Austin is a nerdy town. Some will protest, “But we’re famous for live music! And drinking!” I’ll admit, those don’t necessarily seem like the nerdiest activities, but tech industries account for a huge chunk of our town’s economy and our music and film industries have brought with them, admit it, overly discerning and specialized tastes.
So let’s say, hypothetically, you are a nerd, and you are looking for something to do that’s a little more intellectually stimulating than East Sixth but not quite as dry as PBS. Lucky for you, Austin’s droves of over-educated amateur-experts have unofficially claimed the first Wednesday of each month as theirs (face it: ours). Nerd Nite Austin and the Dionysium, two NYC-originated shows that have come to Austin and gone native, have both scheduled their performances on the same night each month.
Nerd Nite is a themed lecture series slash nerd haven run out of the Spiderhouse Ballroom. Each show begins with nerd speed dating for rotating sexualities. One month, ten men and ten women speed date; the next month, just men, and just women the month following that. The actual show comprises three experts giving 20-minute lectures relevant to the night’s theme. Because of this show’s past themes, we know Austin can boast experts on interstellar warfare, floral reproduction, fecal diagnostics, Judy Blume and 3rd wave feminisim, lock picking, robots and many more.
Producer Dan Rumney passionately argues against ironic nerd tourism because “Nerd Nite is about genuine enthusiasm and excitement for your topic of interest…We're trying to give people a chance to talk about what they love to people who want to listen.” Despite reclaiming the term “nerd” and wearing it like a badge, the show’s organizers hope people come to learn (and, of course, drink) rather than to earn nerd cred.
The Dionysium, which is about to enter its 7th year as an Austin institution, received a mayoral proclamation last summer that August 4th shall be known as Dionysium Day. Dionysium President (for Life?) L.B. Deyo warns, “if your boss doesn't give you August 4th off from work, let me know and I'll send down the union boys.” If needed, the Dionysium fans who pack the South Lamar Alamo each month are likely to step in for the union boys: the Dionysians invite their audience to the Highball after the shows and to an outsider they will seem comfortable, even familial together.
Each Dionysium includes five parts, three of which are likely to be lecture, dramatic reading, close reading of a poem, or a hybrid lecture/stand up comedy bit a la John Hodgman. The finale of each show is a screening of a cartoon by the great Lance "Fever" Myers. In the middle is the crown jewel: the debate. One of the show’s brilliant producers will always defend the resolution, and they invite staggeringly qualified debaters, thinkers and writers to refute the resolution (my favorite: “Resolved that musicians are poor judges of music”).
The level of engagement at both shows is evident by the audience questions or, as the Dionysium prefers, interrogatories. Let me be clear: at these shows, you will no longer be comfortable as the smartest person in the room. You will be challenged. It will get a little heated sometimes, but don’t worry, Nerd Nite’s Rumney put it best, “the human condition is to communicate and to come together. If you're not striving to include others in your enjoyment, you're a chump.”
These are not the only shows on the Austin Nerd Bucket List. Like where my Geeks Who Drink at? And the Encyclopedia Show gets a fair amount of attention for its pseudo nerdiness, but sticks closer to comedy/variety than rampant intellect mongering. Goes to show that no matter what shade of nerdery appeals to you most, Austin’s got a show for you.