Chris Hardwick Talks Nerdist, ID10T, And The Future Of Podcasting

Getty Image

Along with Marc Maron’s WTF and Scott Aukerman’s Comedy Bang! Bang!, comedian Chris Hardwick‘s Nerdist podcast has long been one of the medium’s most popular entities. Joined by friends and fellow comics Jonah Ray and Matt Mira, the former @midnight host has covered subjects of interest to comedy aficionados, comic book nerds, and geeks of all kinds for nearly a decade. And even with last week’s announcement that the show will now be going by the name ID10T, its premier position likely won’t be changing anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean Hardwick isn’t nervous.

“I’m changing the name of the show,” he announced on Friday, in what amounted to the original Nerdist podcast’s last-ever episode. “When you really invest time and energy into something and there’s a change, I know as a fan it feels weird… you like things the way they are.” Despite issuing a press release and an entire podcast episode to discuss the matter, however, Hardwick felt there was more to say about the name change, the podcast’s move to Cadence13, and his surprising plans to syndicate the show’s catalog for radio. So he reached out to Uproxx to talk things over.

I get the impression this has been a rather stressful announcement to make. Between the initial press release and Friday’s bonus episode with Jonah and Matt, you’ve been putting a lot out there.

I’ve been as transparent about it as possible because I always feel like that’s the best way to go. Podcasts in particular, because they’re built on a community. As an audience member for other podcasts, shows, or social media platforms, I don’t ever like feeling like something is trying to slide stuff by me. It always makes me think, “Hey, I see what you did there!” My thinking is if you arm people with as much information as possible — almost to the point where they’re saying, “Okay, TMI” — then at least they know where you’re coming from. Then they can make an informed decision, and at least in that way, they are a part of the process.

So it’s really about reaching out to that community. Especially with podcasts, because there’s a real need for community engagement there. There’s this whole community that’s involved and I just think it’s important to involve them. They’re the ones who have supported my ability to make this thing, so I tend to err on the side of oversharing.

I get it. And yeah, there’s a lot of information there, and a lot of it is false, but having too much information that’s more accurate is better than the other kind. Or none at all, for that matter.

This game of telephone tends to happen in which people interpret what they read without ever really checking it out. And when that happens for two, three, or five generations… There’s a really great game that illustrates this. You should try it out if you get a group together for a game night. I don’t know what it’s called — I just call it “Draw the Thing.” It almost represents the way information is generally misinterpreted and spread. Everyone gets a pad and a pen, and in one minute, you write down a phrase — a sentence, a phrase, a saying, or whatever. Then you pass it to the person on your right. They have to draw what you wrote down, or what they think it means to them.

After a minute, they cover up the original sentence and pass their drawing to the next person, who then has to write what they think that drawing is trying to say. Then they cover up the first drawing and pass it to the next person, who has to draw what they think the new sentence is. The game alternates sentence, drawing, sentence, drawing — and when you get around the circle, everyone reveals what they’ve got. It’s amazing to see where it starts and where it ends up going. And that’s how I think our “information ecosystem” tends to operate. It’s fascinating.

Speaking of receiving and interpreting new information, in the announcement episode you mentioned the possibility of retiring “enjoy your burrito” and ending the podcast with a new tag. Yet in this week’s episode, you’ve got the same tag.

A lot of these podcasts were recorded a few weeks ago when we were still very much Nerdist. I may stick with it, or I may come up with something else if I ever find anything that feels right. We’re still using the robotic voiceover recorded by Janet Varney, who is awesome and came back to record new lines, but I left the tag in because it feels like a connection to the original run. This will always be the same podcast. Even though the name changes, spiritually it’s the same. So this felt like a way to update things but keep them rooted in the same foundation. I still want people to enjoy their burrito. But maybe, at a certain point, I’ll sign off with something new.

As someone who also grew up playing Sim City and similar games, I appreciated your comparing it to the joys of building something new — minus the “disaster” option. Joking aside, though, I was wondering if you could talk about that some more.

What I’m learning is that goals are great, because goals give you somewhere to head toward. But your goals can certainly be flexible, and the attainment of a goal really only gives you a momentary satisfaction. “Oh my God, I did that thing!” or, “I made that thing!” Plus it’s not so much the accomplishment of the goal itself that rewards you, but the process of accomplishing it. It’s really the enjoyment of the burrito, I guess. It’s really in the building. That’s what’s more fun for me because growth is naturally fulfilling. I think we’ve evolved to want to grow, and we need to grow.

The building process is really exciting to me, and it’s fun because that’s where a lot of ideation happens. That’s where a lot of inspiration happens. That’s where you ask a lot of questions and take a lot of risks. You fail, you learn, and you try again. So if you feel like something has plateaued, that’s perfectly fine, but then you can’t really get upset if you think, “I’m not going anywhere.” At that point, you’ve become complacent. You’re at a place where you aren’t being challenged anymore, and you aren’t trying to create anything new. And by virtue of the fact that you’ve plateaued, you don’t feel as creatively inspired anymore. I think that comes across. I think people can tell when you aren’t as inspired as you were before. That’s not to say that the podcast wasn’t fun, but I felt like I had grown with it as much as I could. I’ve been so excited about building all of the ID10T stuff, and it’s the same level excitement I felt when I started Nerdist.

Doing it this way has afforded me the ability to start building ID10T and be reinvigorated by it all. Not having to start over with a whole new podcast has been nice, too. Instead, I’ve been able to evolve the one I’ve already got. It’s almost like a Pokemon evolution. I’m taking my 10 years of experience with Nerdist and eight years of experience with the podcast and applying it all to this new thing like armor and tools. And there has been no bad blood about it at all. Nerdist didn’t do anything wrong. I just couldn’t stay there and do what I needed to do to build ID10T. I couldn’t potentially syndicate the podcast for radio or possess the finances I needed to get ID10T off the ground without moving on.

I want to come back to your bit about radio syndication, but your position makes sense. Most creatives tend to operate like that, or at least the ones I know do. If something you’re doing feels stagnant, or like it won’t go any further than it has, you need to do something to kickstart it.

Yeah, and like I said last Friday, this has been brewing in the back of my mind for a long time. It started right around the time I gave up the Nerdist social media handles to the company. I felt like the company wasn’t just me, and I wasn’t all they were. It became confusing for a little while, and I was asking myself what Nerdist was. Is it the podcast? The website? I guess I felt like it was time for me to explore this new facet of my identity and give Nerdist its full identity in the process. But it wasn’t a bad breakup. My contract technically expired in December, but I’m still there while the new CEO takes stock of everything. We’re having conversations about what to do next. I adore them, and it’s still very personal to me, but I think we’ve both become more of our own things.

Makes sense that you’re so focused on building right now, what with the home renovations you’ve been posting Instagram stories about lately.

Oh, that’s interesting. [Laughs.] That’s actually kind of funny. I hadn’t thought about that at all actually, but you’re 100 percent right. I must be in some kind of building phase right now. It takes so long for lots of things to bear fruit, so I think that’s why it’s important to always be building things. You don’t want to have one thing just end and then have to start over completely.

So, radio syndication: In Friday’s episode, you mentioned the possibility of syndicating the podcast on the radio — jumping media, if you will — and I find this fascinating. I couldn’t find any examples of anyone having tried or done this, so I was wondering if you could expand on your ideas here.

It’s actually something that I’ve been talking about doing for five or six years, but it’s something that I’ve never been able to make happen. I mean, I don’t think digital and traditional platforms are enemies. I don’t think you have to do one instead of the other. It seems to me that anywhere you can reach an audience is valuable, and trying to tie different but related platforms like these together is essential. So what better way than syndicating shows for radio? I still think there is power in radio. As a touring stand-up, whenever you go into a new town, you still do morning radio programs to promote your shows.

People still listen to the radio when they’re in their cars, so having a show on Sunday nights that people could tune into just makes sense to me. If someone new to the podcast happens to stumble on it then, they’ll know they can find the rest of the episode or others elsewhere — or the full, unedited version of what they heard. My background is in radio. When I worked at MTV, I was also working at KROQ in Los Angeles for a few years. I liked it. I still like radio. And if we’re already doing these shows, and all they have to do is edit them a bit to fit into an hour-long format on Sunday nights, then what’s the harm in trying? This is one of the reasons why Cadence13 was a great company to work with — because they have the ability to make this experiment happen.

You also said podcasts haven’t peaked yet. How so? I mean, there are a lot of podcasts out there…

I don’t think they have. The word “podcast” still doesn’t really mean anything to the majority of people. It just sounds like… “Wait, a podcast? What?” I think people are becoming more familiar with the word, but understanding what it entails is still a bit of a mystery to most people. It’s not as easy as just turning on the radio. Where you turn on the radio, there it is — you don’t really have to think about it. It’s just right there. But for podcasts, there are still just a few more steps that most people are used to. “Oh, I have to download what? An app? And then what happens?” We take for granted that this is what we do and that everyone in our audience already knows about what it is.

But everyone doesn’t know about this, and it can be overwhelming. If someone new to it all is curious and decides to randomly scroll through iTunes, they’ll be bombarded with thousands of podcasts at once. Sure, it only takes a little bit of effort for them to sift through it, but because so many things are vying for our attention now, it can be a very overwhelming experience. It eats your free time. And what if you don’t like that new thing? Then you’ve wasted your time. We spend so much time fretting about the bad choices that we might make that we don’t make choices. It’s like trying to pick something on Netflix.

Eventually, hopefully, things will become easier for the majority of people. Again, some of this is time and some of this is technology. So as more and more platforms start blending digital and traditional content and seamlessly smooshing them together, and as we eliminate the number of steps it takes for people to find the content they want, then I think it will become more streamlined. Maybe then it will finally peak. But back to syndicating the show for radio, I want help bridge that gap. People that are not familiar with podcasts can hear what it is on the radio, which is what they’re familiar with, and finally realize that’s what a podcast essentially is.

It’s similar to the early days of the internet when people were like, “What? I have to get a modem, and then what happens? What do I sign onto? What’s America Online?” Nowadays our entire homes, businesses, restaurants, and all kinds of other places are connected all the time with hi-speed internet access. We don’t even have to think about it. It’s as simple as opening up your device. Podcasts haven’t quite made it this far yet.

It reminds me our current nostalgia for reviving old television shows with new seasons, or putting new albums out on vinyl instead of making CDs or simply streaming them. It’s a kind of throwback, but not.

Well, maybe we’ll put out a podcast on vinyl.

You can find the new ID10T podcast right here.