Darin White

4 Years of Nerd

If you haven’t yet heard of Nerd Nite, this is a good time to get in on the action. The only regular speaker series in town, Nerd Nite has outlasted Ignite Waterloo, TedX, and Speakeasy — and it’s growing. Extending their reach, and always expanding their roster of local speakers.

In March, Nerd Nite celebrated their fourth anniversary with NERDFEST at The Adventurers Guild. In April, they will venture further north. The Kitchener-based series holds its first Waterloo-side event on the 27th at the Princess Cafe.

What’s it all about? Defining what “nerd” is or isn’t tries too hard to draw boundaries around an event that varies quite significantly from month to month. Nerd Nite has been known to hand out Nintendo-controller-shaped soaps as prizes for their popular team trivia games. They reveal little-known facts about local breweries and sharks and the stars, and also welcome artists and poets as speakers. In fact, virtually anyone can speak. The breadth of topics is one of the event’s strengths, along with a welcoming vibe and plenty of local ties.

I asked NERDFEST organizer Charlotte Armstrong about the “secret sauce” that keeps Nerd Nite going, with a strong contingent of regulars and newcomers, amounting to about 50-80 people per month.

“I’ve heard testimonials from people that were like me and struggling to find their community and feel that sense of belonging here, and Nerd Nite KW helped them just as it helped me. I meet a new person at every show and it is always awesome,” Armstrong says.

Armstrong reminds me a bit of Mary Poppins and her magically bottomless bag of bits and bobs, each more surprising than the last. Armstrong also has the energy and determination of Poppins. She has a knack for drawing people out of their shells and make them feel right at home.

“At the beginning of each show we ask if there are any new people there and the brave ones will raise their hands and we applaud them. This helps our audience members know who is new and to introduce themselves as well. We have a great base of about 30 regular members that have been with us since the beginning, and that always provide comical heckling when I’m on stage.”

Sometimes Nerd Nite strays from the stage. They recently brought a bunch of outdoors-enthusiasts into the woods for an owl-sighting hike.

“Nerd Nite KW is one of the most regular of the global Nerd Nite family. We have monthly shows from September to May and field trips from June until August every year,” Armstrong explains.

“We are comparable to the Nerd Nites in cities much larger than us and this is all thanks to the commitment of our team.”

The “global” Nerd Nite family consists of over 96 satellite groups, all part of an international organization. Nerd Nite KW has some interaction with speakers from other cities, but for the most part is KW-centric.

“We only use local talent for our regular shows,” Charlotte notes.

“If we have an opportunity to have an out of town speaker — such as the event we did at Communitech with Dr. Julielynn Wong and her 3D4MD project last summer — then it will be a special edition event. In fact, several of our speakers have gone on to give talks at Nerd Nites in Toronto, New York, Boston, Germany and Detroit. We take pride in always using local talent.”

The first Nerd Nite filled Rum Runner Pub (now TWH Social). The topics: peregrine falcons, space balloons, and Star Wars vs. Star Trek, with trivia and social time afterwards.

“When I first moved to KW in 2010, I knew no one and was desperate to find the nerd community that I knew was out there somewhere. After visiting Toronto to attend the Nerd Nite Toronto events, I contacted the “big boss” of Nerd Nite in New York City. He vetted me and deemed me nerdy enough to start my own chapter. I was lucky enough to also be allowed to add to the Nerd Nite model of speakers and trivia to include an artist in residence and to also collaborate and support other community events,” Armstrong recalls.

This summer, watch for regular monthlies and field trips! Previous field trips have included bat hikes, visits to THEMUSEUM, and to the Observatory at the University of Waterloo.