The past couple of years have seen an explosion in podcasting. Hell, there’s even a TV Rev podcast! The US has lead the way for this re-invention of radio and spoken word entertainment, and US comedians in particular have forged a solid mini-ecosystem of podcasts. I’m a big US comedy podcast fan. My train trips to work are marked by trying not to laugh out loud at one of Paul F Tompkins’s characters, or Marc Maron’s self-diagnoses, or Doug Benson trying to get his guests and audience to behave during the “Leonard Maltin Game” (I realise many people won’t know what I’m talking about – Google those names, you wont regret it!) But the podcast that started it all for me, the one that got me hooked, was Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist podcast.
Chris Hardwick is fairly unknown outside the US and international comedy festival circuits. Older than he looks (he’s 40 but has that boyish Michael J Fox thing going on), his career began in early 90s radio and hosting bad MTV dating shows. He is very open about his former alcoholism, and spent the late 90s and early 2000s battling it while doing stand up. He got sober in 2003, and since then has steadily grown into himself as a performer. He’s admitted that he was relieved to realise he could talk about the things he’d always loved – science, comics, dungeons and dragons, you know, nerdy stuff – and still be funny.
His timing was perfect. The last 10 years has seen, whether earnestly or not, a swing in contemporary tastes to what was once embarrassing to like: Comic books, science fiction, consumer tech, thick framed glasses, video games, high waisted pants, playing chess and reading old books. Hardwick’s “Nerdist” brand has both promoted the return to geek chic and benefitted from it.
But not only is the content on-trend. Hardwick has cannily kept at the forefront of media technology trends. Makes sense, considering he’s a nerd. It started with a blog, Nerdist.com, and shortly after he and his friends Matt Mira (an off-the-street nerd who met Hardwick while working in an Apple store) and comedian Jonah Ray, started the Nerdist podcast. It was one of the first real big-time podcast hits, and is regularly in the iTunes top ten lists.
Nerdist Industries now has other podcasts under its umbrella, as well as the usual social media tentacles. He released a life-help book last year, The Nerdist Way, and now he’s started producing internet-specific content on a dedicated and expansive Nerdist YouTube Channel.
The channel is ambitious: There are plans for too many series for me to mention, but they range across all dominions of nerdiness. The channel launched on April 2 and immediately capitalised on Hardwick’s many contacts in the comedy and geek world. Comedy song legend Weird Al Yankovic and Aint It Cool’s Harry Knowles, two of the internet’s most recognisable characters, have their own shows. Hardwick has a celebrity charity bowling show, for which he will no doubt call in favours.
Hardwick has obviously worked long and hard on this venture. Getting YouTube to support it with such vigour – solidifying the platform and its owner Google squarely in the ‘production’ part of the cycle (another example of online business challenging traditional media business and production models) – and lining up the content is no small feat.
The question now: Is it any good? Has all the hard work been worth it? Unfortunately, early signs are not overly promising. Weird Al’s parody interview show is lackluster, and Harry Knowles, while I’ll always have time to listen to his geek ramblings, is not a great on-air talent.
But it IS very early, and the suite of content Hardwick has promised has only just started. I hope, for his sake, the channel takes off. Whilst I’ve moved on to other podcasts as my regular ‘must listen’ each week, I’ll always have a soft spot for Hardwick; his earnestness and obvious passion for using technology HIS way to create the content HE wants to is admirable. Hopefully more high-profile creatives will follow his and his contemporaries’ lead.
For more on Nerdist: http://nerdist.com/
The channel: http://www.youtube.com/nerdist