The gospel according to Chris Hardwick states that there are nerds, and there are nerdists. A nerd is everything our dunderheaded culture deems them to be: socially awkward and quite fond of fantasy and role-playing pursuits. In his quasi-self-help book, 2011’s The Nerdist Way, Hardwick describes nerdists as nerds who’ve honed their laser-sight compulsions into artistic pursuits, creating and growing rather than consuming, self-hating, and running-from-women-ing.
Mandroid, Hardwick’s first full-length album, is less a sermon extolling the virtues of nerdism and more a chance for Hardwick to practice what he preaches. Hardwick has set his nerdist robo-scanners on comedy, and Mandroid is a fascinating cyborgian display: mathematically and rhythmically sound punchlines with the beating heart and charm of a man humbled by his obsessive work ethic.
Hardwick, who helms Nerdist Industries and co-hosts the interview podcast of the same name, is clearly a voracious consumer of comedy, especially the work of his contemporaries. Early Mandroid chunks can be forgiven for borrowing the cocksure sarcasm of Paul F. Tompkins or the wordplay/whimsy mash-up of Patton Oswalt; his riff on the quintessential jock is as quotable as Oswalt’s description of KFC’s “failure pile in a sadness bowl.” This is simply Hardwick calibrating his stand-up sensors, digging to the core of jokes and fusing stray parts into something original. Calling corn “America’s shag carpet” is merely a clever one-liner; his extrapolations comparing the globe to Crispix cereal are entirely his own.
But when Hardwick’s comedy centrifuge starts running on overdrive, Mandroid becomes a perpetual-motion machine. Bits on killing sharks and second-place chess trophies turn into sophisticated pussy jokes so gradually it’s barely perceptible. The simple line, “Whatever happened to fingering?” is more than just a shocking sentiment; it’s a gateway to one of Harwick’s more surreal, celebratory realizations about the cathartic power of stand-up comedy.
Hardwick exhibits no shame over his adolescent desires lingering into adulthood, and his gleeful dance on the corpse of his childhood creates a black hole from which no He-Man or Harry Potter reference can escape. Nor can a hearty amount of hindsight, which thankfully doesn’t clash with his brazen arrested development. Memories of pet hamsters ejaculating and almost losing his virginity (“casting my Patronus before the train made it to Hogwarts”) conjure genuine empathy for a young and confused Chris Hardwick, plus the permission to laugh at his mortification.
Because Hardwick laughs first. There are parts of Mandroid he admits are just for his own enjoyment, like one about a vampire discussing his girlfriend’s period, which he calls the dumbest joke he’s ever written. He’s more than willing to talk about the time he woke up with his dick inside a shoe, his explanation a triumphant ownership over his past. Hardwick is game to let the nerdist part of his brain take over, whittling away his embarrassment until there’s only a sharp stick left to skewer pop culture and poke at his own pubescent demons. This comedy cyborg, created in a lab of his own brain, has a soul.