King of the Nerds Chris Hardwick is one of the gang for Oddball Comedy tour



Chris Hardwick is enjoying the spoils of conquering an empire.

Yes, it's good to be The Nerdist, and this summer has been particularly rewarding for the king of nerds.

You could click on HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher," and there he was, chatting with the host about the state of the Internet. Then, Google alert, his Comedy Central show "@midnight" earned an Emmy nomination for interactive programming. Click over to NBC, and he's belting "We've Got Tonight" with "Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon and announcing "@midnight" has been picked up for a second season. Oh, and by the way, AMC network, where he hosts "The Talking Dead," has greenlighted "Chris Hardwick's All-Star Celebrity Bowling."

The Brits love this American's nerdy embrace of all things "Doctor Who," too. Last weekend, he hosted pre- and post-show chats on BBC America for the season eight premiere introducing a new Doctor.

Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival

Where: First Niagara Pavilion, Burgettstown.

When: 5 p.m. Saturday.

Featuring: Bill Burr, Brent Morin, Chris Hardwick, Sarah Silverman, DJ Trauma, Hannibal Buress, Chris D’Elia, Jim Jefferies, Michael Che, Cut Throat Freak Show and a Second Stage with host Brody Stevens.

Tickets: Tickets: $27-$97; livenation.com or firstniagarapavilion.net.

All of this, and Nerdist Industries, which includes his popular podcast -- Mr. Hardwick is marqueed as founder of the now "many headed beast" -- and a YouTube channel that earlier this month tallied its millionth subscriber.

You'd think an empire builder could sit back and couch-potato his nerd laurels, but not Chris Hardwick.

He's a stand-up comedian, too, and this summer part of Funny or Die's Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival that stops at First Niagara Pavilion Saturday. The lineup includes Bill Burr, Brent Morin, Sarah Silverman, DJ Trauma, Hannibal Buress, Chris D'Elia, Jim Jefferies and Michael Che, with a set by Cut Throat Freak Show.

"Stand-up has been my favorite thing from when I heard my first Steve Martin record in the '70s, so it's always going to be the thing I want to do the most," Mr. Hardwick said by phone, a week after returning from hosting Comic-Con International panels and the day after his "Tonight Show" appearance.

The roots of his comedy go back to growing up in Memphis, Tenn., where the son of the late pro bowler Billy Hardwick first embraced the moniker of "nerd," before geeks were embraced as the standard-bearers of pop culture.

"I use [nerd and geek] interchangeably because I think that's the way they've evolved. I think there's one definition where some people say geeks are more pop culture-centric and nerds are more tech savvy. When I was growing up, I was a tech guy, and regionally, nerd was the word we used to describe us, so that's the word I identify with. But one of my dear friends, [actor and TV host] Wil Wheaton, identifies as a geek. When it's used interchangeably now, that [annoys] some people, because they want to think the other one is the weaker class, but I think that ultimately we're saying the same thing."

Nerds and geeks -- or anyone who knows one -- can relate to his comedy. A sample from his 2012 Comedy Central special is a routine in which he laments the invasion of hipsters into nerd territory:

"If I wear my Captain Picard T-shirt, it's because I want some [expletive] to 'Make it so.' I am being literal. If a hipster wears one, he's like, 'Hey, look, it's 'Star Trek.' Whatever."

"It's just me," he said of his brand of humor. "Kind of dirty, but I don't think gratuitously so. There's much more personal stuff in my stand-up now than there used to be. There are some nerdy threads that weave everything together, but hopefully it's just fun. I like the shows to be fun and happy. I'm not an angry comic."

Details like a starship captain prone to the phrase "Make it so" are important to him, of course.

Being a nerd -- or being THE nerd -- means having the uncanny ability to grasp something at an almost molecular level. For some, that might be a recipe to wreck the enjoyment of, say, a new season of "Doctor Who," which comes with 50 years of details to dissect.

Not so, said The Nerdist.

"That is sort of a nerd superpower, understanding something more than any other person," Mr. Hardwick said. "A lot of people who were considered nerds in school, their power was to understand things and have knowledge of the esoteric things of the world, and that knowledge is what made us strong. I don't think there's too much of that. You don't want it to get in the way of productivity, but that's just sort of how our brains work. I certainly don't want to say, 'Seek less knowledge.' "

One of the pleasures of being a part of the Oddball Festival is having the time to stand in the wings and absorb knowledge of the other comedians' ability to make people laugh.

It will be a long time before any of the comedians here or anywhere stands at a microphone without thinking of Robin Williams, whose loss was still a raw nerve when Mr. Hardwick spoke about heading back onstage.

"We've always seen Robin as so full of life, also an incredibly sweet, generous man. ... For some reason, it just felt like, 'No, him? He's supposed to be invincible.' Not only that, he changed comedy; he made it something new. There was no one like him. ...There's such a hole in the world where he was. I think people are really going to be grieving this one for a long time."

Through his Nerdist podcast, Mr. Hardwick has had the chance to sit down with some of the entertainment industry's marquee players. He rattles off Tom Cruise, Jeff Bridges, Joan Rivers and an "amazing conversation about comedy" with Mel Brooks. He lured Tom Hanks with the gift of a vintage typewriter, knowing the Oscar winner is a collector.

At this point, is there anyone still missing from his bucket list of guests?

"Oh, my God, of course! So many people. Let's start with Bill Murray. There's no shortage of people I would love to have on the podcast," he said.

To get ready for the Oddball audience at First Niagara Pavilion, The Nerdist has been trying out new material, including a New York comedy club when the 42-year-old Hardwick was fresh from feeling the love at Comic-Con in San Diego, where for 12 years he has hosted panels for the likes of Marvel blockbusters and "The Walking Dead" TV show.

As The Nerdist among nerds, he had dressed as "Back to the Future's" Marty McFly for a Hollywood Reporter photo shoot and was inspired to write some new jokes.

"I was doing the 11 o'clock show in New York at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. and I riffed this thing on 'Back to the Future,' and instantly it was apparent that the crowd was not getting it," he said. "Then I looked around, and I was like, 'Oh, my God, they are too young!' Here I was doing 'Back to the Future,' this thing that of course everyone would know. But, like, 20-year-old hipsters, it just wasn't on their radar! So it was, OK, not everyone knows what I know. But I will bring some 'Back to the Future' [routines] to the stage. I'm not giving up on them."


Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960. Twitter: SEberson_pg.

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