NORTH ADAMS -- Ever want to do something constructive with your night out, where you walked out of the bar with as many facts in your head as beers in your belly? Nerd Nite might be what you are looking for.
Describing itself as "like the Discovery Channel with beer," Nerd Nite is the opportunity to participate in a learning experience with a group of like-minded individuals, many of whom are happy to have a few drinks while expanding their brains.
Nerd Nite comes to Mass MoCA on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 8 p.m.
For the evening in North Adams, the organizers have compiled a best of, featuring two presenters from the Boston edition and one from the New York City one, covering topics like "Mumblecore: The Film Movement that Didn’t Roar," "Nerds and Whey: How the controlled spoilage of milk begets the world’s tastiest cheeses" and "Hey, Where’s My Robot Girlfriend? The Singularity, Sperm Bots and the Future of Sexual Technology."
If going on a Saturday night to learn something seems against the nature of a weekend, the Nerd Nite organizers promise that information intake is just one portion of a full evening.
"We realize that ultimately it’s a social event," Matt Wasowski, host of the New York City edition and co-host for the Mass MoCA appearance, said. "You’re out on, in this case, a Saturday night and you’re with your friends and you probably want to have some drinks, so if you’re going to learn. it better be presented entertainingly and humorously and cleverly, as well as smartly. That way it ultimately does become as much a performance as it is a lecture."
It’s also a way for people to step outside of their daily circles and come into contact with experience and knowledge that they wouldn’t in their regular workplace. It works the same in the other direction -- Nerd Nite can be a way for people with specific areas of expertise to move beyond their employment-defined social circles to connect with others.
"That’s one reason I wanted to do this in the beginning," said Wasowski. "My day job is working at an educational software company and I don’t have a lot of time outside of my daily life to learn about what kind of robots I can have sex with."
"I think this is a creative forum for people to entertainingly learn something they frankly aren’t going to come across in their day-to-day lives. We all definitely get pigeon-holed in whatever it is that we do from 9 to 5 or 8 to 8 or whatever those hours of the day are."
Nerd Nite began in Boston in 2003, the effort of Dr. Chris Balakrishan, who reached out to Wasowski with the idea of expanding it to New York City.
"I was running trivia nights in New York City, and I was getting tired of it," he said. "He kept telling me that I should do this in New York City, too, and I was like, ‘no that’s crazy, people aren’t going to talk about science in a bar in New York City because New York City is way too cool for something like that.’ That’s the annoying answer you’re supposed to give in that situation."
Wasowski went to Boston to check out the Nerd Nite and immediately came on board to bring it to New York City.
"After seeing how much fun they were, I gave up my trivia gigs and started doing it here, and then became tasked with spreading it globally and also making it a little bit more cross disciplinary," Wasowski said. "When I started out, it was really pure science, it started out in the science community in Boston, so I wanted to make it have some more mass appeal, so we opened up the topics."
Moving beyond pure science opened up opportunities for endless topics, and Wasowski was even able to usher in a night of one of his own particular obsessions.
"I have this private personal interest in games," he said. "I think games are fun. Most people think games are fun, so about a year ago, I actively sought out random game experts. We had this one night here where we had four presentations. It was the scandalous history of all these games, which have really bizarre beginning. One of them was Scrabble, one was Monopoly, one was Tetris, another one was pinball. We put together this really fun night where you learned the most bizarre origins of all these things that you think are these innocuous, charming aspects of our lives, and yet there are horrible aspects to these games, yet there are horrible things that all these games got started with."
In finding presenters, the folks behind Nerd Nite tend to find people through its own audience. The biggest rule to grabbing a slot is that you need to have attended Nerd Nite before to get a sense of how it is done -- presentation, especially in context of balancing the information being given with the informality required in a stage performance.
There’s not much vetting involved after that -- the most important step to grabbing a presenter’s slot is to ask, and understand that moment is probably your audition.
"I find when I’m being pitched ideas by possible presenters is that I immediately take it at face value that they are experts and they’re knowledgeable enough in whatever topic they’re willing to discuss," said Wasowski, "but what I’m really looking for then is their confidence that they’ve just seen these excellent presentations and they think they can do just as well and when they’re pitching to me I’m actually paying attention to if I’m entertained in their 10 to 30-second spiel versus whether they know their content or not."
"What we’ve really learned is that’s actually created a sense of competition where people now where they try to one-up the person they had seen previously present, but what it also does is makes a very self-sel ecting pool of presenters be cause if you go to one and you have the time of your life and you’re laughing hysterically and you learn all these weird things, you are going to say to yourself, ‘hey I’d like to do this myself.’ "
The current effort to expand Nerd Nite has involved starting regular evenings outside of the big cities and in places that have a density of people itching in something different to do socially. College towns are a good bet -- Nerd Nites have popped up in Vermillion, S.D., and Lawrence, Kan.
"We’ve just started one in Spear fish, S.D., which is a population of several thousand," Wasowski said. "It’s interesting because we’ve actually had some success with those be cause, frankly, they are just al most no other options, so it’s actually worked out pretty well. The people are starting to ap preciate having something completely, completely different going on. And there are a number of pretty small towns that this has really caught on at."
Creative crowds have migrated to the smaller places, even rural communities, and this population is part of Nerd Nite’s target audience.
The Nerd Nite in North Adams is only scheduled as a one-time performance, but Wasowski says that the plan is to see how things go with the hopes of being able to do it again sometime -- after all, the Northern Berkshires is filled with the very population Nerd Nite seeks to unite over beers and knowledge.
"It’s those people who really do have a genuine enthusiasm and interest to find strange things like this and that’s why they go to places," said Wasowski. "They’re very, very eager and really great audience members."
Nerd Nite can be found online at nerdnite.com.