Chris Hardwick, king of the Nerdist empire and TV’s most prolific host, brings his infectious enthusiasm to Comedy Central tonight with a new late night game show, @midnight. It premieres at… well, midnight, right after the channel’s dominant Daily Show/Colbert Report block. Produced by Funny or Die with Reno 911!’s Tom Lennon and Ben Garant serving as executive producers, the show pits a rotating lineup of Hardwick’s favorite comics — among them Doug Benson, Natasha Leggero, June Diane Raphael, James Adomian, Ron Funches, and Rob Delaney — against one another in lampooning the silliest, most bizarre social media events of the day. It’s billed as “the ultimate Internet wormhole.”
I talked to Hardwick recently about going up against TBS's The Pete Holmes Show, the secret to his positivity, and the “structured fuck-around session” that is @midnight.
So how does @midnight work?
Essentially, the show is an excuse to get a bunch of comics together to make fun of social media. But rather than just have a roundtable show, we decided to sort of build it into a game show format, just so that the structure of the show would kind of drive content. Then, it’s not just comics sitting around sort of commenting on things. So it looks like a game show, but the contestants are comedians, and the source material is all the stuff we pulled off of social media that day. So, you know, tweets, Instagram, Vine, Yelp reviews, Yahoo! Answers, YouTube comment threads, Reddit, really just anywhere we can find stuff that seems funny to us.
Will you get into current events at all, or just talk about what happened on social media that day?
Well, it can be current events through the lens of social media. So if something was trending that day across various platforms and people were talking about it, then we might get people’s takes on it. It doesn’t work like a news show in the sense like, “Today in the news…” It’s more, we found someone who reacted to this story on Twitter in a particular way. It's also kind of nice because the show is about social media, which makes it inherently interactive with the audience, so we will be pulling stuff in from viewers — even though the show’s not live live. We’ll tape it a couple hours before it goes on the air.
The cool thing about having been podcasting for so long is that I think there’s a certain energy that the show will have that is kind of podcast-y in nature, which is that it is sort of like a structured fuck-around session. There is this game show framework, but really it’s about getting all of us that are friends to fuck around and riff and make fun of each other.
Who decides the winner of each show?
Well, ultimately, that’s me — but heavily based on what the audience is reacting to. But there are some cases where if someone’s making a reference to something, and it kind of flew past the audience’s head — fuck it, it’s my show. I’ll give them points.
How do you hand out points? Do you have a system for judging?
My system is my gut. And my drunkenness on power.
I know! I’m slightly buzzed on power, how about that?
Will you also host a show after your show where you talk about what happened on your show?
Yeah, that’s right. Talking @midnight. We’re going to sort of break it down on couches and talk about why people did what they did. You know, you have to have an after-show if you want a show to seem relevant. [Laughs] No, actually, I’m sorry, it’ll be called Chat Midnight.
I did want to ask if you’re hoping AMC brings you back for a post-Better Call Saul show.
[Laughs] No, I probably shouldn’t do any more after-shows. I only ever do stuff I want to do. I don’t do stuff for money, I don’t do stuff for any other reason other than I’m a fan of that thing and I want to be involved. But you know, with Breaking Bad, it was only eight episodes, and I was a fan of the show and it was just a way to sort of have it feel like a natural extension of the one we were already doing. So it’s not that I want to go out and host a bunch of after-shows; I just happen to like the ones that I did. And I probably won’t do any more.
I’ve hosted a lot of every kind of show, and I think it’s great that people are making fun of me now for hosting after-shows because they forget about the other shitty shows that I hosted for years before that. Every sort of period in my career, I get shit for doing this or hosting a certain type of show, and in my mind, I’ve been through so many iterations of that that I kind of feel like, 'Holy shit, I think maybe I’m okay!' It’s actually a really hard thing to do, to be able to stay above water for any period of time, and I’ve been doing it since 1994. So it’s just sort of fortunate. I feel incredibly lucky.
You seemed genuinely excited to host Talking Bad. It was obvious you were a huge fan of the show.
When I announced that I was going to do Talking Bad — you know, I dig around the subreddits — a lot of people were like, “Oh my God, not that fuckin’ guy! Why does he have to ruin my show?” I was like, 'Well, it’s avoidable.' You don’t have to watch it. If I can ruin someone’s show, then they didn’t love the show that much. And I don’t blame people. People get very invested emotionally in these shows, and so when they basically have a cheerleader coming on, I totally get why some people might be annoyed by that. But the fact of the matter is, I’m a fan of the shows, and if I didn’t do it, it was going to be some other jerk. So why not cut this jerk a little slack?
I genuinely am a fan of these things. It’s not put on. I’m an excitable person; if you listen to my podcast, you probably know that. But I think that a large part of the reason I’m so excitable is that it’s amazing that I’m still able to work after all these years. It’s amazing that I didn’t just turn into the guy who used to be on that MTV show, that I do actually get to work around things that I love. I think anyone would be excited, or should be — if they’re not, they’re dead inside, you know? I think what people sense from me is just an appreciation and a disbelief that I get to do what I do.
So a week after @midnight airs, you’ll be going up against The Pete Holmes Show during the same timeslot.
I know! I love Pete. He’s one of the funniest people I know, and I’m sure his show is going to be amazing. The only thing I should say is that I think there’s room for both of us, you know? I really am one of those “there’s room for everyone” guys. I sort of feel like when everyone supports each other, it raises the water level for everyone. Some episodes, more people will watch Pete, and other episodes, we’ll get that honor. It’s a process, and it’s a cycle, and we’re all sharing our audiences, and it’s not like the old days of media anymore. So I’m glad; I don’t like being at odds with people.
You’re so positive all the time. What’s your secret?
[Laughs] My secret is that if I let myself, I can become really negative. And I lived that way for a long time, and it didn’t work. So being happy, being positive, it’s a choice. The one thing that I’ll say about where we are as a culture now is that people for some reason think the negative stuff is more real than the positive, but it’s not. They inherently have no value other than the value that we put on them. And believe me, I’m a cynical comedian, but I just think there’s enough fucking negativity in the world. If you just focused on the negative shit that’s happening in the world, and the negative shit in your life, you wouldn’t get out of bed. And in my position, what the fuck do I have to complain about? I get to work on all these great things, I get to work near all these things that I love and around people that I care about. Some shit works, some shit doesn’t. No matter what you do, people are going to troll you. You might as well try to enjoy it.
That’s solid advice. Are you working on anything else these days?
Well, all the Nerdist stuff, you know, and we’re producing a TV version of our YouTube bowling show for AMC, so we’ll shoot that in the next few weeks. We’re about to put one out with — we went to New York and did Team Jimmy Fallon, so it was Jimmy and Questlove and A.D. Miles, and then my team was me and Seth Herzog, and then Neil deGrasse Tyson and Jonathan Coulton. It was so much fun, it was so much fun. Neil Tyson would be in his backswing bowling, and then Fallon’s team would go, “Creationism!” So it was a blast. Do you understand why — I mean, how could I not be excited all the time?
Starting tonight, @midnight airs Monday through Thursday at 12am on Comedy Central.
Meera Jagannathan is a freelance writer and crime reporter living in Syracuse, N.Y.