Mathew Klickstein is an accomplished multimedia writer who lives, breathes and writes about Nerd culture. Some of his varied credits include scribing for publications like Wired magazine as well as penning the horror feature Against The Dark, starring Steven Segal in his first role in the genre. Klickstein has also written children’s books, and nonfiction exploring interesting cornerstones of pop culture, including SLIMED! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age and Nerding Out: How Pop Culture Ruined the Misfit.
Klickstein’s most recent collaboration is now with Heavy Metal on the NERTZ podcast, an in-depth interview series with different personalities across the pop culture landscape.
In anticipation of his new series we had a chance to sit down with him to learn what NERTZ and being a nerd is all about.
How did this project come about?
I was working on a book that ended up coming out in China – it was called Nerding Out: How Pop Culture Ruined The Misfit. It was supposed to come out in America, but the imprint fell through and then a Chinese publisher bought it and now it’s just out in China. It was a book about the changing face of nerd culture. I talked to filmmakers, actors, writers, all sorts of folks. I had these great interviews I was sitting on. I wanted to do something else with them. So I started writing little articles for Wired based on some of the materials I put together. And then I decided the interviews themselves are so great, maybe I’ll use those as a center of a podcast.
So I got permission and I slowly released each one as a separate interview, cut them up, gave them context since it was done two years ago. I created a sort of these This American Life podcast episodes where I did an intro, outro, interstitial materials.
Talk about some of the episodes. What are the topics you cover? What’s one that you’re excited about?
The first one debuted as part of an article I did. It was with a woman named Dr. Sandra Calbert and we spoke about parasocial relationships, which goes into the psychology of why we connect with characters. Things like the fact that news anchors speak to the camera, so they can build a sense of trust. It goes back to a branding idea. It’s the same reason why Mr. Rogers broke the fourth wall and spoke to the audience.That’s a great one. I mean, all sorts of topics are covered. One thing I keep thinking about is how our generation is the guinea pig for what binge watching can do to us. We probably won’t know what it does to us for another 10-20 years.
How many episodes have been completed? Who are some of the guests you can mention?
I’ve been releasing the episodes for the last five years very infrequently. It’s a labor of love. I wanted a way to get these interviews out there. I spoke to Diablo Cody, and John Park, the guy who created Flo the Progressive insurance spokeswoman. I’ve given Heavy Metal nine episodes which will be rolling out soon.
What’s the cadence going to be, do you plan on releasing new ones?
We will be releasing one a week for nine weeks. If those go well, there are another six or seven that can be used. And if it continues to keep going, and people are enjoying them I’ve got others. I did about thirty or forty interviews – some are hours, some two hours, some twenty minutes. I ended up with 3,000 pages of single space notes. I’m sitting on approximately 20 to 25 episodes that are unreleased.
What was your biggest discovery from all these conversations?
At the time Nerd culture was peaking. This was back in 2013. A lot has changed. I would say what I learned and the research that I did is that Nerd culture has evolved from what it was from the 50’s,60’s and 70’s. In the 90’s it shifted into geek culture, which was about merchandise, and the “collect them all” mentality. Douglas Coupland said it best “A geek is a nerd who knows he is one.”
So – in all of your research can you categorically define the difference between a Nerd, Geek and Dork?
I feel like a nerd is someone who does things out of passion, and a geek wants people to see what he or she has done. Who got to the front of the line? Who got to see the new Star Wars movie first? I’m going to give you the ultimate analogy using characters from The Simpsons.
Lisa is a nerd. She is passionate about what she’s into.
The Comic Book Guy is a geek. He’s loud, abrasive, he sells and collects it all. He criticizes it. He’s competitive about it. He goes to all the conventions. He’s smart, no doubt a fan. He’s not a fake. He wants everyone to know how nerdy and geek he is. To him, collectibles are social currency. It’s a real currency of its own.
A dork is Milhous. Not smart, not good at anything – he looks nerdy, seems geeky – but he’s his own thing.
Alongside the NERTZ podcast, are there any exciting forthcoming projects that you are excited about?
Being a working class writer/producer, I always have a few plates I’m spinning. In addition to Heavy Metal now partnering up with me to get some more ears on my NERTZ podcast series, the trade paperback edition (aka graphic novel) of my sci-fi/horror comic book series You Are Obsolete is coming to stores and online everywhere June 17 from my publisher AfterShock.
Something I’m extremely excited about is my first middle-grade reader (ages 6-12) coming out through Schiffer Kids in late Sept. The book is loosely based on and inspired by an actual rock band I’ve worked with in numerous capacities for the past twenty years. The book is called The Kids of Widney Junior High Take Over the World!, and it will be out in beautiful hardcover with a scanner on the back so that readers can download three free actual Kids of WIdney High songs. The illustrations were gorgeously rendered by Baltimore-based comic book creator and instructor Michael Bracco (aka Spaghetti Kiss). A portion of the profits will be going to a local non-profit in LA, LA Goal, that has been hit really hard during this time and which has been an active partner of the band for years.
I have a few other projects coming together as we speak that I would love to mention, but we’re probably not quite there yet, so I would suggest anyone who’s interested to keep up with my forthcoming creative machinations at: www.MathewKlickstein.com
Tell us more about the graphic novel!
The easiest concision of You Are Obsolete would be to say something along the lines of “Children of the Corn … with cell phones.”
There’s obviously much more to it than that, but I think what’s been caught in a lot of the reviews of the series is that it really revisits a lot of the classic 60s/70s/80s horror and sci-fi movies/literature tropes, which was my favorite part of putting together the books. I was really inspired by the likes of The Twilight Zone, Matheson’s original I Am Legend novella, Lovecraft, Kafka and the films of folks like Cronenberg and Carpenter for this one. That kind of suspenseful, slow-burn feel that has led to nearly every reviewer at some point referring to You Are Obsolete as “creepy.”
What’s next for you? What do you really want to say?
Next? I’m going to meditate, stretch, run some errands, go for a nature hike if the weather gets better later today, and as always, work work work.
What I really want to say is: BUMPER STICKER.