“You guys are so delightful. I don’t want this to end!” stand-up comedian Chris Hardwick exclaimed, full of boyish charm. He was having a good time at his show last Friday at Cemex Auditorium, and his audience was, too. Hardwick brought his energetic and likable brand of humor – personal, college-educated and extremely risqué – to a receptive Stanford crowd for a rollicking one-night stand.
Hardwick is best known as a poster child of nerd culture, making him a perfect fit for the Stanford “Nerd Nation.” On stage at Cemex, Hardwick certainly looked the part of hip nerd ambassador: thin frame, spiked hair, skinny jeans, tight baseball tee with a model of the atom emblazoned front and center on his chest.
On Friday, self-deprecation and embarrassing personal stories – often with a fair dose of sex jokes – took center stage, as in Hardwick’s opening bit. “I’m going to teach you guys a cool dance move,” Hardwick told his audience. He then silently bobbed around and fist-pumped in all directions for several long beats. The silence stretched on; the air was full of tension. Finally, Hardwick explained himself, releasing the energy and earning a huge laugh: “Just imagine you’re surrounded by thousands of dicks.”
This hilarious, self-effacing image set the tone for the rest of Hardwick’s material. Hardwick recounted the shame of experimenting with a blow-up sex doll and the trauma of listening to his father wax eloquently about cunnilingus. These personal stories were cringe-worthy on multiple levels, but Hardwick kept things light with his energetic, friendly delivery. He didn’t wallow in his embarrassments – he poked fun at them (and himself) with his audience.
Throughout, Hardwick’s trademark nerdiness, though far from the focus of his humor, remained essential to his perspective. Hardwick drew on his liberal arts education for a wildly successful joke about the absurdity of delivering a Shakespearean ode to the joys of coitus while in the middle of coitus. He wisely chose to tap into the awkwardness of a life spent in books and on computers – awkwardness to which his Nerd Nation audience could relate.
Hardwick found the Nerd Nation fascinating enough to warrant extensive crowd work. He frequently and randomly digressed from his written material to hop down from the stage and interrogate his audience. As he riffed on the concept of Late Night with a quick audience member and gauged the crowd’s interest in letting him bodysurf, Hardwick’s puzzlement slowly melted away into a laid-back openness.
By the end of the night, Hardwick and his audience had gotten comfortable enough with each other to drop the pretense of being at a “comedy show.” Everyone just wanted to hang out. Hardwick opened the floor to questions about anything – his future projects, his personal history, his advice to aspiring stand-ups. He took a selfie with an audience member and threw water bottles from the stage to fans. Then, he told another hilarious dirty joke and exited the stage to raucous laughter and applause.