PLAYBOY: You majored in philosophy at UCLA. Were you just not interested in making money or having a career?
HARDWICK: Steve Martin, my comedy idol, was a philosophy major in college. He once said that philosophy is a great thing for comedians to study because it screws up your thinking just enough. If you’re going into stand-up, you’re hyper-analyzing the world and asking as many questions about a thing as you possibly can so you can figure out the ultimate nature of that thing. If you want to get into comedy, it’s really the only subject worth studying.
PLAYBOY: Your first big career break was as a co-host with Jenny McCarthy on the MTV dating show Singled Out. Which leads to the obvious question——
HARDWICK: No, I did not fuck Jenny McCarthy.
PLAYBOY: Actually, that’s not what we were going to ask, but thanks for clearing that up. We were wondering if hosting the show taught you any big life lessons about dating.
HARDWICK: For me, the lessons of Singled Out weren’t about dating. They were about fame. I learned that just being on MTV doesn’t make you famous. When I got the job, I was like, Oh man, I’m going to be on a private jet with fucking Kurt Cobain. We’ll be toasting martinis and getting blown by mermaids. And of course none of that happened. The show ended, and I became an out-of-work comic with a drinking problem.
PLAYBOY: Is it true that Jon Stewart mocked you into sobriety?
HARDWICK: In a way. I was in my apartment, watching The Daily Show, and McCarthy was a guest. Stewart made a joke about me. Somehow my name came up, and Stewart was like, “He gets our coffee now.” It devastated me. It was the first moment I took a long hard look at my life and my career. It made me realize, Oh my God, I’ve become that MTV stereotype I always worried about becoming. I was proud of Jenny, and I say that with no bitterness. There are only a handful of people who started their careers on MTV who managed to keep it going. There’s Jenny and Pauly Shore and maybe a few others. But it never happened for me. I became the washed-up drunk loser with floppy hair who used to be on a dating show.
PLAYBOY: How did you dig yourself out of that hole?
HARDWICK: When I look back, every time I felt something bleak was happening with my career, I would make some sort of survival-based choice, doing something I could control. I was very lazy about doing stand-up when I was hosting Singled Out. I was like, “Whatever, I have a job.” But when I had nothing, it was a lifeline. It made me feel I was finally taking control of my career. The same thing with the podcast. Every time I was rejected by the entertainment business, which was a lot, I’d be like, “Well, fuck you. I’m going to do my own thing.” Even if nothing happened with it, it was my thing and they couldn’t touch it. Of course, the business didn’t give a shit at the time, but I was still muttering under my breath like a crazy person.
PLAYBOY: You wrote a self-help book called The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (in Real Life). Are you better at giving advice or taking it?
HARDWICK: It’s so much easier to give advice than to take it. But I tend to trust any advice that comes from years of fuck-up research. When I was younger, my parents used to say, “Trust us on this. We have more experience than you.” And I was like, “Shut up, you don’t know anything!” But I was an idiot. They did know more stuff because they’d experienced more things. They’d fucked up more often than I had. There’s no better path to knowledge than fucking up.
PLAYBOY: You were part of a regular Dungeons & Dragons game with comedians Brian Posehn, Patton Oswalt and others. Why are comics drawn to fantasy role-playing games?
HARDWICK: I really don’t know. Maybe because D&D is the perfect mental exercise. It’s math and fantasy. It’s statistics and Lord of the Rings. It requires you to use your mind but also be social. Our game was amazing just because everyone involved was so goddamn funny. Patton had a drunken dwarf character called Stump Hammer. I was a lawful good wizard named Blaividane, sort of an anagram of David Blaine’s name. Brian had a ninja character who was obsessed with pickles. It was some of the best times I’ve ever had playing D&D. I really miss it.
PLAYBOY: You don’t play anymore?
HARDWICK: The bummer thing about a D&D game is that it’s like having a band. If one person can’t show up, then the whole thing falls apart. Our game ended because our dungeon master got a girlfriend, and she didn’t want him playing D&D on Sundays with a bunch of guys for five hours. We’d run into him later, and it was always awkward. It was like we were a dude and he was our ex-girlfriend.
PLAYBOY: You’re a regular at Comic-Con in San Diego. Are we correct in thinking it’s like Plato’s Retreat with Spock ears?
HARDWICK: There is an element of that, yeah. Hey, nerds made porn available on the internet—what else do you need to know? But that’s the vibe at comic book conventions in general. When I was growing up, nerds had this reputation for being virgins who lived in their parents’ basements. That’s certainly not the case now. I would say that nerds, as a rule, are much more sexually active than the average person. There’s a lot of anxiety and stress in the nerd brain, so sex is good for that.
PLAYBOY: You’re a Star Wars fanatic. Isn’t your girlfriend, Chloe Dykstra, part of Star Wars royalty?
HARDWICK: In a way, yeah. Her dad did the effects for Star Wars. He helped develop the technology for the lightsaber. The freaking lightsaber! I’m not saying that’s why I go out with her, but it’s definitely a big check in the “pro” box. A couple of months ago she brought me this gift bag, and she was like, “Yeah, I was just rifling around my dad’s garage.” It was an original Star Wars crew T-shirt, with a design I’d never seen before, and an original Star Trek: The Motion Picture crew shirt. It was the best gift I’ve ever gotten. I went on a tour of Skywalker Ranch a couple of years ago and saw the original everything—the original droids, the original concept art, the original lightsabers. I saw the original Yoda, and I’ll be honest, I wanted to spoon with him.
PLAYBOY: As a card-carrying nerd, this is probably the most important question you’ll ever be asked. If and when you have kids, how will you introduce them to the Star Wars movies? In what order?
HARDWICK: You’re not kidding about it being an important question. I talk about this a lot. It’s a big moral quandary. Do you want your kids to experience it like you experienced it, or do you go in the proper order? I’ve heard arguments on both sides. The problem with doing it in numerical order is that it ruins the Vader “You are my father” surprise. The most convincing case I’ve read was by this guy Rod Hilton, who came up with something called the Machete Order. He recommends showing them like this: A New Hope, then Empire, then Attack of the Clones, then Revenge of the Sith, then Return of the Jedi, completely leaving out Phantom Menace. His point is Phantom is unnecessary, and parts two and three play like a flashback. It makes sense, but I still don’t know. I saw Star Wars in the theater with my dad, so if I had a kid, I’d maybe want to show the movies to him or her in that order, just for the tradition of it. [pauses] I don’t know. This is too much pressure. It’s like asking where I want to be buried. Can I get back to you?