Chloe Dykstra’s troubling account of emotional and sexual abuse suffered at the hands of Chris Hardwick has many companies in the “nerd space” scrambling to replace the man many thought of as the “Nerd King.”
Dykstra posted her account quietly on Medium last Friday, but it was quickly picked up due to the details that closely resembled Hardwick, whom she dated for three years, ending in 2014. It’s a detailed, credible account of emotional abuse, forced sex, and career blacklisting.
Hardwick’s response, posted on Deadline, didn’t do much to deflect the shock people felt at reading the account, with classic gaslighting tactics such as accusing Dykstra of cheating and referring to his own role as a husband, son and future father. (Hardwick became engaged to model/actor/heiress Lydia Hearst in 2015, and they wed in 2016.)
Although the behavior Dykstra posted about wasn’t the kind that is illegal, it was extremely gross and creepy. In the past, a male celebrity could have ridden it out, as many have. But in the #MeToo era, the companies that Hardwick had business with acted quickly.
And there were a lot of them.
Hardwick’s primacy in the nerd space – as perhaps THE ultimate nerdlebrity – began with his Nerdist podcast, but the Nerdist website was actually an offshoot of the Geek Chic Daily newsletter started in 2009 by Gareb Shamus and partner Peter Levin. His podcast and the “Nerdist” brand quickly expanded to be at the forefront of the “geek chic” movement, especially with their network of podcasts, which included such popular and talented folks as Ben Blacker (The Thrilling Adventure Hour), Jessica Chobot, Alison Haislip, and many more.
Hardwick was open about positioning himself as “The Nerd Host” as nerd culture began taking off as something that could be commodified. His many appearances at the San Diego Comic-Con hosting the top panels led to his groundbreaking role hosting Talking Dead, the first talk-show-about-a-show that brought the obsessive interest of the internet to TV. He followed up with hosting gigs on Talking Bad, Talking Saul, and Talking Preacher.
But all of that is suspended following the allegations. Hardwick was to have hosted the Walking Dead and Doctor Who panels at SDCC but now that has been canceled. AMC has put his talk show “Talking” on ice as they reassess”We have had a positive working relationship with Chris Hardwick for many years,” the network said in a statement. “We take the troubling allegations that surfaced yesterday very seriously. While we assess the situation, ‘Talking With Chris Hardwick’ will not air on AMC.”
Sunday’s season premiere – with guest Donald Glover – was yanked in favor of a rerun of that show with Norman Reedus and a bike.
NBC has also put their Hardwick project on hold, the game show The Wall, which he hosts. “These allegations about Chris Hardwick took us by surprise as we have had a positive working relationship with him. However, we take allegations of misconduct very seriously.” the network noted in a statement. “Production on ‘The Wall’ does not begin until September, and in the meantime we are continuing to assess the situation and will take appropriate action based on the outcome.”
Nerdist also broke ties with Hardwick, running a statement on Friday that scrubbed him from history:
Chris Hardwick had no operational involvement with Nerdist for the two years preceding the expiration of his contract in December 2017. He no longer has any affiliation with Legendary Digital Networks. The company has removed all reference to Mr. Hardwick even as the original Founder of Nerdist pending further investigation.
Nerdist was sold to Legendary Pictures in 2012, just a few months after it was founded. Hardwick was listed as CEO until 2015, but earlier this year he did renounce all relations with the brand, renaming his podcast as ID10T.
Which brings up yet another tentacle of the Hardwick empire – the ID10t Festival held last year which mixed comics, stand up comedy, and music in a Coachella-like festival. The show got mixed but positive reviews, and organizers (none of them affiliated with Hardwick) told me that the show would return this year, but that doesn’t seem to have materialized.
Meanwhile, just what that “outcome” of the “investigations” that NBC, AMC and so on are taking might be is questionable. Dykstra seems to have wanted closure, and legal action would be difficult for either party. Hardwick didn’t commit any crimes, according to the allegations, aside from being a truly awful person. Reading the tea leaves (and my DMs), he doesn’t seem to have the kind of support from the industry that will allow for a quick return.
That leaves a few more questions. Who will replace Hardwick as the “Nerd Host Supreme?” In an article at Screenrant several replacements for Talking Dead are suggested, foremost among them Aisha Tyler and Yvette Nicole Brown, both frequent guests on the show. I saw Tyler host one of the big Hall H panels at SDCC, and she’d be perfect for any hosting role. I’m sure Brown would be as well.
An article at Mashable talks a bigger look at how Hardwick’s persona fit into growing narrative of toxic fandoms:
But over the course of the past decade, as geeky interests have moved in to dominate the mainstream, that facade has crumbled. A male geek’s pursuit of an “out of his league” love interest used to be the basis for a fictional story’s emotional beats; as we all look back now and re-examine how we got here, we pick up on the deeply unsettling aspects of those plotlines. This isn’t to suggest that loving a thing adored by the geeky set is inherently bad. But, as some suggested in the social media musings above, tethering your identity to the products you consume can have toxic results. If you are what you like, any criticism of the thing you like can come off as a personal attack. No one’s suggesting that all geek properties should be put to death. But this conversation that’s sprung up in the wake of the Hardwick revelations is yet another product of our culture’s ongoing process of self-reflection as would-be “heroes” and “industry giants” are revealed as the villains they actually are.
Speaking personally, I met Hardwick a few times, as everyone did, but our paths rarely crossed because he wasn’t really into comics, as his embarrassing Scott Snyder/Jeff Lemire gaffe showed. Hardwick is a polished, witty presenter who knows his limits – and he didn’t actually go to nerd college. As a successful, handsome guy in a suit with a beautiful girlfriend/wife – and one who overcame alcohol addiction and successfully lost weight to get to where he is – Hardwick was an aspirational figure to a lot of men who identify as fans. As the fallout of these revelations unfolds, we’ll learn if that suit was empty all along.
[This post originally appeared in The Beat/s 6/18/18 newsletter. You can subscribe here.]