Chris Hardwick on the Cowardice of Internet Commenters & His Brand of ‘Academic Filth’

Chris Hardwick performs stand-up in Mandroid

If you think you haven’t encountered comedian Chris Hardwick yet, you’re probably wrong. Between hosting Talking Dead (the Walking Dead talk show on AMC), doing the Nerdist podcast, MC-ing every awesome Comic-Con panel ever, performing stand-up, providing voices for cartoons like The Legend of Korra, and keeping up a formidable web presence, the man is everywhere. He’s basically King Nerd and he truly does it all.

Hardwick’s latest venture is his own comedy special, Mandroid, the DVD of which hits stores Jan. 22. When we chatted with Hardwick about the special, our discussion of all things nerd and all things Internet eventually led to hard-hitting truth: the Internet is a mean, mean place. Between stand-up and hosting gigs like Talking Dead, what stretches you further?

Hardwick: Stand-up is probably the most work, but that doesn’t mean that it’s harder. It’s also really fun. I’ve managed to build this career being next to or working with stuff that I love, that I’m a huge fan of. None of it’s really hard. The YouTube channel is actually challenging in a really fun way, because it forces you to sort of think about, “What kind of stuff would I want to see as a viewer and how can I express that?” Because there’s a lot of moving parts when you’re making a video and there’s a lot of ways you could screw it up, so I think that could be the most challenging. But again, that doesn’t mean it isn’t the most fun.

Some people have brought up that you don’t look like a nerd. Have you heard that? And what is your response to that accusation?

There is a small part of me that is, not aggressively offended by that, but a little offended by that because well, what is a nerd supposed to look like? I don’t know what to say, I am who I am and I know what I’ve liked my whole life and what I’ve been into. And particularly now, I think [with] the idea of what it means to be a nerd, there’s not as much of a superficial or aesthetic definition as there was when I was growing up, because so much of the things that are considered nerd culture have seamlessly woven into society. And so you have a whole generation of young people who, you know, there’s a lot of them who like nerdy stuff and they don’t look [a certain way]. Some of them play a ton of sports, but they still love video games or comic books. So it’s not really as compartmentalized as it was when I was growing up, so I never really know how to answer that question. It’s like “Where are your glasses?” … I know that there is kind of an archetype for what people think of as “nerd,” but I think it’s a little less true now than it used to be. So I never know how to answer that, I’m always like, “I like what I like.”

I liked your bit in Mandroid about John Mayer, because your approach is a bit different considering everyone loves to make fun of him. Have you ever encountered him after making that joke?

I’ve always felt a bit bad about it, just because I’m so involved online with stuff and interacting with people. People make assumptions about me, or if I say something they don’t like they’ll say something rude or assume something about you that’s not true. The Internet’s full of people that have it figured out and they’re going to tell you exactly how something is, even if they have no information. So, I’m really sensitive about talking about people because I know what it feels like and I don’t know John Mayer at all, but I hope that if he became aware of it that he knew that it was not me really trying take a shot at him. It’s just me screwing around and playing around. It’s not meant to be a serious, critical commentary on John Mayer. He was just sort of the guy I used to illustrate the point about how we say stuff on social media and we feel like we’re in this bubble and it’s like, no no. Everyone can see that, but it’s like how people on Facebook get arrested for something and the day before, they made a video about how they did the thing that they got arrested for. It’s like, you’re not in your room. You put that out in the public and we forget that, with Internet culture, everyone can see it. So I guess that was sort of the point of that.

Some comedians have talked about “wasting” their jokes on Twitter, but you’re pretty active on there. What’s your take on that notion?

I don’t know if there’s anything to wasting jokes that you’re putting out into the world; I don’t know if I necessarily agree with that. First of all, the way I do stand-up and the way I do Twitter are totally different. I’ve never been able to make a Twitter joke work onstage. So the stuff that works well on Twitter, because I just don’t do stand-up in short jokes that way, so the mechanisms are just different. I think if comedians aren’t on Twitter, or performers in general, I’m guessing it has more to do with the fact that as performers we’re all very sensitive. We’re very sensitive. And so, there’s a certain amount of thickness of skin that you have to have [in order] to deal with the Internet. Because, you know, a lot of people are very nice. But a lot of people, because they can talk anonymously, say really horrible things, and even as much as you understand how the Internet works, it’s hard not to take it a little personally. Especially from my generation of people; I did not grow up being able to go on the Internet. It was not until I was like 20 or 21 that I was able to go online. So I think a certain amount of people take comments they read on the Internet the same way you would take it if someone walked up to you in a bar and said something horrible to your face. The truth of the matter is those people who write comments online would never do that. They operate from the safety of anonymity. And so, I would say it’s a much more cowardly way to take a shot at someone because there are no consequences. You don’t have to be held responsible for it. So I think some performers don’t like exposing themselves in that way, and sometimes it’s hard not to get wrapped up in it. As performers, we are sensitive beings and we let the egos get the better of us. It’s certainly not the best way to be, but that’s just how it is.

It’s definitely tough out there. You get your fair share as a writer too.

Of course! You write a column and 20 people in the thread say, “Hey, great column,” and two people are like, “Here’s why your article is dumb.” It’s hard not be like, “Whoa, hey! Take it easy!” It just gets under your skin a little bit because you feel like your being is being called into question.

Is there a bit you worked into Mandroid that you’re most proud of?

I don’t know if I would use that word, like, “I’m so proud of my writing.” But I was pretty excited by the fact that I was able to turn a Harry Potter joke into a commentary on losing your virginity. That was fun for me, it was just a Platform 9 and ¾ joke that really [worked]. Fortunately or unfortunately, I’m always kind of tickled by nerdy or academic filth. In this case, it was certainly more on the nerdy side, but if it hadn’t been about Harry Potter, I love a good (I don’t know if you can print this) but I love a good sciency d**k joke if that makes any sense. (Laughs) Something that satisfies the nerdy side of my brain and the 15-year-old side of my brain. I feel like that’s something that I was able to do with this joke about the Harry Potter universe, so I don’t know if that means that I’m proud of it, but it happened.

Mandroid is now available on DVD and the Talking Dead returns Feb. 10 at 10 PM ET.

Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler

[Photo Credit: Comedy Central]


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