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'It's like the Discovery Channel with beer': Nerd Nite appeals to your inner dweeb

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If you like beer, are interested in Napoleonic-era military garb, immanent theologies, hula-hooping or enjoy learning new things and meeting new people, Nerd Nite might be the thing for you.

This Wednesday at 7 p.m., the PIT comedy theater at 462 W. Franklin St. will be hosting Nerd Nite.

Nerd Nites are likened to less-formal versions of TED Talks, that usually have beer and take place in bars. They consist of three roughly 20-minute talks given by people passionate about a particular subject.

Susan Brown, the director of the Chapel Hill Public Library, brought Nerd Nite to Chapel Hill. According to Brown, Nerd Nites have been happening almost monthly for about a year.

“While bands are great, and shows are great, and it’s fun to go out to clubs, this is another way to go out together, socialize, and then learn something too,” Brown said. “It’s like the Discovery Channel with beer.”

According to Matt Wasowski, the founder of Nerd Nite, there are now monthly Nerd Nites in over 100 cities worldwide.

The story goes that an evolutionary biologist and friend of Wasowski’s, Chris Balakrishnan, went to Cameroon to do research. Naturally, after returning, he was eager to talk about his time studying birds on another continent.

“When he’d come back, he basically was a bar fly at this bar in Boston,” Wasowski said.

According to Wasowski, all of Balakrishnan’s colleagues, friends and family knew to look for him at his favorite bar in Boston to hear about his travels.

“At one point the bartenders jokingly said ‘Hey, we’re sick of over-hearing you tell the same story about these birds in Africa every day. Could you get this over in one fell swoop?’” Wasowski said.

Balakrishnan finally gave a talk about his experiences doing research in Cameroon in the bar.

That was in 2003. He continued giving several talks a year at bars in Boston until 2006, when Wasowski adopted the idea and took it to New York City, where Nerd Nite evolved into its current form and spread across the country.

Enter Ann Humphreys, one of the speakers for Wednesday's Nerd Nite. Though some Nerd Nite talks delve deeply into academic, esoteric subjects, others simply examine familiar things in a new light. Humphreys, a hoop-dance instructor and self-proclaimed hula-hoop nerd, said she plans to talk about her journey to becoming a hoop-dance instructor, and what hoop dance has done for her life.

Humphreys said she will be finishing a book that she’s been working on for the last six years on that very subject.

“Even if you don’t believe that you can hula hoop, I will convince you that you can,” Humphreys said.

Wasowski explained that to be a nerd, one doesn’t have to be a scientist or a bookworm. It’s about passion.

“You can be nerdy about sports, as well as you can be nerdy about science. Really it’s just that deep level of understanding and passion and enthusiasm. Everyone’s got a little bit of nerd in them,” Wasowski said.


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