Superman versus Batman? That’s a debate for amateurs. How about Tupac’s ghost versus Skeletor, or Gandalf versus WWE’s Paul Bearer? These are the kinds of higher-level debates that have been conducted at The Tournament of Nerds, previously held at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles and debuting on the Nerdist Channel on Sunday (Here’s a small taste of what’s to come). We thought about making creators Hal Rudnick and Justin Donaldson fight each other in a cage match as a way to kick things off, then realized if they got too hurt, we wouldn’t have a show. So we talked to them instead.
Nerdist: For those not familiar with your live version of the show, what is The Tournament of Nerds?
Hal Rudnick: It’s a comedy debate show that pits fans of pop culture, nerds, debating on behalf of their favorite characters. These nerds really go for it. Content, style, costumes all can help sway the debate.
N: What will video add to Tournament of Nerds that simply can’t be achieved on a live stage?
Justin Donaldson: We get to give the votes to the fans. At the theatre we can’t go person to person asking everyone who they think won. We leave it up to four judges to decide. Now on the Nerdist everyone will get a vote. For me, that’s the most exciting thing.
HR: The videos will save these battles for eternity… like dinosaur DNA crystallized in a piece of amber. It will also help spread these good times to much larger audiences. We’re proud of the show, the contributions from everyone involved, and would love for as many people to see it as possible.
N: Who from the Nerdist Channel lineup do you think would fare best in the tournament?
JD: The best way to win the Tournament of Nerds is by being passionate. Neil Degrasse Tyson has an unbridled passion that would help him put his opponent down.
HR: Weird Al would kill it. He could write awesome songs for each of his debates. He’d totally take Willow Smith’s “Whip my Hair” and replace it the lyrics to make it about Ric Flair.
N: What is the most controversial “battle” you have had on the show?
JD: John Carpenter’s The Thing vs. Willy Wonka was by far the most heated it ever got on stage. The judges got into debates with each other. The debaters went at it after the rounds had ended. The judges got out of their chairs and yelled at the debaters. It was a real scene to behold.
HR: There has been much controversy in the show. We’ve had ties, racial diatribes, the Bionic Woman beat Spider-man once… shit gets cray.
N: What inspired the creation of the show?
JD: I really just wanted to create the kind of show if wish I could have gone to when I was younger. If I wasn’t in this show I would be out in the audience.
HR: Justin and I both have a love of pop culture. We started talking about this idea and it came together like Voltron.
N: Have any of the facts or tidbits that have been brought as evidence surprised you or been useful later?
HR: People have brought photos and presented them as exhibits as if in a court of law. There has been audio and video evidence. The degree of nerd knowledge is staggering. I still can’t believe that the Kool-Aid Man had his own comic book.
N: Have you found that working on the show for so long has made you a total beast at bar trivia?
HR: Yes, but I already took that shit seriously. Bar trivia and board games? You better come to play.
JD: We have been out on stage for all of the debates, so I would like to think all that info was absorbed.
N: Who’s the most memorable guest judge you’ve had on your panel?
JD: Rowdy Roddy Piper. When I was a kid watching Roddy wrestle I never in my wildest dreams would have thought that twenty years later we would be on stage together. Especially not at a black box comedy theatre at 1am. Also Sasha Grey, but she was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
HR: We’ve been lucky to have many amazing guest judges, Chris Hardwick, Marc Andreyko, Tom Lennon, Ben Garant, Malin Akerman, Rich Sommer, Taran Killam, and many more…I might say Pauly Shore was the most memorable. He lives in Pauly Land.
N: Who would be your dream judge?
JD: Mick Foley. Wrestlers are always great as judges on our show. Tournament of Nerds is a lot like pro wrestling in many ways. We have come close to getting Mick to judge a few times but the schedules just never match up.
HR: Howard Stern or Judge Joe Brown.
N: Knowing all that you know, if each of you were to enter an actual superhero battle royal, who would you want to be and why?
HR: Rorschach from The Watchmen. He’s flawed and fearless. He doesn’t give a crap and would spend his last breath trying to defeat you…plus that mask and trench coat are super sweet.
JD: The Thing from the Fantastic Four. I strongly relate to him emotionally. Sorry to end this interview on such a downer.
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