PLAYBOY: Your podcast, called Nerdist, gets 4 million downloads every month. Are podcasts the future of comedy or just something to do while you wait to get cast in a sitcom?
HARDWICK: I do podcasts for the same reasons I do stand-up comedy. I love it, and I don’t care if anybody else gets it. I don’t know if the podcast as a medium will ever have the cultural impact that TV and movies do. It may never be super-mainstream. For some people, you say podcasts and they’re like, “What the hell is that?” They don’t understand it’s like a radio show you can download. Mainstream culture is like your mom: It’s always a little late to catch on and gets easily confused by technology, but it means well.
PLAYBOY: What exactly is a nerdist? Is it just a fancy word for nerd?
HARDWICK: I think the Urban Dictionary defines nerdist as “an artful nerd.” That’s not bad. It’s on the safe side of pretentious. Nerdists, unlike nerds, tend to be creators as much as consumers. They’re creative consumers. They don’t just sit and watch passively. They’re crafty. They make shirts and posters and confectionery things.
PLAYBOY: Nerds have been around since the dawn of time. Why are they getting respect now?
HARDWICK: Because nerds make money. I hate to say it, but because of humanity’s capitalistic nature, money is important. And with money comes power. I think it’s also about accessibility. So many people of this current generation have grown up with technology and video games, it’s not nerdy to like that kind of stuff anymore. Nerd culture is ubiquitous.
PLAYBOY: Nerdist Industries is the name of your media empire of websites, podcasts and YouTube videos. In what ways are you similar to ruthless 19th century industrialist George Pullman?
HARDWICK: In every way. [laughs] I’ve always had a fondness for that satirical, Terry Gilliam–esque evil corporate megastructure, the kind of business that hangs banners that say making your life better as it throws kittens into the gears. I want Nerdist Industries to be like that. For a while we were using the slogan “Nerdist: Making Today the Yesterday of Tomorrow,” which is just stupid. It’s dumb doublespeak. But the whole idea of being an industry is about making fun of people’s confusion.
PLAYBOY: You were born in Kentucky and raised in Tennessee, but you don’t have even a trace of a Southern accent. Do you consider yourself a Southerner?
HARDWICK: I love the South. Although I grew up primarily in Memphis, my family moved around a ton when I was a kid. I guess I never stayed in one place long enough to pick up the accent, but I definitely identify as a Southerner. I fucking love grits, for one thing. I am a grits-eating motherfucker. I love all Southern cooking—collard greens, black-eyed peas, I’ll eat it all. Put me in the kitchen and you’ll see how Southern I can be.
PLAYBOY: Your father is a retired professional bowler. Were you ever pressured to go into the family business?
HARDWICK: Absolutely not. Both my parents recognized early on that I wanted to do something in comedy, and they were really supportive. They’re the ones who bought me Steve Martin records and let me watch R-rated comedies long before they probably should have. But I still spent a lot of time bowling as a kid, mostly because I grew up in bowling alleys. They were kind of my playgrounds. Not only was my dad a pro bowler, but my mother’s father and brother both owned their own bowling centers. I still bowl today, though I wouldn’t recommend doing it with me. I’m not fun to bowl with, believe me. I take it way too seriously.
PLAYBOY: How did you discover your nerd tendencies growing up in a bowling alley? It’s not a nerd-friendly environment.
HARDWICK: It can be. That’s where I got into arcade games. My grandfather, my mom’s dad, who was a really smart and wonderful man, was a technophile. He was the first guy to buy those big laser-disc players in 1979. He had the latest camcorders and stereo systems and Betamax players. He noticed early on that video games were a big deal, so he set up a massive arcade in his bowling center in Florida. I spent all my time there. When I wasn’t playing video games, my friends and I would play Dungeons & Dragons or chess at the bar. I had full access to all my nerd obsessions. I guess when I think about it, I was a spoiled piece of shit.
PLAYBOY: You’re not a fan of competitive athletic sports. As a spectator or a participant?
HARDWICK: Neither. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with sports; I just don’t give a shit. When I see dudes in sports bars shoving chicken wings in their faces, watching a game and saying, “That’s my team,” it mystifies me. I’m like, You’re sitting on your fat ass. What are you doing that makes you a contributing member of the organization? You’ve lifted nothing but drumsticks for the past three hours.
PLAYBOY: Have you considered joining a fantasy league? They have statistics and math, all the nerd staples.
HARDWICK: Yeah, that’s not a bad idea. I would have to look at it like a chess game, as a strategy. If I did that, I could probably find a way in. It would make my life a lot easier if I could find a way to appreciate sports. I mean, I’ve never watched an entire football game. It’s horrifying. So many dudes try to bond with me over sports. They’ll come up to me and say, “Hey, do you know the score of the game?” I won’t even know what to say. Game? What game? I can give you some quotes from the last Harry Potter movie. Does that help?