A third of the way through The Nerdist Way: How To Reach The Next Level (In Real Life), stand-up/writer/podcast-and-TV host Chris Hardwick describes sitting at home, watching his former Singled Out co-host Jenny McCarthy on The Daily Show. With his career and personal life in a slump (“I looked like death puked on a turd,” he says) Hardwick suffers one more indignity when Jon Stewart takes a swipe at him on behalf of the unsuspecting McCarthy, saying Hardwick “gets our coffee.” It’s a low point for Hardwick, but he doesn’t dwell on his self-pity. Instead, he shows how he used the moment as motivation to quit drinking and work on self-improvement. It’s a significant turning point, not only because it gives readers a glimpse into Hardwick’s life and thought processes, but because it’s one of the strongest moments in a book that suffers from a lack of them.
A self-help manuscript may seem far down the list of likely projects for Hardwick’s first book. But The Nerdist Way is just that: a generally solid self-help book rife with nerdy pop-culture references, a few personal anecdotes, and plenty of enthusiasm. If there’s one collective criticism of Hardwick, it’s that he can be too enthusiastic; his praise of his podcast guests occasionally borders on hyperbolic. In Hardwick’s defense, though, it all comes from a genuine place. It’s clear he genuinely appreciates the work that the objects of his affection put forth, and he appreciates their time. The Nerdist Way springs from the same sincerity, making it easier to appreciate the book’s self-help aspect: Hardwick really does want readers’ lives to improve, and he’s sharing what’s worked for him, in hopes they see the same success he has. That’s rare in the age of snark.
That said, the paucity of personal anecdotes keeps the book from, in the subtitle’s words, reaching the next level. Hardwick expresses hesitancy about sharing intimate details, and he delivers his advice with an appealing mix of humor, conviction, and self-deprecation that buoys some of the drier parts, like his description of his gym regimen. But more stories would help his advice carry more weight, and the few he offers throw the lack of other examples into sharper relief. Hardwick’s background is rife with relatable lessons—an opportunity, as the writing adage goes, to show rather than tell—and without them, some of the advice falls flat. A perfect example: The creation of Nerdist Industries, Hardwick’s most successful endeavor, is left as a five-page epilogue. The book would seem more insightful (and more involving for existing Hardwick fans) if it explicitly showed how success followed the life decisions Hardwick is touting.
The advice dispensed in The Nerdist Way is good, though some of it borders on common sense. Hardwick helps his cause, though, by making sure his own nerdy background feels authentic, and by never dumbing his writing down. He balances his approach, aiming many of his references at a particular audience—those who understand the nuances of RPGs and Star Trek lore—while never allowing any specific set of references to become overwhelming. Those who haven’t played Dungeons & Dragons won’t be left in the dark, or get less out of the book than dungeon masters. But given Hardwick’s success in carrying his brand of humor over into sharp, clever writing, here’s hoping he lets readers peek behind his curtain of privacy a bit more next time out. It’ll only help his cause.