West Coast Geeks vs. Nerds: An Origin Story
I first learned of Geeks vs. Nerds while waiting in line for a pub. In their words, they have “taken up the mantle of celebrating our local geek, gamer, and comic book nerd subcultures in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. Each month, we pit fan-favourite pop culture icons against each other in a battle royale of wit, hilarity, and memorable one-liners.” The flyer that caught my eye was advertising a debate about Ned Stark vs. Boromir, which hero’s untimely death was a greater loss to their realm, and Zombies vs. Unicorns, which is more likely to exist. How can you not pay attention to that? Sadly, I couldn’t find someone to go with me, and being the shy creature that I am, I didn’t attend. But I vowed to return for their second season, even if I had to drag someone with me.
My first debates were the second season openers of Jurassic Park vs. the Island from Lost, which is the worst vacation destination, and Spock vs. Darth Vader, who was the better second in command. If you can guess, it was hilarious, informative, heated, even outrageous, but overall a fantastic experience even for those of us with lesser knowledge of the subjects (Trekkies get very technical and it was both confusing and brilliant).
The typical West Coast Geeks vs. Nerds night has costumes, nerf guns, an entertaining and engaging host, and you guessed it, plenty of geeks and nerds. Starting their third season on September 2, I decided it was high time they got the recognition they deserved so I will be covering all debates from this upcoming season for your reading pleasure. To give you a feel for the show, I had the pleasure of conducting an interview with the Lord High Moo-Man himself, Chris Nyarady, founder and epic host (seriously, his introduction song about Jurassic Park to the theme from Jurassic Park had me in stitches).
I understand that Geeks vs Nerds originated out in Halifax, Nova Scotia as a podcast. How was the decision made to make it a live show?
Luckily, that was one of the brilliant ideas the East Coast folks had and is one of the reasons I was instantly drawn into the project. Their podcast, like ours, is recorded live in front of a crowd of dedicated geeks and nerds, and when I first saw the show, the audience added just as much to the experience as anyone on stage with a microphone did. They would always pipe up if the debaters got something wrong and got really into cheering for their teams at the end of the debates. It really was, and continues to be, a community coming together through the art of arguing about pop culture icons. I love that feeling of being part of a community, and it’s something I continue to strive to foster here in the Vancouver version of the show. Plus, I come from a theater background, so any excuse for me to be on stage in front of a group of friends and strangers is a-ok in my book!
With the transition to the West Coast, were there already interested individuals out here or was it started from scratch? What was the reception like from the audience out here? Tell me about your journey!
It’s always hard starting a new show, and it’s hard moving to a new city where you barely know anyone. I had the honour of attempting both at the same time! Luckily I knew Keegan Flick-Parker, who’s lived in Vancouver all his life and whom I met a year previously during my only other trip to Vancouver where we both worked together on a play I wrote for a theater festival. When Keegan commented on a GvN link I posted on Facebook one day, that’s when I began to see the potential for doing this show out West. I pitched him the idea of co-producing the show with me, as well as acting as casting director. It’s really because of Keegan that the show ever happened at all. His knowledge of the city and of people who would be interested in these debates were invaluable within our first season. Interest in our show started small, with the debaters being mostly pulled from Keegan’s list of acquaintances, but as we continued to produce these debates regularly, more people found out about us, and more people attended, and even a select few of those people even signed up to be debaters! Keegan and I were both introduced to a wonderful bunch of our regular debaters because they were originally audience members who enjoyed the show.
What are the criteria used to select your panelists? I know there are a lot of return debaters but I do see new faces, too. How much research does being a panelist require?
Ah! This is an area that Keegan occupies most of his time with as casting director. What I think is great about the format of this show is that anyone can apply to be on stage debating. We’ve had a wide variety of debaters with different backgrounds. Some with ample amounts of stage experience, improvisers, and comedians. We’ve had people with some public speaking experience like writers, teachers, musicians, and we even get some people who have never been on a stage before, but want to debate a topic. They’re the opinionated fans hanging out at the local comic shop, always ready to talk in depth about what they love (or what they hate). Really, a panelist can be anyone! And we’re always looking for new people to join us on stage (there’s an application form on our website where people can apply whenever they choose)! And since the debaters are teams of three vs. three, new debaters always have the luxury of being paired up with one of our seasoned veterans who can show them the ropes. As far as research goes, how much you do is up to you and your team. But obviously the more obscure knowledge you know about, the more verbal ammo you have to launch towards the other team.
Where do you get your best topics from?
We want to make sure topics are interesting, fun, evenly balanced, and will draw in audiences from various fandoms. On top of that, we also try to avoid any topics that take place in the same universe, as those have been talked about to death already (such as Kirk vs. Picard or Batman vs. Superman). It’s not always the easiest, but luckily it is one of the funnest parts of the job. We’ve redone a lot of the bigger debates that the Halifax show has done in the past, such as Zombies vs. Unicorns, Hermione Granger vs. Willow Rosenberg, and Bugs Bunny vs. The Hulk, but the majority of debates we do come from brainstorming during team meetings with the crew. We have a huge master suggestion document where we all write down ideas, and I’m constantly adding to it if I think of another good one. On top of that, we always take suggestions from our fans on Twitter and Facebook. So we’re in no danger of running out of awesome topics any time soon. It’s all about choosing the right ones at the right time.
Who would you choose as the most powerful cryogenically frozen individual: Captain America, Omega Red, or Walt Disney?
Hmmm….while I love to play Omega Red in Marvel vs Capcom, his win/lose ratio in the comics is pretty one sided. And although I’ve developed a newfound appreciation for Cap in the last decade or so (standing up to Iron Man in Civil War really gives him some big ups in my book), I’m gonna have to go with Walt. The man was pretty much a real life Howard Stark in terms of charisma and wealth. Wake him up today, and I’m sure he’d found his own nation, or something to that effect. I’m pretty sure that’s what his goals were when opening Disneyland anyway. And we wouldn’t even care, cause it would be magical as all hell. Plus, his company now owns Marvel, so Cap and Omega would have to do what he says anyway. True power.
What has been your favourite audience reaction? Debate?
I love it when the audience goes above and beyond. We always encourage folks to come in cosplay related to the team they want to win, but at our Boromir vs. Ned Stark debate a fan took it even further. The debate began strong in Ned’s favor, but as each round ended, Team Boromir were getting more and more applause. It wasn’t until the end where Team Boromir played a video they found of George R. R. Martin himself saying Ned would lose in a fight against Boromir did the audience truly explode in applause. And to top it all off, a girl dressed in a hobbit-like cloak, got up with a flute, and started playing the theme from The Fellowship of the Ring. That will probably remain one of my favorite moments.
What was the most heated debate you’ve experienced? I witnessed Darth Vader versus Spock and that was pretty intense.
Spock vs. Vader got pretty hairy there at the end, but not the scariest in terms of nerd rage. Powerpuff Girls vs. Sailor Scouts got pretty hairy. Superman vs. Goku I also remember getting pretty intense. You know what, now that I think about it, it’s hard to have any of these debates without them getting at least a little crazy. A little crazy is good. We like that.
Do you have a dream “versus” subject that hasn’t come up yet? I wanted something Tolkien related so when the September 2 debates were announced, I was pleased as punch.
I’m glad you’re looking forward to Samwise vs. John Watson! And just so you know, we do have more Lord of the Rings characters in the waiting for future match-ups. For the longest time my dream debate was Bob (from ReBoot) vs. Tron, and all my pestering eventually led us to finally do that one last March! I do have a couple of other topics I’m pretty passionate about, but I want to keep those secret until we unveil them.
What has been the most surprising win so far?
We make sure that the candidates are pretty even for whatever topic is chosen. But there’s no getting around the fact that some characters are just currently more popular than others and thus stand a better chance at winning over the audience’s favour. So when a character wins when I considered them to be the underdog, that’s always really exciting. Boromir vs. Ned Stark is definitely one. HAL9000 vs. GlaDOS is another. This past season Care Bears vs. My Little Pony really took me surprise, as the broney community is so large, yet somehow the Care Bears won. Go figure.
I have noticed at the debates I’ve attended, there seems to be a healthy representation from women on the teams. Has this been a focus or an encouragement, or do you just find there are a good amount of women interested in participating?
Another one of the traditions we copied from the Halifax version of the show was the annual all women debates, Femageddon (held in February here) where every debater on stage is female. I thought it was an awesome idea and was always one of the funnest shows back east. We’ve had a couple of female debaters before our first Femageddon match, but not that many. I found by making a situation where we needed to cast twelve ladies (six for each debate that night), we had to dig a bit deeper and look a bit harder for debaters. The awesome thing was that first Femageddon debate opened the floodgates for so many other women debaters, and we got regular applications from women geeks and nerds after that. Some prefered to only debate during Femageddon, but most of them stuck around to become regular debaters for many of our non-Femageddon shows. Femageddon also helped to drastically increase the female attendance in our audience, another thing which I’m very thankful off.
I was unable to attend but did appreciate hearing about the annual Femageddon debate. Is there enough interest from the audience and potential debaters to keep it going or possibly increase the number of femme-centric debates?
Oh most definitely we’ll continue to do Femageddon! Along with our season finale, it’s been among our most popular shows, and it gives a great chance for the female debaters and the female character in the topics, a time to shine. We’ve already decided our Femageddon topics this year (much earlier then we usually decide our topics) and I can’t wait to get them going! And we’ve definitely heard the demand for more femme-centric topics outside of Femageddon (as the fellas like to debate for female characters, too). Case in point with our season three premiere as we pit Black Widow up against James Bond.
And finally, where does the Lord High Moo-Man get his sweet ties?
I pray to the Geek Gods of fashion and the day of the show they appear at the foot of my bed. If there’s a better way to get a sweet tie collection, I’ve never heard it!
Their third season opener is Tuesday, September 2 and is sure to be a thriller. Hope to see you there!