Bumbershoot Comedy Report IV: Chris Hardwick

This is how Chris Hardwick, an L.A. comic born and raised in Tennessee, describes his Red State upbringing. "Apostrophe! Merica! 'Merica!" He's a high-energy performer appearing on several stages at Bumbershoot (details after the jump), not just telling jokes, but also hosting his tech-oriented The Nerdist podcast and singing an impressive Night Ranger-Radiohead mashup in front of a professional band. With a surprisingly good voice.

Hardwick is already a headliner when he tours Seattle (most recently in March) and riffs on our gadget-centric culture. But he's also an industrious multi-hyphenate who went from UCLA to MTV's Singled Out to radio, stand-up, and hosting gigs including G4's Web Soup.

Watching him share the stage twice in one day with a half-dozen other performers (none of them bad), you felt a twinge of pity for low-key comics who had to precede or follow him. Hardwick may not be the smartest or the most talented of the lot, but he leads them all in hustle...

With a penchant for high-fiving viewers in the front row, doing goofy voices, and erupting into little patter songs, Hardwick has a radio DJ's facility with the quick segue. His bits may not connect--bashing rednecks and hipsters, mocking Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, singing a few dozen digits of pi--but he strings them together by force of will. Clean-cut and sober, he positions himself as a reformed frat boy, one clever enough to have left his bras behind. He's tremendously likeable, never pushes too blue, but he also neglects to pause much for laughter or applause. He's no storyteller, but a smarty-pants guy trapped in fast-forward mode.

Or at least that was my impression during his first stand-up set (shared with smutty girl/shoegazer Morgan Murphy and angry gay polemicist Jamie Kilstein; more on them in a later post). Then I saw Hardwick again on Bring the Rock, hosted by and starring Greg Behrendt. This time Hardwick slowed down, told two memorable stories about his radio DJ days, then sang a surprisingly strong mash-up of Night Ranger's "Sister Christian" and Radiohead's "Creep." It was beyond karaoke, both sincere and jokey. Behrendt's backing band is composed of young L.A. rock/cabaret musicians who know how to play, and Hardwick got a standing O for his show-ending number. He's not so lightweight after all.

Chris Hardwick The Nerdist podcast, Comedy Stage South (Charlotte Martin Theater), 2:45 p.m. Monday. Bring the Rock, Comedy Stage South, 6:15 p.m. Monday. With Morgan Murphy and Jamie Kilstein, Comedy Stage North (Intiman Theatre), 5:30 p.m. Monday.

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