Several years ago, Chris Hardwick was just another comedian trying to carve out a career for himself in Los Angeles. He had gotten a couple breaks, having appeared as a host on MTV’s Singled Out and on the syndicated series Shipmates and he had gotten a little buzz for his musical comedy duo Hard n Phirm, but beyond that he was basically just another comic.
But then, by embracing the Internet and launching a podcast and accompanying blog called The Nerdist, Hardwick’s career began to take off in a completely different direction. As he explained in this recent Wired article…
“Like all comedians, I have a podcast. Mine is called the Nerdist, and starting it was my single best career decision ever. Doing a weekly show let me burrow into a niche and connect with like-minded nerds. Plus, it has done more to increase attendance at my live shows than all of my TV projects combined. Sketch comics, once constrained to Saturday Night Live, now have entire channels, entire sites, devoted to them. As a result, comedians, in addition to barely handling the pressures of being hilarious all the time, also have to understand marketing, delivery systems, and social media.”
I’ve admired Hardwick’s work for a while and today I thought I’d share some of the reasons why I think he’s been so successful with the Nerdist and give you a sense of some of the lessons you can learn from what he’s done.
1. The Importance Of Finding Your Niche
One of the most important things for any comedian to do is to figure out what their voice is, which is also just a fancier way of saying that you need to find your niche. I find that comedians often have no clue how to find their niche and that’s usually because they overthink it.
Your niche is as simple as figuring out what you feel passionate about – because whatever interests you will also likely interest thousands of other people out there. Don’t bother trying to choose a niche you think will be “hot,” because if it’s not something you’re actually passionate and knowledgable about, it’s going to feel forced and it’s not going to work. Just get in touch with what interests you and what you have an opinion on, and develop that interest into your voice.
In Hardwick’s case, The Nerdist is just an outlet that blends together all of his interests in “nerd” culture. He’s managed to combine his comedic instincts with his non-comedic interests in science, technology, and pop culture to find a niche for himself that also happens to appeal to a broad audience. You can do the same by combining your comedy with your interests.
2. The Benefits Of Using Multiple Mediums
I’ve written before about how important I think it is to think of yourself as more than just a stand up comedian, and Hardwick’s career has exemplified this. Once he found his niche, Hardwick went on to explore that niche in lots of different ways including creating content on his podcast and blog, as well as contributing freelance articles to relevant magazines such as Wired. Hardwick’s career would not be where it is today if he hadn’t been willing to broaden his definition of what a comedian is and ply his talents in different arenas.
3. The Value Of Your Community
The Nerdist has become about much more than just Chris Hardwick at this point, and that’s a great thing. As you browse his website, you’ll notice that it features lots of blog posts written by people other than Hardwick himself. You’ll also notice that Nerdist fans have contributed animated video highlights based on clips from his podcast. But most importantly, you’ll notice that what he’s built is a true community.
It’s really important to understand that what you’re trying to build in your career is a community of fans that share similar interests to yourself. Yes, you want to place yourself at the center of that community, but you don’t have to “own” that community. The more you can create opportunities for your fans to feel like they have some ownership in your success, the more they will want to help you succeed.
In Hardwick’s case, I’m sure many Nerdist fans feel that they’re essentially partners with Hardwick in the community they’re building and that’s because Hardwick has communicated with them, invited them to join his world, and created opportunities for them to feel connected to him.
4. The Power Of Curation
I’ve previously written about why I think you should see yourself as a curator in addition to a creator, and once again Hardwick demonstrates how powerful this can be through his site. As you’ll see, there’s lots of interesting content on The Nerdist blog that has nothing specifically to do with Hardwick himself. But, it has everything to do with Hardwick’s interests, his niche, and the interests of his fans.
This curated content, a blend of embedded videos, movie and product reviews, and news, ensures a steady stream of fresh content for Hardwick’s fans and gives them a recent to visit his site every day. It costs nothing but a little time, and has a huge impact on strengthening the connection between Hardwick and his community.
5. Comedy Is A Business
Even if you’re an artist, there are still moments when you have to approach your career like a business. Hardwick understands this and talks about the way he balances the artistic and business sides of comedy in this interesting video interview. As he says in the clip, “I realized that as a comic your job is to, if you want people to come to your shows, you just have to get your voice in the world as much as possible.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.