Nerd Nite and Beyond! An interview with Mary Lewey.

With the start of a new year, a new co-host and new events on the horizon Mary Lewey, one of the organizers of Nerd Nite Boston, has been very busy.   But that doesn’t mean she didn’t have time to sit and talk to me before the start of the first Nerd Nite of 2013.   It’s hard to imagine how one person has enough time to organize everything but with the help of her co-organizer and Nerd Nite MC Tim Sullivan, she seems to do a great job of making sure the talks keep coming.

In our short interview we covered a lot of ground and spoke specifically about new events for people to socialize at that branch off of the Nerd Nite lectures.  Events like Nerd Nite Speed dating, holiday parties, a science authors salon that is part of a recent partnership with the Boston Museum of Science and a collaborative event with Nerd Nite New York that happened last fall.  We had a great chat and it was a nice way to start out the new year.  Despite the fact that I am disappointed in myself for not getting to hear the Mumblecore talk, it was really great getting a chance to learn a little bit more about her and what Nerd Nite has in store for the year to come  🙂

JS: So, how did you get involved in Nerd Nite?
ML: Jeremy the former boss of Boston, Nerd Nite, he and I had a mutual friend that got married in Texas.  I used to promote dance nights with a friend of mine and he asked if I could help him because he’s a busy Harvard Post Doc and I had some experience.  So, it just kind of fell into place.  I contacted the Middlesex and we moved it from JP so we could get more people and we changed the dynamic because there used to be bands.   We tried that at the first Nerd Nite, here at the Middlesex, on a Monday but the balance was off.

JS: So it moved from JP, at the Midway in…?
ML: It started in 2003… so probably 2008 or 2009.

JS: Did you ever present a talk?
ML: I did give a talk once.  I learned a lot.  I learned I wasn’t as prepared as I should be… I don’t really think I bombed, but I’m kind of a perfectionist… and there are so many things I would do differently that I feel like I did everything wrong all at once.  It was a little bit scary.

JS: What was your talk about?
ML: It tried to do a talk about photography, I’m a photographer.  So, I make pictures I don’t usually talk about them, and I tried to talk about them in the historical context of an old city I used to live in.  I had some technical difficulties mixed in with probably too broad a topic and everyone said I did well, but… I’m sure I did fine.

JS: Would you do it again?
ML: About the same topic?  I would try it again.

JS: I don’t think I could do it.
ML: I think you could do it.

JS: I think I would be excited and then it would all just come out at once and I would probably start babbling and sound nuts.
ML: Well, you wouldn’t be the first one to sound nuts.  So that’s o.k. It’s not as painful as it seems.

JS: The crowd is really nice and encouraging
ML: That is one of the things that is nice about this night.  We are open to almost any talk and we don’t necessarily do a screening process, we trust that our volunteers are wonderful and will do a great job.

JS: So to go back to hosting for a second, Jeremy left and now you have a new co-host/host… I’m sorry I don’t know his official title.  What made you pick him?
ML: I knew I wanted to have someone to work with because the tasks can be a lot, especially because I have a full time job as most of us do.  We were trying to think of people who we could bring on board and ask to help here and there. Tim Sullivan gave a talk and he was really great.  He gave a talk about Snowclones and just watching him interact with the audience and see everyone really listening to what he was saying… and he’s also a friend and an acquaintance of mine so I knew we had a friendly rapport already.

JS: Were you nervous about Jeremy leaving?
ML: Yea. I did not want him to leave and for a long time I did not want to talk about it.   I mean he was a post doc for a while and maybe two years ago he interviewed at some places, and I was like I don’t want to hear about it.  Then he had a paper published in Nature and he was kind of like all over the Neuroscience community.  I think of him any way as some sort of neuroscience rockstar.  So when he got a job I was pretty sad and didn’t want to think about what was next…

JS: But since he’s left, it seems like you guys have been doing pretty good and you’ve tried some new things.  Like Nerd Nite speed Dating which is cool.
ML: Well New York does it, and we wanted to try it for a while but timing wasn’t right and I think we needed time to wrap our heads around it.  So, it was an experiment for sure but I enjoyed it… I think I want to, going forward, try out more social events that’s why we tried out the holiday party in December in lieu of talks.   The club saved us the date anyways and we thought well, let’s try something different?

JS: …and did a lot of people show up?
ML: It wasn’t as crowded as like a regular Nerd Nite but we had a great crowd and it was just fun to do something different.  Sean had some help with DJing he got the Cool Kids Club, this group from Somerville to play records and a Nerd Nite regular Mo he’s an acapella singer he’s in this group Funkin’ A, and they performed for us and it was pretty amazing.  We also did a Yankee swap.  Which was pretty hilarious, I kind of hope we keep doing this and it keeps getting bigger and bigger and funnier….

JS: So I’ve got to ask… Speed Dating, did any nerd love bloom?
ML: I heard some feedback from friends who went, a couple of male friends of mine and the feedback was positive.   If there are any budding new loves from Nerd Nite speed dating… I don’t know.  So maybe you can ask?

JS: Yes. I will ask people to contact me if they have made a Nerd Nite speed dating love connection.
ML: People from New York who have met at Nerd Nite speed-dating have got married.   One of my friends, he was a bar tender at the Gapalagos in New York and he met his now girlfriend who he lives with here, at Nerd Nite speed-dating.  So it does bring people together.  I don’t think they were not at speed dating, they were just at Nerd Nite.  So if love is in the air, I want to know about it.

JS: So, the speed dating seems like it was a good idea and you also did a special event out in Western Ma.
ML: Yea, yea… Mass MOCA asked us to do a Nerd Nite.



JS: That was a collaboration?
ML: Yes, between Boston and New York.

JS: How did that come about?
ML: I think that who ever emailed the website it went straight to New York.  But, since we knew Matt really well and it made a lot of sense to work together.

JS: Why Mass MOCA? because it seems so far away from both cities.
ML: … It was, in some ways, a mid point between the two cities.  They came to us and invited us as a performer, if you will, to put this on and we weren’t going to say no. I’d been dying to go there for a long time.  It was a great experience!

JS: Who presented? I know there was Mumblecore and… ?
ML: Yes, Maria San Fillippo she is a film professor who actually lives in Northampton she presented on Mumblecore, and then we brought back someone who presented here in Boston but lives in New York, Aaron Foster, he gave a cheese talk.  He is the cheese monger at Murray’s, so he talked about cheese and he also passed around a huge block of cheese so everybody had to cut off a piece and they could taste what he was talking about.  Then last speaker talked about sex robots and i’m blanking on her name right now.  She’s actually from Newton and knows friends of mine and lives in New York, and she’s given a couple of talks and her talk she’s going to be giving it in an expanded version at SXSW.

JS: So these were all people from Massachusetts.
ML: They coincidentally had Massachusetts connections.

JS: We have a high concentration of really smart people so it’s not surprising.
ML: Yea. I think one of the things I want to do create is Nerd Nite associated or Nerd Nite affiliated events where people actually talk to each other a little more.  I think people come to Nerd Nite the talks and I know they all like it, maybe they love it.  I love it.  But, they probably come with a person that you’re meeting up with.  It caters more to being an audience member.   So I’m interested in doing more things where people can get a chance to meet each other and have a conversation. We’re actually doing, in April, another author salon with the Museum of Science.

JS: I was actually going to ask you about that.
ML: Yea. It’s actually their idea, they asked us to get on board.  It was a lot of fun.  It was at Olé.

JS: So what is it exactly?
ML: The museum uses their connections to get authors going on tour with their latest science books so it’s a lot of times a book that hasn’t necessarily come out yet.  Harvard Bookstore sells the book at the event.  The author is there hanging out, you can approach them at any time and ask them questions.  So there is kind of like a cocktail hour for people to hang out, then the author gives maybe a 15 or 20 minute talk.  Maybe they read from the book, maybe they just give a summary and then they will have maybe a 5 or 6 questions Q&A for like the whole group.  Then the author comes back and hangs out so they’re really trying to make it like a salon so you’re having one on one conversations with the author, but also with other interesting people that that person draws.

JS: So was there a big turnout?
ML: There was, there was probably 40-50 people.

JS: In Olé?
ML: Yea, we had the private room. So it worked out pretty well.

JS: So you’re trying it again.
ML: Yea, April 17th.  Location TBD…

JS:  Well I think that’s all we have time for, thank you Mary!

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