By Chris Hardwick
They say that when life gives you lemons you should make lemonade. Life didn’t give me lemons, it gave me lemonade, and I’ll be damned if I knew what to do with it.
That was where I found myself at 30. I hadn’t had a hard life by any means. My parents were well enough to do, and I was certainly not unattractive, but as far as inherent talent went I had nothing. I was an alcoholic and a “comedian” without a halfway decent joke to speak of. I had no skills to hang my hat on and no outside forces to rail against. I had even been on an incredibly successful TV show on MTV, arguably one of the “coolest” television channels to have ever existed. I was just a sad, aging drunk that had seemingly been handed everything to him at a young age with nowhere to go but down.
I didn’t need everything, all I’d ever really wanted to be was famous, rich and successful in the eyes of all of my peers, which I don’t believe is asking too much. I just didn’t have anything new to offer the world that would make my dreams a reality. At least that’s what I thought back then. Then one day while watching Doctor Who it suddenly hit me; I did have something none of them had. The uncanny ability to attach myself onto anything as what’s known in the entertainment industry as a “ceiling fan” (later shortened to “fan”), shamelessly latching onto the niche but critically successful while simultaneously making myself the unofficial “King of the Nerds.” Nobody asked for it, nobody wanted it but nobody could really stop it, either.
What would anyone care that I was excitedly talking about there work? That I was getting the names of their products out there at no cost to them? I was basically a free commercial for every comic book, cable television show and in a few cases Burger King collectibles. I was out there giving free marketing to every fringe artist just trying to scrape by, doing my “service” as a “fan.” It all seemed harmless at first, and it was, at least until my name and face became so entrenched with nerd culture that I became the face of critically successful but perhaps not financially solvent piece of pop art this side of Ryan Seacrest, and I was doing it all with their unofficial blessing. Who could have a problem with that? How could they have ever known that my intentions were anything but pure? It wasn’t long before I began taking what was(‘nt) mine.
It started with free promotion, but slowly and surely I started getting paying jobs promoting the things I’d been already doing for free. I’d convinced network execs that my name and face were synonymous with nerd culture, that everyone was waiting for the Chris Hardwick thumbs up before they made up their mind about Doctor Who, Iron Man or Power Ranger collectibles from the finest of Burger Kings. I started The Nerdist not out my love for all things nerdy, but the love of all things me. I built my company to siphon the good will that every content creator out there just trying to get someone to look at them towards myself. It worked. God, did it work. It was almost disturbing how easy it was. Not only was I getting love and adoration for work that wasn’t mine, but I was making some pretty serious bank, too.
It’s not as if these things didn’t have vocal fans before I came along. They absolutely did. You can’t walk a block in any direction without hearing some dork blowing a wad in his skinny jeans about the latest episode of Game of Thrones or telling a group of disinterested acquaintances what he really thinks of Scott Snyder’s Batman run, but none of them were capitalizing on it. They didn’t see the potential that talking about things they barely understand for piles and piles of cash had. They were just a bunch of saps enjoying the things they enjoyed for free. I didn’t invent the wheel, here. I just put those stupid little spinning caps on it and called it something else. Pretended like I was better and the whole world bought it.
Talking Dead was my greatest scam. Not only did I just get to talk about some dumbass show about zombies for half an hour, I got paid for it by the network that makes the show. Do you have any idea how fucking stupid that is? First they pay the cast and crew to make the show, then they cut me a check to spend a half an hour talking about how they just made the show. That’s where we are as a society. We’re paying people to have conversations about television that we ourselves are making. That’s not even the snake eating it’s own tail, that’s the snake eating it’s own head. Hell, that’s the snake, before it’s even born, getting hungry and eating it’s own soul with a mouth it doesn’t even have yet. That’s the snake never existing. Except I guess it does. Okay, to be honest I never really got the whole snake eating it’s own tail metaphor, but it’s pretty fucking stupid is what I’m trying to say here.
I’ve built this empire based on nothing but my “love” of popular subcultures. That doesn’t even make any sense. How can I become a millionaire off of the subculture? Doesn’t that make it just “culture”? What is nerd culture, really, if it’s the most popular brands on the planet? Hell, Keeping Up with the Kardashians is a lesser-known quantity than The Walking Dead at this point. Am I really shining a light on these things, or taking it away? I know the answer to that question and I think most of you do as well, but the execs at the big networks? The people pushing money around to make more money out of jackasses like you? They have no idea. They think I’m one of you. They think I’m just another guy trying to make lemons out of lemonade over here. I haven’t made a goddamn thing. The truth is:
I was always lemonade.