Nerd Nite: A Night out for Nerds

With the tag line on their Twitter feed, ” Evidence Based Entertainment,” (The tagline changed in 2015, it was originally like the Discovery channel with beer) it’s hard to see how Nerd Nite could go wrong.  At 7:35 on Monday, January 30th the first Nerd Nite of 2012 was getting prepped and the Middlesex Lounge was already pretty packed.   The seats along the walls and in the middle of the floor were full and people were crowding into what was left of the space around the back and to the side of the bar.

Standing in the back along the back wall, I met a woman named Holly as the evening got started.   She is a neuroscientist, musician and a serious food blogger. She had been there before and gave me the lay of the land.  “This is my fourth time at Nerdnite,” she said right before the evening got rolling.

The crowd was convivial as Jeremy Kay, one of the event organizers, started the night off with a short introduction just after 8, “for first timers,”he said   setting the informal tone.  He walked the crowd through a brief history of Nerdnite complete with a nerd Venn Diagram and slides from the very first Nerdnite lecture in 2003,“Parasitic Birds” presented by Christopher Balakrishnan, the Nerdnite founder at the very first Nerd Nite at the Midway Cafe, in Jamaica Plain.

Standing in the audience it kind of feels kind of like an academic lecture, or maybe Grand Rounds.   The evening is broken up into two talks presented by two different speakers.  Both presenters talk informally about a subject they are extremely knowledgeable in and which is peripheral to their day job.   Presentation topics are a fusion of ideas that range from the general to the truly odd.  In exchange for speaking presenters get a new captive audience to teach about their particular obsession. “The whole point is to give people the opportunity in their daily lives to hear something that they wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to hear,” said Jeremy Kay, one of the Nerdnite Boston organizers.

Tonight the two lectures  scheduled are,“Frontier nerd: Going it Alone in the Western Mountains,” presented by Mattie Booth, and, “CA$H for your Warhol:  The Evolution of a Prank,” presented By Geoff Hargadon.

The brainchild of Christopher Balakrishnan, Nerdnite started at the Midway Café in 2003.  At the time Balakrishnan was a research fellow who spent his summers doing fieldwork studying Parasitic Birds in Cameroon.   Tired of hearing of hearing him tell his stories ad nauseum, the owner of the Midway Cafe suggested that Chris share with the bar, a little bit about his experiences in a one time only informal slide show and lecture. “That idea made me think that it would be fun to talk about weird stuff, and that’s how Nerdnite started,” said Balakrishnan in a short phone interview, and judging by the overflowing room, he was right.

Kay finished up his introduction and announced the release of Nerdnite the Magazine.   It would only be made available in print, he explained, and the first edition was free at the front of the room for those in attendance.  A slick publication it included photography, infographics and articles written by different Nerd Nite presenters with titles like,”Romance, Sex and Life advice with Dr. Ligula. Cephalopods are people too,” by Dr. Ligula, A.k.a Richard Ross a biologist and underwater photograher.  Kay finished up with his usual, a pitch to the audience for prospective speakers, “Volunteer your friends,” he said smiling, “but only with their permission, tell them it’s a great way to expand your audience for your stories.”

Baseball stats, french food, zombies and burlesque everyone obsesses about something.   From New York to New Zealand Nerdnite is now in more than 47 65 cities worldwide with new Nerd Nites popping up all the time.   Ever expanding Nerd Nite now includes a print magazine and podcast and occasional Nerd Nite Speed dating in select cities around the globe.

Although it should be unsurprising that an event like Nerd Nite would be born in a city full of smart people like Boston, it was and am a little disappointed in myself for not finding it sooner.    But now that I have I am delighted to discover that the evening was far better than I could have imagined and nothing like the room full of the lab coat clad socially maladroit that I had expected.   If you live near a Nerd Nite, I would say you should definitely check it out.