With a tag line like, ” 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 and the place was already pretty packed with standing room only. 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.
As part of the standing audience it kind of felt kind of like an academic lecture, or maybe like you were attending Grand Rounds. The evening was broken into two talks presented by two different speakers. Both presenters spoke informally about a subject they were extremely knowledgeable in and which was peripheral to their day job. Presentation topics were a fusion of ideas that ranged from the general to the truly odd. In exchange for speaking presenters got a new captive audience to instruct about the details of 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 Kay.
The crowd was convivial as Jeremy Kay, one of the Nerdnite Boston event organizers, started the night off with a short introduction just after 8pm. Setting the informal tone, “for first timers,” Kay casually walked the crowd through a brief history of Nerdnite complete with a nerd Venn Diagram and slides from the very first Nerdnite lecture back in 2003 titled, “Parasitic Birds” and presented by Christopher Balakrishnan, the Nerdnite founder at the first Nerd Nite at the Midway Cafe, in Jamaica Plain.
That evening the two lectures scheduled were, “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 Balakrishnan 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 crowd 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 photographer. 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, podcast, 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, 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 ever imagined, and nothing like the room full of the lab coat clad social maladroit thats I had expected. If you live near a Nerd Nite, I would say you should definitely check it out.