I could be unbelievably corny and opine that we’ve “Come A Long Way, Baby…” And regardless of how hackneyed a comment that would be, it’s the simple truth: Nerds and Geeks (use whatever term you like–the differences between them are a subject for another article) are at the vanguard of modern pop culture and entertainment: Scientists are celebrities, comic book heroes are movie stars, supermodels talk of their love for video games….This is the world Nerds built….
And this list celebrates some of it’s greatest architects.
Honored here are actors, comedians, filmmakers, physicists, TV personalities, and writers. All are card-carrying geeks, and all have contributed something unique to this wonderful Nerdiverse of ours. In the interest of communicating exactly what makes each of these personalities worthy of inclusion here, I have included a quotation from each of them (and links to their respective Facebook Pages in their names).
Anyhoo, let’s proceed with the list proper–starting at number ten with:
10. Chris Hardwick
I’d wager a number of you only know what the word “Podcast” means because of this stand-up comedian and former Singled Out co- host. His show The Nerdist is one of the most famous programs in the short history of online broadcasting, and was adapted into a televised talk show by the BBC.
Along with his awesome nerdity and ability to rock a Tenth Doctor costume, Hardwick is also known for hosting AMC’s The Talking Dead: A panel show for fans of The Walking Dead. Comedy Central has also built a late night talk show around him that should air this Fall, as well.
After finishing Singled Out, Hardwick fell into a quagmire of inactivity and alcoholism. In a sense, it was returning to his roots, and embracing the nerdiness that he sought to hide while on MTV that saved his life and his career:
Back when I was working at MTV (which oddly, at one time, aired short films set to popular music), people used to talk about an MTV curse-that you might not “hit it any bigger” after your time there. I always recoiled at the thought of this curse, and here I was taking active steps every fucking day to make it happen… I knew that I had two choices: I could continue living the way I was living and die pickled and unemployed, or make sweeping changes with the hope of salvaging my life.
9. George Takei
Decades of co-starring in Star Trek: TOS, and six Trek films as Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu should be sufficient nerd cred for anyone. But just when most actors would be sitting on their laurels and enjoying their retirement, Takei (that’s “ta-KAY”, not “ta-KYE”) re-invented himself as a celebrity starting by coming out as a homosexual, and guest starring repeatedly on The Howard Stern Show. He stole the show at the Comedy Central Roast of former co-star William Shatner, and has become known for his pro-gay AND pro-nerd YouTube monologues, and his work promoting awareness of Asian-American history (Takei was raised in the WWII Japanese internment camps).
Takei is also king of social media, posting some of the geekiest, funniest, and smartest material available on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.
John D.F. Black who wrote “Star Trek: The Naked Time (#1.4)” (1966) came to me and said he was thinking of having Sulu use a Samurai sword. I told him, “It certainly is ethnically appropriate because I am of Japanese ancestry but what about a rapier? I was born in this country and when I was a kid I didn’t play Samurai. I played Robin Hood.” He asked me if I know how to fence to which I replied, “of course.” That night I grabbed the phonebook and was furiously trying to find fencing schools so I could learn at least the basics.
8. Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith’s heyday as a filmmaker may have been back in the 1990s, when he was directing groundbreaking comedies like Clerks, Dogma, and Chasing Amy, but he deserves to be recognized as one of the pioneers of the “Nerd Boom”:
I mean really–before Clerks, could any of us even imagined a mainstream film where the characters take ten minutes of screen time to talk about Star Wars?
Smith is still every bit as active in the nerd community–Executive Producing AMC reality series Comic Book Men, filmed in a comic store owned by Smith himself. Like Chris Hardwick, he also runs a successful, and very nerdy podcast with partner Scott Mosier: SModcast–which runs off both its own site, AND Sirius XM satellite radio. Smith has also become known for his live Q&A sessions with fans, the first of which was released on DVD as An Evening With Kevin Smith in 2002.
It wasn’t the first comic I ever actually READ, but the first comic I remember slapping down hard-earned money for was a ‘Superman Family’ Annual in which the first story featured a married Lois and Superman waking up on a cloud. I remember being oddly aroused by the whole thing. I mean, the implication was that these two were fucking.
7. Aisha Tyler
These days, actress/stand-up comedienne Aisha Tyler can most often be found on the CW network as the new and infinitely more charming host of improv series Whose Line Is It Anyway?
But long before that, she was one of the early founders of the unofficial “gamer girls” movement. Tyler could model for MAXIM magazine, and give n00bs pointers on Halo with equally superlative skill.
Besides gaming and TV hosting, Tyler is best known for her voice-acting work as Lana Kane in the animated series Archer (she also got a voice role in her beloved Halo game franchise).
People challenge my nerd cred all the time. I just show them the photo of me winning my middle-school science fair, wearing my Casio calculator watch and eyeglasses so big they look like they can see the future.
Even if you know nothing and care even less about astrophysics and astrophysicists, there’s a good chance you’ve at least heard of Dr. Tyson.
He’s the dude primarily responsible for making Pluto no longer a planet (It’s now the first of a new category of celestial objects known as “plutoids”)
Other than that, you might know him as the host of PBS science series NOVA. Dr. Tyson is professor of Astrophysics at Princeton University, and the first African American director of the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium in New York City.
He’s also (I swear I’m not making this up) the prophet of a secular religion built around him on Facebook.
What are the lessons to be learned from this journey of the mind “through the universe”? That humans are emotionally fragile, perennially gullible, hopelessly ignorant masters of an insignificantly small speck in the cosmos. Have a nice day.
Writer/Comedian/TV Personality Stephen Colbert is best known for his satirical performance as an over-the-top conservative pundit in the vein of Bill O’reilly or Glenn Beck on The Colbert Report…but fans of the show know him just as well for his unabashed nerdiness. His love for Star Wars and Lord Of The Rings is particularly pronounced, and he can best the geekiest among us in esoteric knowledge of such subjects…
For the love of Crom! The man was called the “biggest Tolkien fan I’ve ever met” by Peter Jackson himself!
But here’s a little recollection of pre-fame geekiness:
I used to write things for friends. There was this girl I had a crush on, and she had a teacher she didn’t like at school. I had a real crush on her, so almost every day I would write her a little short story where she would kill him in a different way.
Patton Oswalt has been able to parlay his experiences as a hard-core nerd into a successful stand-up comedy career, the way other comics have worked off being Jewish, Catholic, or Southern (for example). Oswalt has also appeared in movies like Blade: Trinity, tv shows like Parks and Recreation, done voice acting for the animated feature Ratatouille and the new Axe Cop series, and starred in the Adult Swim live action series The Heart, She Holler.
Like fellow honoree George Takei, Oswalt also participated in the Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner. He got one of the biggest laughs of the night when he handed Shatner a paper bag and asked him to act his way out of it.
Based on my own experience, when you’re going through adolescence you don’t know how the world works. You can’t set a story in the world you live in because you don’t know what a utility bill is, or how to budget your paycheck. So you either set it in a zombie apocalypse, a wasteland or a spaceship. I think which one you choose decides the adult you become.
3. Felicia Day
It might be tired or cliched at this point to refer to Felicia Day as the “Queen of Geek Girls”–but it was not for nothing that she’s been referred to thusly. Few actors have more nerdy titles on their resumes: From Supernatural to Eureka to Dollhouse, to online projects like The Legend of Neil, Joss Whedon’s magnificent Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog, and her own creation–The Guild. Day has kept herself at the forefront of Nerd Culture since her big break as Vi on Buffy The Vampire Slayer ten years ago–and she shows no sign of slowing down or “selling out”.
Mainstream is nothing anymore. What is mainstream? Mainstream is whatever you’re interested in. Everybody can name five things they’re interested in. Being able to open doors for other creators to create projects that aren’t considered mainstream is really important to me.
2. Simon Pegg
The third installment of what’s been unofficially termed the “Cornetto Trilogy” (due to the presence in all 3 films of a British ice cream novelty similar to what we’d call a “Drumstick” in the States) was just released last night: The World’s End. Like its predecessors, Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, this film was directed by Edgar Wright and stars Nick Frost and Simon Pegg.
Few actors have worn their nerdiness on their sleeves the way Pegg has. Shaun of the Dead–the film he co-wrote with Wright that put him on the radar in the U.S. is a cult hit primarily because of the attention to detail and unabashed love for the genre it displayed.
Pegg also got the chance to live out a childhood dream when he got to cameo as a villain in the first season of Doctor Who.…and his later casting as a young Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot was nothing short of inspired (whatever you may think of the films).
Every person should have their escape route planned. I think everyone has an apocalypse fantasy, what would I do in the event of the end of the world, and we just basically – me and Nick (Frost)- said what would we do, where would we head?
1. Wil Wheaton
Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, young Star Trek: The Next Generation fans like me just absolutely LOVED to hate Wil Wheaton in the role of miserably precocious 24th century wunderkind Wesley Crusher. Sure, it wasn’t Wheaton’s fault Wesley was written as such a smarmy little knowitall prick, but we blamed him regardless.
Then something interesting happened. ST:TNG ended, and Wheaton–who’d been acting in film and television since he was about six–left the entertainment industry entirely. He went to school, got a day job, and for several years lived quietly and unobtrusively as a normal civilian (Fun fact: During this period, he was fellow honoree Chris Hardwick’s roommate for a time)
He’s resurfaced in the past few years–older, more seasoned, and sporting a wicked-awesome beard (not quite a beard of “Rikerian” proportions, but close!)–and he’s re-invented himself as a budding filmmaker, occasional actor, and expert on all things Geek
I picked a doozy of a quote for my pick for #1 most influential nerd–and despite its length I SERIOUSLY advise you to read it. Wheaton was recorded saying this at this year’s CalgaryCon to a mother who asked him to explain what it means to be a nerd to her newborn daughter:
My name is Wil Wheaton. It’s 2013. And you’ve just recently joined us on planet Earth. So welcome. I’m an actor. I’m a writer. And I’m a Dad. Your mother asked me to tell you why it’s awesome to be a nerd. That’s an easy thing for me to do because I am a nerd.
I don’t know what the world is going to be like by the time you understand this. I don’t what it’s going to mean to be a nerd when you are a young women. For me, when I was growing up, being a nerd meant that I liked things that were a little weird. That took a lot of effort to appreciate and understand. It meant that I loved science, and that I loved playing board games, and reading books, and really understanding what went on in the world instead of just riding the planet through space.
When I was a little boy, people really teased us about that, and made us feel like there was something wrong with us for loving those things. Now that I’m an adult, I’m kind of a professional nerd, and the world has changed a lot. I think a lot of us have realized that being a nerd … it’s not about what you love. It’s about how you love it.
So, there’s going to be a thing in your life that you love. I don’t know what that’s going to be … and it doesn’t matter what it is. The way you love that, and the way that you find other people who love it the way you do is what makes you a nerd. The defining characteristic of [being a nerd] is that we love things. Some of us love Firefly and some of us love Game of Thrones, or Star Trek, or Star Wars, or anime, or games, or fantasy, or science fiction. Some of us love completely different things. But we all love those things SO much that we travel for thousands of miles … we come from all over the world, so that we can be around people who love the things the way that we love them.
That’s why being a nerd is awesome. And don’t let anyone tell you that that thing that you love is a thing that you can’t love. Don’t anyone ever tell you that you can’t love that, that’s for boys … you find the things that you love, and you love them the most that you can.
And listen: This is really important. I want you to be honest, honorable, kind. I want you to work hard. Because everything worth doing is hard. And I want you to be awesome, and I will do my very best to leave you a planet that you can still live on.