THE NERDIST: Jumping Into the Wacky, Wondrous World of Chris Hardwick (2013)

"The Nerdist"
“The Nerdist”

As if he were not already king of nerds on television, comedian Chris Hardwick launches his latest talk show THE NERDIST on BBC America on Saturday, March 30th.  Having established his prowess in the field with his wildly successful television series THE TALKING DEAD, which follows new episodes of AMC’s series THE WALKING DEAD, Chris melds that synergy with his new series THE NERDIST.  Long time Whovians already know of Chris’ passionate love affair with the sci-fi series DOCTOR WHO, and capitalizing and using his love for DOCTOR WHO served as a launch pad for his original podcasts for The Nerdist; and as a result, for diehards, Chris has already been a long-time fixture in the Who-verse.  In a recent press conference call Chris talked about his new television series THE NERDIST and how it will differ from his former podcast and yet retain its heart and soul in the new format.

Is the new show going to follow THE NERDIST specials that you’ve done on BBC America? Will it follow that format?
CHRIS: No, it will be different actually. I mean, this is not going to be a satisfying answer, it’s similar but different. When we first started the show, I had sort of pitched it as a turbo-version of the podcast.  So the first episode of the BBC America show that we shot — my idea wa, “Let’s go in. Let’s record a podcast in front of an audience with a nice set, and then we’ll just chop down the 45 minutes or 50 minutes or whatever and cut it up for television,” and quickly realized that it didn’t work that way. Television really has to have some structure and the podcast is essentially structure-less. It’s basically a phone conversation. I mean we’re not on the phone, but it works like a phone conversation or like meeting someone for coffee to talk about what you’re interested and what you want to learn more about.  So it evolved pretty quickly throughout the specials, but we never really caught any momentum because we were doing them at little bits at a time. But with this, since we have ten episodes all at once, we blew out the set, and kind of borrowed a little bit more.  We kind of moved away from the Chelsea roundtable stuff and made it a little more Graham Norton-y in the sense that the set’s more casual and there are sketches and games on the show and it’s really kind of like a big hangout. And the last act of every show is standup because I really feel like there’s not enough standup comedy on television and I know a lot of really funny people. So last act of the show is just basically us saying goodbye, but the second to last act of the show is a standup performance.  And we got amazing comics that I love like Maria Bamford and Ron Funches and Paul F. Tompkins and Natasha Leggero and Matt Kirshen, just some really great people which are complementing the guests.  W e aimed really high with the guests this season, and like why not?  I have the same bookers, Ashley and Debbi who book everything NERDIST related. They book the podcast, they book the channel, they book TALKING DEAD, they book our TV show. They both worked at Conan [O’Brien] for years so we’ve just gotten to a really good rhythm with guest booking and they’re so amazing.  And we got most of the people that we shot out for. So like Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zach Galifianakis and Buzz Aldrin and Katie Sakhoff, Gillian Jacobs, Elijah Wood — it’s just been an insane lineup.  I would put the guest line up against any network late night talk show.  It’s really just a hangout chat. I don’t think it feels like an interrogation with the guests. I think it kind of has the soul of the podcast but structured a little more like television. So, in the end, I think we ended up with a nice, fun, relaxed Saturday night show.

Sounds pretty exciting. How are you managing to get all this stuff done? Sounds like you’re pretty busy.
CHRIS:  I’m pretty good with time management. I’m a pretty good calendar guy. I do have an assistant now and that’s helped a lot because of all the different things that I have to juggle but even before I had Monica,  I’m a color-coded calendar guy.  I’m a child of time management systems and I read GTD and  everything’s very modular.  I know TALKING DEAD works on Sundays, BBC AMERICA works on Saturdays, the podcasts record during the week, script meetings happen during the week, stand up’s at night. Like don’t get me wrong, it’s a seven-day work week but it’s all fun stuff. And everything is very modular in that way.  My schedule — just imagine a Tetris board — that’s sort my schedule is like. It all just kind of fits together in the right way.

So is the talk show kind of like an evolution step from the podcasts that you’ve done?
CHRIS:  Definitely. It definitely is. I mean with the podcast we  usually have one guest on at a time, and so with this format it allows us to go one step further, have a couple of different people that you might want to see interacting.  Then a lot of times watching people kind of nerd out over each other, like watching people who have maybe worked near each other or kind of never gotten to hang out or meet but then kind of come together and talk on the show.  Elijah Wood was great on the show and Ben Schwartz, they all kind of hit it off. So it’s almost like a celebrity dating service, but without the dating part.

How has it been going from a 30-minute format to 1-hour?
CHRIS:  It’s been so much better for us. A half-hour format, it was I suppose 21-22 minutes.  And when you have to show clips and you have to give poll results and — as you remember, people would get upset with me on Twitter and they’d go, “You’re interrupting the guests.” I’m like, “I have a producer in my ear.” We only have four minutes per segment and we still have to show clips and stuff.  So it was such a relaxed transition and now you can actually delve into deeper issues and have conversations and I said let’s not just double the length of the show, let’s really make it about the fans. We have more fan questions. I moderate a lot of Comic Con panels at cons all over the country and so let’s put a microphone in the audience and let the studio audience ask questions. So it’s been really fun and the show just feels like it fits so much better now for me anyway.

Any interesting surprises coming up for the finale of the season this year?
CHRIS:  We’re going to have Norman Reedus and Yvette Nicole Brown on and then Greg Nicotero, and they’re bringing in a mystery guest, a celebrity that I don’t know who it is. And a lot of the staff doesn’t know who it is. And Nicotero is going to make them up as a zombie and then we’re going to try to figure out who it is.  It is pretty cool because the picture of the walker in the background of the set is Nicotero but you wouldn’t know how many more months before Season 4.

Do you think the split-season actually works for the show?
CHRIS:  I kind of like it because you get eight episodes. I mean a lot of shows are doing that now. Like DOCTOR WHO does that. THE WALKING DEAD does that — the impatient fan part of me would love to just glut them all at once, but there’s something really fun and really nice about having to wait, spreading it out a bit, looking forward to it over the holidays. Like we have Fall WALKING DEAD, Fall DOCTOR WHO, and Spring WALKING DEAD, and Spring DOCTOR WHO. I think it’s kind of nice.

Could you see taking THE NERDIST show format and expanding it to a nightly late night talk show at some point? I mean is that a goal?
CHRIS:  Well, I mean I would love to. I had done a pilot for Comedy Central last year that was for a late night strip show and I don’t know what’s going to happen with it or whatever.  But I do know that I would love to.  Working on ATTACK OF THE SHOW on G4 was such a fun, great show.  And I would love to do a version of that kind of show late night. It’s just kind of the right culling of information and a good, kind of a late night show to glide people into their beds at night. I would love to do a version of this show as a strip show.  I don’t know. I think we’d probably have to do some tweaks to NERDIST now and make it a little more day-in-day information. The shows now are somewhat evergreen, but I mean as a weekly show.  But that’s something that I would love to do. I mean I’d be lying if I were to say I didn’t always want to host a late night talk show.

To give you a hard choice here, if you had to say which past Doctor would you put along Matt Smith for the 50th anniversary special?
CHRIS:  Just one?  Well, I mean I would love to see Matt and Tennant together. I think I would love to see their energies together. I don’t know if that’s going to happen.  I emailed Tenant months ago and I was like, “Okay, look, if you’re doing anything for the 50th? Just tell me, I won’t tell anyone.” He was like, “I haven’t heard anything.”  So I don’t know what’s going to happen but I would love to cram as many in there as possible, throw Peter Davidson in there and Tom Baker.  Even throw Paul McGann in there.

It’s Kickstarter mayhem right now. Is there any show you’d personally want to see resurrected via Kickstarter? And also should we rule out a SINGLED OUT Kickstarter campaign or is that a possibility?
CHRIS:  I think the Kickstarter campaign for SINGLED OUT would be, like, $1,000, not an expensive show to produce. Let’s see, what show would I want to kickstart? Well, I would have said ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT but Netflix got it. There’s a really fun show in the 80’s that I loved called MISFITS OF SCIENCE but I don’t know if they’d be able to raise enough money to make that show again and no one else remembers. Oh no, Leslie Nielsen isn’t alive any more. I would have said POLICE SQUAD.  on #21653410 Page 12

I’m still floored that John Barrowman’s not doing the 50th anniversary.
CHRIS:  He’s not? I hadn’t read that yet.

He tweeted it the other day that he’s not going to be involved in it.
CHRIS:  That’s terrible.

My question is there a guest that who is one person you haven’t gotten yet that you really, really want on your show?
CHRIS:  Bill Murray.  I think I’d rather have him on the podcast because you can go deeper into. I mean why would you have to ask why Bill Murray? He’s Bill Murray.  Bill Murray is responsible for many of the things that influenced me when I was a kid, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, “Ghostbusters,” “Caddyshack,” “Meatballs,” “Groundhog Day,” “What About Bob.” I mean he’s a comic and improv genius and he’s Bill Murray.  Like, he’s the guy. He’s the guy if I could sit down and just crawl inside their brain and dig around a bit I would say Bill Murray. Steve Martin was probably my biggest standup influence ever, but I know Steve is pretty shy and I don’t know if he would love the concept of sitting down on the podcast.  But Bill Murray I think if you caught him on the right day he would probably totally open up and be amazing.

Who do you think Clara Oswald is?
CHRIS:  I don’t know. You know, a lot of times with DOCTOR WHO my money usually goes on fixed point in time, but I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe she could be a key to something or she could be some type of an extension of The Doctor’s personality. I don’t know who she is. I honestly don’t know who she is, but we had Jenna-Louise Coleman on the TV show and the podcast and she is 100% delightful.  Honestly, everyone that I’ve ever interacted with from DOCTOR WHO has been amazing. Like Matt’s incredible and Tennant’s super cool and Jenna Louise- Coleman’s great and Karen Gillan is amazing and Arthur Darvill’s fantastic and Barrowman’s incredible.  Like, they’re all so cool. I mean genuinely. I can tell, even though it may seem like I’m biased, I’m telling you from an unbiased point of view that they’re all so cool and nice that it just makes me love the show even more.

With comics and DOCTOR WHO becoming such a prevalent force in pop culture right now what are some areas of nerd culture you hope to spotlight with your new show?
CHRIS:  Let’s see, spotlighting different areas of nerd culture. We’ve kind of been doing that all along, but it’s not like they’re unpopular within the nerd culture areas. I mean in the previous episodes we talked about gaming and comics and geek girls and — I mean I was such an RPG guy growing up that I would love to see more like D&D kind of stuff, you know.  I would love to see more Dungeons and Dragons. I used to play in a group with a bunch of comedians.  This was, like, ten years ago. It was sort of before nerd culture kind of got to a place where it was a large swath of pop culture.  And so we would play these games and honestly laugh so hard playing because they were so much fun. And at the time I said, you know, we all should be doing this as a show, why isn’t there D&D?  And then we all kind of realized that at that time there was just no place in the entertainment business for nerd culture because they considered it too niche. But that’s changed now. So, yes, I mean I would love to see more, like, D&D, RPG kind of stuff pop up.  My friend Will Wheaton does a pretty great show on the Geek channel called Tabletop and they play tabletop games and I went on and played this game called Dragon H with them. And that was really cool.  So when people talk about gaming they usually mean video gaming but, like tabletop games, it’s kind of funny that we had to sort of reverse engineer gaming with the word tabletop to me and not video games. But I think that could be an area that could have a little more spotlight thrown on it.

As a D&D fan what did you think of COMMUNITY’s D&D episode?
CHRIS: First of all, I think COMMUNITY is the Nerdiest show on television and I mean that in the best way possible. The fact that that show took on D&D was remarkable.  I’m so grateful that it’s there. And I hope the show hangs in there. I really hope it hangs in there.

What your thoughts on Andrea’s character development from Season 1 to now on THE WALKING DEAD?
CHRIS:  I like Andrea too and I don’t know why she gets shit. She’s a strong character. If you read the comics at all, I still feel like Andrea has — she becomes a pretty valuable soldier in the group. And I feel like she’s just on the edge of that now and then she will evolve in to that sharp shooting, super cool soldier. And I really like her character. I think she’s evolved.  I think she was one of the last characters to really [evolve].  Probably because of Dale’s influence, that gave hope in the group and think that there was a way to broker peace between Woodbury and the prison. I think it’s unfair that people give her shit because she’s one of the sexually active characters in the show.  And I’m sort of irritated with the fact like if Daryl had sex with a couple of girls people would be high-fiving each other, you know. I think Andrea’s a really good character and I think she’s a strong character.

Have you seen anything of ORPHAN BLACK and if you had what your impressions are?
CHRIS:  I’ve just seen the first episode and I think it’s a really awesome. I mean, it’s a good clone show. There’s not a good clone show on television right now and I can imagine for Tatiana it’s got to be exhausting, but super fun. I mean it’s hard enough to shoot like a single camera show that’s kind of like an action show. But when you have to play different versions of yourself, that’s quite a challenge.  But I think it’s a super cool idea for a show and now I’m kind of wrapped up in the mystery of it because I don’t know anything about how the show unfolds. So I just think it’s a good Saturday night, what BBC America is calling Supernatural Saturday, is a good chunk. You’ve got DOCTOR WHO which is a show you already know and then you have a new show that has this kind of this dark mystery to it that you get to unravel along the way.  And then our show is sort of the fun refreshing splash of cold water that’s sort of light and silly and goof around. I really think it’s a good mash up of shows on Saturday night.

"The Nerdist"
“The Nerdist”

Speaking of DOCTOR WHO, I know that Matt Smith is on the show but not necessarily on the set in the way it looks there.
CHRIS:  Yes, we built basically like a robot Matt Smith.  Basically a satellite interview with Matt, we built a Matt Smith mannequin body and then put this video monitor head on it, which (1) I thought was appropriate for The Doctor that feels like something that could have been – it’s almost like “The Silence in the Library,” but it’s sort of a cool. I just thought it was a really cool way to do that rather than just have him on a monitor because obviously he’s in England and that makes it very difficult to get the Brits on the show when they are on the opposite time zone. So I came in at like, 6 o’clock in the morning one morning and we did this interview but it was pretty cool. It worked out.

Have you pre-recorded your NERDIST season for BBC America or is this something that you’re actually going to kind of do semi-live each week?
CHRIS:  No, it’s pre-recorded. The BBC America show shoots on Saturdays and TALKING DEAD shoots on Sundays. So I’ve basically been working weekends for the past month or so. And we gang shot a bunch of the episodes at once and then we’ll parse them out throughout the season.  So our first episode is because BBC AMERICA brought us back and we’re kind of celebrating Supernatural Saturday and our first episode is a tribute, sort of like our love letter to the BBC.  So it’s all BBC America people on the show. Matt Smith does the thing that we do with him and Tatiana from ORPHAN BLACK and Dominic Monaghan, and we shot some stuff in England that we’re going to roll.  The first episode is basically BBC-themed and then the next nine episodes after that some of them are themed but some of them not themed. We don’t always need to find reasons to just mash up cool people together that we love.

What was the most surprising thing that you found out about one of your guests? Or who did you think was really nerdy that you didn’t think would be?
CHRIS:  I suspected he was nerdy but Elijah Wood is such a horror nerd. Like we talked so much horror movie stuff at the commercial break then I tried to bring some of it back up when we came back on the show but we didn’t have as much time. But he is just a hardcore horror guy and  we had such a great talk about that and “Evil Dead,” and horror in general. So it was kind of a cool. That part was really fun.  Like, the conversations that happen in the commercials, like when we’re stopped down before we come back, I wish we just recorded them as well because we don’t just sit there and stare at the floor. We really do talk about this stuff.

Is there any way we’ll be able to see outtakes on a DVD compilation of your show?
CHRIS:  I think what we’ll probably end up doing is taking clips that we couldn’t fit into the show and putting some clips on the BBC America YouTube channel, putting some clips on THE NERDIST. Just throwing them out in social media.

If you were transported to a horrific world where you could watch just one of two shows, DOCTOR WHO or THE WALKING DEAD, which would you choose and why?
CHRIS:  Damn it, how could you do that to me? How could you do that to me? That’s impossible. I mean, listen, why would you do that? No, it’s a fair question. It’s a fair question.  The only difference between the two shows is that there are, not literally 50 years, but there are many, many seasons of DOCTOR WHO so I guess just for having more content to watch over a period of time — I don’t know. But then, see, if I take THE WALKING DEAD and I’m only allowed one thing then it reminds me that I’ve been in some kind of apocalypse basically watching a drama about the apocalypse.  I don’t know. But then I feel like if the Tardis just popped up in Atlanta then the Doctor might find the source of the zombie-ism and cure all the walkers somehow.  It’s probably some sort of an alien-virus that he could change the frequency with a sonic screwdriver and manipulate it and then cure everyone. You asked me an impossible question. In other words,  impossible to choose.  How could you Sophie’s choice me like that? How could you? I know, all right. You bastards. (Laughs)

To see the irrepressible Chris Hardwick as he champions the nerd-verse and all the phenomenal TV shows, films, comedians and personalities it draws within its net, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of THE NERDIST starting Saturday, March 30th at 10:00 p.m on BBC America.

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