At the 2011 San Diego Comic Con, in between moderating numerous panels featuring the casts and creative teams behind "The Walking Dead" and "The Big Bang Theory," Hardwick chatted with Back Stage about acting, hosting, and creating his self-proclaimed "nerd fort."
Back Stage: How did you get into acting?
Chris Hardwick: When I was in school, a friend of mine was working for a show called "thirtysomething." They needed a guy to play a delivery guy from Goodwill, because one of the characters in the show died—spoiler alert! They basically gave me the job, and that's what got me into SAG. I had been Taft-Hartleyed on a commercial for Mandarin Orange Slice, and then the "thirtysomething" job is when I borrowed a thousand dollars from my grandfather, and that got me into SAG. Then there was a long period of time where I did not work. I wasn't really pursuing acting. It was comedy I was going after.
Back Stage: Was there a comedian who inspired you?
Hardwick: Steve Martin. I was a huge Steve Martin fanatic. I had all his albums when I was a kid. Then he was a gateway to every comic. All I did when I was a kid was watch comedy—standup, any kind of British comedy I could get, "Monty Python," "The Young Ones," any of that stuff. That really was my childhood. I watched anything comedy. Those old Savage Steve Holland–John Cusack movies, I watched all of those. "Caddyshack," "Fletch," "Ghost Busters," "Ski School," any comedy that came out in the '80s, I watched it, good or bad.
Back Stage: Do you think doing standup helped you become a good host?
Hardwick: Hosting and standup are different, but they're similar in the sense that the more comfortable you are, the more yourself you are, the better it works onstage. People can read if you're being inauthentic or you're pretending. I guess it's not different than acting. If you're an actor playing a banker, you just are a banker. You take out that extra layer of pretending you're something and you just become that thing. With hosting, I think, you just be yourself.
Back Stage: What are your thoughts on improv classes?
Hardwick: Good improv helps everything. Anything. If people are trying to get comfortable hosting or being themselves, I always say, "Take an improv class." Improv forces you to listen to people in the moment, and it forces you to always be present. A good improv class is really helpful.
Back Stage: What's your best advice on how to become a good host?
Hardwick: I sucked at it for a lot of years. At this point I've probably hosted over 1,000 episodes of television. I think it's important to watch yourself. A lot of actors won't watch themselves, but I think if you're a host, you kind of need to. You have to see if you're reading fake or not. You need to see yourself as an audience member—"Hey, that guy's full of shit." You need to see how you're coming off. I think it's really helpful.
I can't watch my early stuff [from MTV's "Singled Out"] anymore. It's so bad. I was trying to be a host and not just be myself. I think what I've learned over the years is just to be "This is what I am; this is what I do." Hosting is kind of an interesting intersection of directing traffic but sort of interjecting your personality in between it. I think it's just finding that balance, which you do if you do it a lot. It's just like anything else—if you do it a lot, and you pay attention to what you're doing and if it's working, you'll get it.
Back Stage: What would you say to people who want to break into the business and do what you do?
Hardwick: Now it's easier than it ever was because of technology. You can just go out and make your own stuff. Look how many people make cool, user-generated content on YouTube that gets the attention of someone. The media is starting to take the idea of just a guy with a little phone camera and a microphone seriously. In the old days, you couldn't just go out with a microphone and host stuff, but now you can. You can make your own show. If you like something, then just make it. There's no excuses anymore. Editing costs almost nothing. All the resources are right there; you just have to do it.
If you're interested in something, just go make it and put it online and then do that 100 more times if you have to. If you really care about it, you'll keep doing it no matter what. It's not like you'll make something once and if people don't respond you're like "Well, I gave it a shot." I think if you have the performer gene, you'll keep trying to do it no matter what. Nothing's going to make you stop. If you don't give up, you'll be ahead of a large percentage of people. I feel like every day there is a percentage of people who give up. If you just stick it out and keep trying to put your voice into the world in some way, and if it doesn't work then try something else, I think the odds are it's going to work out for you in some way.