
Hardwick says he loves doing live television, that it's "a lot more organic than having a scripted show." But with producers keeping such a tight lid on all Walking Dead spoilers, there are pitfalls that Hardwick chooses to avoid: "They offer them to me, but I don't watch ahead of time – I mean, I could watch as many episodes as are completed, but I don't because, No. 1, it's a live show -- I don't want to accidentally blurt out something that I can't take back – but then also I feel like as consumers we've gotten so spoiled with just being able to watch things a season at a time, and I know that's really satisfying, but I also feel like there's a nice purity of television-watching where you get to anticipate and theorize and look forward to something at a certain time each week. There's a whole generation of people under 25, you say that to them and their eyes just glaze over. They don't understand. 'You know, there was a certain time if you missed something on television, that was it!' … There's actually kind of a communal bonding experience that you get with your friends when you watch that way."
As for his growing Nerdist empire (which has grown to be a many-headed beast), Hardwick simply states, "I'm a fan of stuff and I get excited. Look, I'm a comic and I understand being cynical, but I feel like there's such a layer of cynicism in our society right now – there's a whole sector that thinks it's not cool to just like things. The 'Hipster Nerds' like stuff because they hate it. It's like they ironically like it. What's wrong with celebrating things that you love? I think the core of everything we do at Nerdist is like, 'Hey, are you passionate about something? Then here, you should get to work around that or be around it or experience it in some way and be proud of it and celebrate it.' I think that's why we're able to get Neil Patrick Harris to do a Henson puppet show, because he loves puppets. That's kind of where we live."
In addition to this week's Mandroid release, next up Hardwick is hosting the Third Annual Streamy Awards, honoring excellence in original online video programming and streaming live February 17 from The Hollywood Palladium.