Nerd Nite began when self-proclaimed nerd, Dr. Chris Balakrishnan, was asked to give a presentation at his local neighborhood bar. Every year, Balakrishnan would venture off to Africa in the name of science, and then mysteriously return months later. Eventually, his friends, and bartender, wanted an explanation. Thus began Nerd Nite. Soon, Nerd Nite spread to New York, when co-founder Matt Wasowski agreed to coordinate a Nerd Nite New York. Now, Nerd Nite is located in over 80 cities including San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and Oakland. Over the years, it has also ventured beyond science to include all topics.
Regardless of venue or city, Nerd Nite keeps to the same format. Throughout the night, local intellects present the audience with 18-21 minute talks. All presenters have accompanying PowerPoint slideshows and speak about something they’re passionate about. The whole premise of Nerd Nite is that one’s profession is a large part of who someone is, so why not share what you do with friends, family, and complete strangers? Equally as important as the educational aspect of Nerd Nite is the drinking aspect of Nerd Nite. Founders Chris and Matt believe that learning is more fun when you’re imbibing something delicious, so every event features a bar.
The layout of Nerd Nite is also kept relatively consistent, regardless of venue or city. There is one stage, and surrounding it, couches and chairs. The couches set the tone for Nerd Nite. While an intellectual outlet, it is also a very informal event with heckling allowed and speakers often swearing. This is no TED Talk—speakers represent common citizens from doctors, to librarians, to film enthusiasts. The only common thread that joins all the speakers is that they are experts in their field, but are also passionate about learning from others.
Topics greatly range across fields. In the past, nerds have learned about spider mating. Audience members were given antennas and asked to ‘out dance’ each other, just as male spiders would. Sex is a common theme at Nerd Nite, with other past talks discussing how robot sex varies in cinema. However, sex isn’t always the focal point. Recent Nerd Nite SF learned about the information black hole that exists as a result of libraries’ inabilities to scan documents due to copyright laws. After each presentation, the Q&A session begins. During this time, the nerdiness of Nerd Nite truly come out to play, as the audience grills each speaker asking more about their topic, no matter what it is.
Be sure to stop by Nerd Nite every third Wednesday of each month. The local San Francisco show is held at Rickshaw Stop, where you can buy tickets for just $8. Insider’s tip: Buy your tickets online and line up early in order to ensure you get a couch. A range of food is also offered, from tamales to lasagne to mochi, but all must be paid for in cash. Maybe if you end up enjoying Nerd Nite, you’ll even sign up for one of their speed dating events.