As the self-proclaimed “Nerdist” and a conossieur of all things even tangentially related to Internet and pop culture, Chris Hardwick is in many ways the perfect person to host Sunday’s Streamy Awards, honoring the finest in online content.
It also doesn’t hurt that Hardwick deserves an award himself for arguably becoming, however much under the radar, the finest celebrity interviewer around, thanks to his Nerdist podcast.
“When I was a kid, I was obsessed with comedy and I was obsessed with ‘The Tonight Show,’” Hardwick said. “When I got older, I loved ‘The Dick Cavett Show.’ I loved (that) a really good, funny conversation was an interview.
“I didn’t really set out to try to do anything like that. I wanted to have my own thing that no one else could tell me what to do with, that would help me get my comedy voice out there a little bit more but also (show) sides of people that you don’t always see. It’s like the first phone conversation you have with someone you’re really interested in.”
If there’s any irony to Hardwick’s Streamy connection, it’s that while many of the Streamy contenders are quick in a short-attention span world to get to the point, Hardwick’s podcast (on which he is often joined by comic co-hosts Jonah Ray and Matt Mira) is leisurely to a fault — usually going at least an hour. The beauty of the podcast is that there’s no real agenda to it — Hardwick doesn’t even prepare questions — so that it can go to unexpected places, even for subjects that have been grilled ad nauseam.
“It just sort of goes where it naturally goes,” said Hardwick. “Sometimes that’s more serious and somber, other times it’s weiner jokes.
“I like listening to people talk about things that they love. They get to express things they don’t normally get to express.”
A recent gem offered Timothy Olyphant of “Justified” throwing Hardwick for a loop by recalling his days as a standup comic, while a conversation last year with Tom Hanks was simply a classic. You could hear the wariness in Hanks’ demeanor evaporate as he realized the interview as much about having fun as it was about him.
“He has a comedian’s heart,” Hardwick said. “Once he started riffing, there was no, ‘What are we supposed to talk about?’ There was no defensiveness on his part.”
Perhaps most amazing about Hardwick is that the podcast flourishes even as the rest of his career yanks him in different directions, such as tending to the burgeoning business of Nerdist Industries (which became the digital division of Legendary Entertainment in a 2012 deal) or hosting “The Walking Dead” postgame chat show “The Talking Dead” on AMC.
And then there’s his first love, standup comedy. Hardwick tours regularly, and his most recent special, “Mandroid,” aired on Comedy Central in November.
“I’m not even as intense as Louis C.K., who used to write for ‘Conan’ and sneak out to go do sets and then go back to work,” Hardwick said. “I just do my standup on the weekends. I wouldn’t be happy if I couldn’t do that. I feel like so much of why I sort of want to work in television is so that people know to come see me live.”
There could hardly be a more appropriate choice than Hardwick, then, to take the reins of the Streamy Awards on Sunday. He’s experimental yet reverent, an achiever yet aspirational.
“You can’t throw money at the Internet to make it work — it really is all about the quality of the content,” he said. “Web content is much more of a true entertainment meritocracy in that way, because the stuff people really want to see gets seen, because (people) pass it around and it blows up.
“We are in niche consumption mode, but niche doesn’t mean small anymore. Niche can mean focused, and particularly with the Web, which is a global audience … you can have something niche and still get 10 to 15 million views.”
And however fringy online content might still seem in 2013, anyone with a sense of the big picture can imagine how it will evolve, both in terms of appeal and its eventual intersection with conventional media.
“You’re seeing the quality of it go up and up and up,” Hardwick said. “Basically, the web is to cable what cable was to broadcast television 25 years ago. It’s a creatively fertile ground with a lot of freedom and a place to take chances and build audience and speak directly to your audience. … You can evolve your stuff quickly and you know right away what’s working and what’s not, so creatively, it’s phenomenal.”