Geek culture

Geeks versus Nerds: the community behind the comedy

Declining attendance doesn’t take out Halifax’s geeky comedians

Warning: explicit language

Geeks versus Nerds has live shows once a month on a Tuesday -- "the uncoolest night of the week," Andrew Dorfman said.
Geeks versus Nerds holds their monthly live shows on Tuesday — “the uncoolest night of the week,” Andrew Dorfman says.   Grace Kennedy

There was a quiet buzz of energy in half the bar.

Sports games flickered on 31 televisions, but few people were watching them. They were looking at Andrew Dorfman.

He stood at a podium at the back of the room, a homburg hat pushed back on his head.

He leaned in conspiratorially towards the microphone.

“You look like an avocado fucked an older avocado.”

The crowd erupted, and Geeks versus Nerds began.

The audience clapped along to the theme music as Dorfman introduced the debate: Which traitor do you hate to love? Starscream or Lando Calrissian.

The monthly comedy show started as a podcast in Dorfman’s living room in 2010. It has kept going for six years, despite a decline in attendance at live shows and the shuttering of its online magazine in June 2015.

“We live in a world where arts are not really highly valued,” Dorfman said, “and as low-brow and low-humour as my show can be, it is still art.”

The show is a community of comedy; a gathering of geeks willing to sling a few f-bombs and ruffle a few fandoms. And that connection of art and kinship is what keeps Geeks versus Nerds going.

The right atmosphere

On Feb. 16, the community came to Bubba Rays Too in west-end Halifax well before the show, paying $5 at the door and ordering burgers, beer, nachos and bottles of Coke.

Dorfman said the sports bar is a good fit for Geeks versus Nerds. “It’s the atmosphere that we were looking for where we started originally.

“People can order dinner, have some drinks and have a show and get home in time to be in bed so they don’t have to get up all groggy for work the next day.”

At 8 p.m., when Léo Melanson announced the pre-show, the geek half of the bar quieted down.

The pre-show is made up of five two-minute debates. These debates are used as auditions for people wanting to become full-fledged debaters.

Melanson doesn’t usually host the two-minute debates – he’s a regular in the main show. For him, the connection of community and comedy is what makes Geeks versus Nerds special.

“You can go online and you can find a dozen people on any website discussing the merits of Batman versus Superman, Kirk versus Picard,” he said.

Comedy shows like this are uncommon, “so I really enjoy the fact that we are settling these arguments with, not rage or even facts really, but with basic humour.”

Humour is the backbone of a Geeks versus Nerds debate.

Team Geek, supporting the transformer Starscream, was led by Nick Parson, wearing a pink cloak and handmade crown. Team Nerd, supporting Star Wars’ Lando Calrissian, had Carey Lee dressed as Han Solo and pretending to be Christopher Walken.

“What we’re asking is who do we hate to love,” Shawn Kehoe (Team Geek) said during the debate. Team Nerd had just finished promoting Lando – with an aside from the fake Walken.

“As they just said, Lando is basically a victim of circumstances … Starscream, on the other hand, is what is technically termed in psychological circles as an evil rat bastard.”

The audience’s response sounded like a pre-recorded laugh track, but it wasn’t. It was raw.

Face to face

Maria Brine, one of the regulars at Geeks versus Nerds, said this is one of the things that makes Geeks versus Nerds special.

She first started listening to the podcast from her home in New Brunswick in 2010. When she moved to Halifax three years later, she started going to the live shows.

“We sit around and drink and whatever at home, and talk about exactly these debates on our own,” she said.

“But it’s something more when you can come sit down in a room full of people and share a beer with them and laugh at the same jokes face to face.”

The winner of every debate is decided by the strength of the cheers at the end. The audience can give suggestions for that show’s go-call – the line that marks the opening of the show.

At February’s debate, a woman sitting with Melanson called out a line from the new Deadpool movie, and that avocado quote was used as the go-call.

“This show wouldn’t survive if we didn’t have a community to support it,” Dorfman said.

In 2012, Dorfman said attendance at Geeks versus Nerds was never less than 80 people; when the show was at the Bus Stop Theatre on Gottingen in 2015, it was closer to 60. It has fallen further since last winter. Now it’s closer to 40 or 50.

“It’s difficult to cut through the noise and bring a crowd in,” Dorfman said. “How do we get them out from in front of their video games and come out for a live show once a month. How?”

Loyal supporters

The core of the community seems stable and loyal.

The burger-eating, beer-drinking audience cheered when Nick Parson faltered on his joke and Dorfman announced a do-over.

They laughed when fake-Christopher Walken started the trash-talk round by saying: “I could have done a lot of parts in Star Wars. I could have said ‘These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.’ It’s fucking easy.”

And at the end of the debate, they were quiet when Team Nerd announced that they just got a text from the other team.

“They want to offer us a bribe to betray Lando,” Gavin Liddel said, looking at his phone. “It says here a Camaro – brand new – and Megan Fox.”

“Slightly used,” Kehoe added from across the table.

There was laughter and cheering, and it grew louder as the Nerds took the deal.

It is these moments that make the show more than just a show. It is a connection for the people who are there month after month.

“It’s not just a show or performance,” Melanson said. “For some of us it’s a life and a friendship.”