While the Nerdist Industries’ arena event at WonderCon this year was ostensibly about the future of the Youtube based pop culture conglomerate, and, indeed, plenty was said about upcoming projects, the question and answer period really expanded into a call to arms for fans to help directly determine the future of pop culture.
Nerdist founder Chris Hardwick took the stage, joined by panellists Paul Provenza, Troy Conrad, and Matt Bennett, on March 31st, in the lead up to the season finale of The Walking Dead. Hardwick’s job as host of Talking Dead meant there was plenty of frisson in the audience about the upcoming show, and Hardwick teased, but didn’t deliver, spoilers on the show’s finale several times. In fact, he informed the audience that he was about to “get into a car to film Talking Dead” following his WonderCon appearance. Envy at his early viewing of the finale was palpable.
While Hardwick has a cult following as host of Talking Dead, and also from plenty of Nerdist projects, his presence live is even more dynamic, bringing with it plenty of his stand up comedy background. Since it was also Easter Sunday, Hardwick opened with a relevant quip: “That’s one person who came back from the dead and didn’t do it to rip someone’s heart out. Just put the love in it”. About a thousand attendees found this hilarious. Hardwick showed a promo video preview of upcoming Nerdist projects, often punctuated by applause and cheers from the audience when they recognized an anticipated segment or a celebrity guest coming up on a project, and followed by discussing several of the projects in a little more detail with his panellists.
Bennet’s new series, currently being filmed, entitled Nerdy Jobs, a play on Dirty Jobs, got particular attention. The series will involve him visiting nerdy “cool” companies like tech industries and comic book shops to give an insider’s view of working there. Hardwick pondered what Bennett would find to say if he visited NASA for the show: “Uh, sorry about your funding?”. Another big push for Nerdist is the launch of a comedy combination of stand up and improv based on the British series concept Setlist, a competition that will tour around the world. As a veteran of stand up, Hardwick was particularly enthused, commenting that forcing stand up comedians into an improv situation is like “looking for the God particle of comedy”. His request to the audience about the upcoming new shows: “Please don’t feel compelled to say horrible things IN ALL CAPS in comment threads”.
This led Harwick to speak for a moment about Youtube as a venue for hosting programming. Though delivered in a comically serious tone, the message had some bite: “No longer do companies tell us what to watch”. It was the first of several comments that indicated that Hardwick still has a lot to say about the role of open access and its giant-killing capabilities in relation to big media. Nerdist Industries, he said, is going to be expanding, but not along the lines of some of their peers on Youtube, who branch out into “piles of channels”; instead, they are aiming for a “hyper-curated partnership” with 6-8 channels and plenty of intensive “cross promotion”. They are also considering a move, based on fan request, to try out video podcasts, though Hardwick is a little skeptical of why people would want to watch them. Demand has been high enough that he’s prepared to yield to the experiment. Upcoming guests for the video podcast will include Seth Rogan, Steve Young, Scott Adsit and “surprises” too. Nerdist will also, finally, launch a major app to link to its content and, even more surprisingly, will be venturing into filmmaking following their purchase by Legendary Entertainment. They hope to work as producers on smaller budget films in this new role.
While Hardwick was delivering his energetic spiel, Provenza interjected, “Do you ever sleep?”. It was true, Hardwick looked a little peaked. “I have a robot heart”, he intoned, and continued on to the question and answer period. Questions began with a repeat offender from SDCC who Hardwick had once hugged in the past for his super fandom regarding Superman. “Comic Con is about getting super freaked out about stuff you love”, Hardwick reminded the audience (and he would deliver another hug later to a girl dressed as Wario in sympathy with his own Mario Brothers t-shirt). Harwick was then asked what he would do if his girlfriend was found to be “patient zero” in a potential zombie apocalypse. “Oh, I’d shoot her in the fucking head. That’s what you do for your loved ones”, he said without hesitation, to much hilarity, and added that he hoped she’d do the same for him.
He seemed pretty serious about that topic, but not as serious as he became immediately after the question on the subject of open access production. “There is literally no excuse for you not to pursue things that you love now. You are living half a life if you do not pursue the things that you love”, he said, referring to the tools now available for fans and pop culture creators alike. When a middle school teacher asked him for ideas to keep her students interested in pop culture in their newly formed lunch club, he gave a very invested answer, repeating that the most important thing the teacher could do for them would be to get them to “make things”, whether videos, or other media. “Teach them to be creators vs. consumers”, he pleaded, to much approbation from the crowd.
One of Hardwick’s winning qualities that keeps him from drifting too far from his fanbase due to his ever increasing media success is his earnestness, often placing himself in the role of the fan once more. He described himself as a “lamprey” feeding off the “giant sperm whale” of pop culture products and feeling grateful, trying not to “impose” when working with actors from major shows. The Nerdist panel emphasized again that Hardwick still sees himself as an outsider in the mainstream, and an insider to “nerd” culture, no matter how many celebrity friends he accrues. That lends credence to his requests and his advice that fans continue to interact directly with the things they love through becoming “creators” too.
Photo Credits: All photos in this article were taken by semi-professional photographer and pop culture scholar Michele Brittany. She’s an avid photographer of pop culture events. You can learn more about her photography and pop culture scholarship here.
Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.