Science and Karaoke at Nerd Nite Philly

by Geno Thackara

The first Wednesday of each month is a celebration of geekery at Frankford Hall. The wood-and-brick Fishtown bar is an inviting place already with an open-air courtyard and chances to attempt drunken ping-pong or Jenga. When Nerd Nite comes, though, the indoor section is reserved for attendees who appreciate brains as much as beer. Hey, everyone knows nerdy is the new sexy.

The occasion is billed as “a monthly lecture event that strives for an inebriated, salacious, yet deeply academic vibe.” Three presenters are given about twenty minutes each to stand up and talk about something fun and fascinating, leaving intermission spots for live music or other entertainment in between. Any topic is fair game. Scientists can speak on green energy projects or weird biology; the more arts-inclined might delve into philosophy or books or linguistics. It goes on in cities all over the world, though I’d bet the Philly series is the only one that’s included a rapping Ben Franklin on the bill.

July’s installment went from comic books to natural phenomena and artificial intelligence. Ian Chant first singled out the fictional history of Jack Monroe, one of Captain America’s more obscure sidekicks, to hilariously outline a decades-long story arc that makes your average red-shirt’s role seem like a day at the beach. Not your usual bar discussion by a long shot, but this was an audience that would hang on Q&A musings like “Why can’t Bucky come back as a new Venom?” without batting an eye.

Co-host Chris Cummins asked “Who remembers the 1980s?” to introduce the musical interludes. Maybe it would have been nicer if there’d been more than half a dozen of us raising our hands, but the Youtube generation can go brush up on Masters of the Universe if they need to. The musical Skeletoreoke experience (https://twitter.com/skeletoreoke) – yes, exactly what it sounds like – got the room on board soon enough, eventually crossing the cartoon icon with some horrifically cheesy Neil Diamond. Among the strangest and wackiest things you might happen to see on any given weeknight out in the city, this has to be at least in the top three.

Under the headline “My Favorite Disaster,” Emma Paras drew on her expertise as CHOP’s Senior Emergency Preparedness Planner to regale the place with some stories and pictures of 1969’s Hurricane Camille. Not only did it teach us all some things that might be useful if the zombies do rise up someday, it was downright normal compared to the following segment of Cummins and Skeletor reading samples from the (apparently very real) book Letters to E.T. You just couldn’t make this stuff up.

If an infinite number of monkeys can do it, then surely it was just a matter of time until there was a robot writing Shakespeare as well. Comedian Glen Tickle apparently started tossing together his speaking Mr. Toyboto program as a lark to entertain his daughter, and today it can reassemble the Bard’s words and sometimes make an almost-coherent sentence. It was fascinating and oddly reassuring to be reminded that machines aren’t smart enough to understand puns. Maybe the singularity isn’t quite around the corner just yet.

Most people wouldn’t put nearly so much thought into things so loopy, sure, but that’s exactly why it’s so fun. Being a nerd just means enjoying what you like, whatever that may be, and this gang is happy to provide a chance every month to join your fellow oddballs and feel right at home.

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