Eager. Excited. Perhaps a bit of an overachiever. Chris Hardwick knows what people think about him.
“I have this energy that’s kind of a cross between Spongebob and Tracy Flick from 'Election,'" he said during an interview in New York last month. "It’s not like I don’t get cranky or have bad days or get grumpy at night because I’m tired, but the foundation is that I really appreciate what I get to do. That's why I’m so excited all the time."
In the age of Internet trolls, snarky bloggers and millennial cynicism, Hardwick gets a lot of flak for being positive. He describes his current gig as the host of comedy game show "@Midnight" on Comedy Central as his "Dream job," and scoffs whenever a commenter accuses him of faking his laughter on the show (which they do).
“The fact that we get to do this for a living is fucking insane," he said. "Everyday I don’t understand how my life is the way that it is. I want people to know that the reason I’m excited, is that I know what it’s like to not work, or to not enjoy your work, or to work to survive on something you're not proud of ... I’m genuinely grateful."
The same sentiment applies to his Nerdist empire, tendency to host too many Comic-Con panels and "Talking ____" after-shows on AMC. If his "Conan" parody of the latter, "Talking Bread" wasn't enough of an indicator, he's more self-aware than happy people typically seem.
"I knew what people would think when I did the 'Talking Bad' show. I was just like, 'Hey, I know that you think I only have one setting, but I understand the different tones [and that] people are very precious about 'Breaking Bad.'"
"I think two after-shows are more than anyone should do. At a certain point, people are like, 'How many f*cking jobs do you need?'"
It's that kind of preemptive criticism that frustrates Hardwick, and not just because he wants people to enjoy his work like every other comedian does. He sees the Internet's habit of judging just about everything by its proverbial cover as an indicator of a much larger problem.
"I know that people in the comments section know everything and they've seen everything, and they're over everything. But let's try, as a culture, to experience and THEN judge. I know that' a very challenging statement, and it certainly gives us an air of control over things if we can shit on them preemptively, but people are missing out on great things that they might otherwise experience. It might suck, but it might be great!"
Although he and Matthew Weiner have discussed doing a "Mad Men" after show (someone on Twitter said it should be called "Mad Mentions," which Hardwick loves) he has no plans to do another "Talking" series other than a one-off special for the new series of "Dr. Who."
"I think two after-shows are more than anyone should do. At a certain point people are like, 'How many fucking jobs do you need?' [laughs]. And the answer is 'A lot,' because I didn’t work for a long time. So, not only do I appreciate the work, but it’s also why I do so many panels at Comic-Con: I’m sort of living my dream scenario where I only work on things that I absolutely love, so if I don’t like something I don’t have to do it. If anyone asks what success is, I think it’s getting to do things you love and not having to do things that you’re not passionate about."
And that passion has paid off. Hardwick's "@Midnight" was renewed for a second season, meaning he has 40 weeks of shows to fill in 2015. He plans to do that by "Growing with the Internet," expanding his source material to even more niche online communities, possibly tapping his top Twitter engagers to appear on the show, and generally increasing the two-way conversation.
"I think old media screws the pooch by seeing it as this one-way, monologue, talking down at people from an ivory tower. The way things work now is that we're all in the same ecosystem. We're all talking as a community as opposed to us trying to sell you something. It should feel like a hangout."
Hardwick hopes to have the same success with the pilot of "Sleight Of Mouth," a magic/comedy/variety series starring Justin Willman that he will executive produce. The show stems from Willman's weekly comedy/magic show at Meltdown in Los Angeles, and although Hardwick believes in it, he can already hear the groans.
"I think the word 'Magic' kind of scares people, much in the same way that 'Musical comedy' did before Tenacious D. People would say, 'Oh, come on.' But the reality is that there are people who can do it in an alternative way."
"I don't want people to think it's a magic show first," he continued. "It 's a comedy show that has an element of magic in it. Much like the game show is the vehicle for comedy on '@Midnght,' the magic is a vehicle for comedy on that show."
Once again, Hardwick found himself defending his excitement and, in the process, getting excited about the possibility that the Internet can change its crabby ways.
"It’s so easy to tear things down," he lamented. "Like, 'That's dumb! Next! Fuck you!' It’s easy to do that. If you want cynicism, there’s no shortage of it. You could trip over it online. The world will throw enough bullshit at you. You don't need to create your own road blocks -- reality will do that to you enough. You should really be trying to figure out how to have fun and live happily."
However, it isn't always just "Hardwick vs. The Cynics" at all times. He catches himself falling into the same behavior, like he did during a show at UCB's Whiplash last month. It was the night before he would appear on Jimmy Fallon's "Tonight Show" for the first time and he wanted to work on his anecdotes, so he tried out what he thought was a solid joke about "Back To The Future" but was shocked to see it get zero response from the audience. They had no idea what he was talking about.
"I asked this girl in the front row if she had seen it ... I was almost belittling [the audience]," Hardwick recalled. "Then I realized: they're all too young! This thing that I thought was such a fixture of pop culture, most of these kids were born in the '90s and they just didn't see it. I was like 'Oh my God, they're not your generation!"
Naturally, the last thing he wants is to close himself off from new generations of comedy and pop culture consumers.
"That's why I’m such a cheerleader for everyone. I remember what it’s like to be young and get shit on in school for the stuff I was into, and that's why Nerdist is super positive as well. We could write shitty things, but sometimes I think it's more challenging to find out what’s positive about them and be celebratory about them."
"[Weird Al] isn't closed off. He's open to the world and he's accepting and curious. That's how you stay young. That's how you stay relevant."
He cited "Weird Al's" recent comeback as the perfect example of how remaining open and positive can lead to long-term success.
"The reason he had that huge moment was that he's not closed off. He's open to the world and he's accepting and curious. That's how you stay young. That's how you stay relevant."
At this point in the interview, it's clear that Hardwick has been thinking about this a lot. As someone who made it through hosting a dating show on MTV in the '90s to hosting a show whose targeted audience might have never seen "Back To The Future," he ought to be.
"Anyone can get lucky in a moment, but people who achieve sustained, longterm success, it's not an accident. And when you start looking at these people, and I've had many of them on the podcast after almost 600 episodes, you realize that it's all about the choices that they're making."
So, what's the secret?
"Everyone has a slightly different path to get there, but the stories all have a common denominator which is: they had clear vision, they figured out how to be flexible, they figured out how turn failures into learning experiences and ultimately succeed around those things. They're adaptable and tenacious and they work hard. These are very basic things that make success happen, and pretty much anyone can do it."