Paradoxical as it seems, being a nerd now is actually very cool. Everything from the success of comic book movies like Iron Man and Avengers to people reading and watching Game of Thrones to the appearance of Neil Gaiman on the Simpsons points to a brave new world of dorkdom.
But nerds have always been here; it’s just that “no one has ever known they were among us–until now.” The last 20 years have seen nerds of great power nestled among every profession.
(A note about terminology. Some people believe”nerd” and “geek” and “dork” have slightly different meaning or connotations. I think they are all interchangeable–maybe that’s because I was called all of them in high school? I will argue that it’s a false dichotomy to differentiate between these designations, an arbitrary attempt to ascribe more narrow meanings than the words themselves deserve. Your mileage may vary.)
#5 Zak Smith
Smith wears a lot of hats. (And little else). As an artist/game designer/DM/porn star, he is pretty much the ubernerd, the man every kid memorizing Tolkien’s poetry wishes he could grow up to be. Since 2010, he has directed I Hit it With My Axe, where he and several lady porn stars play Dungeons and Dragons.
#4 Curt Schilling
I hadn’t ever heard of this guy, but apparently he was a baseball player who liked playing MMOs (from Ultima online to Everquest to World of Warcraft) and games like D&D and the Total War games so much that he spent 50 million dollars on a video game company. His WoW addition is pretty strong too. When his teammates went out to party, he’d stay in the hotel room and level up his character.
#3 Vin Diesel
Personally I can’t tell him apart from the Rock, but he is a huge (in more ways than one) D&D geek–he even has one of his character’s names tattooed upon himself. You can find clips of him discussing his geek love all over the internet.
#2 Brian May
If his part in the Highlander soundtrack didn’t clue you in, Brian May is in fact a big nerd (of the science variety.) May co-authored two scientific papers on astrophysics and the book Bang! – The Complete History of the Universe with Christ Lintott and Patrick Moore. Not convinced? He also plays Warhammer 40K (a game with a lot of miniatures with races like Nekrons and Dark Eldar and Space marines and and a manual of several hundred pages.)
#1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
When you get down to it, being a nerd isn’t playing D&D or reading too much Neil Gaiman. It’s feeling different than your peers. It’s being Charlie Brown and not getting invited to any parties (except by mistake or to have your head act as a Pumpkin model).
As Abdul-Jabbar, the 19 time All-Star, says:
I rarely partied or attended celebrity bashes. On the flights to games, I read history books. Basically, I was a secret nerd who just happened to also be good at basketball. Interacting with a lot of people was like taking someone deathly afraid of heights and dangling him over the balcony at the top of the Empire State Building. If I could, I’d tell that nerdy Kareem to suck it up, put down that book you’re using as a shield, and, in the immortal words of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (to prove my nerd cred), “Engage!”
If his appearances in Conan and Bruce Lee movies didn’t convince you, the Star Trek reference kinda has to.
There you are. 5 dudes (and, yeah, they were all men. I couldn’t really find any nerdy women who weren’t pretty open about their geektitude) who excelled in their fields and yet were, somewhat secretly, big fat nerds.
If everyone from the all-time scoring leader of the NBA to the lead guitarist of Queen are geeks, there is no reason for the rest of us not to join them. Call yourself what you want, just make sure you do it with a little bit of awkwardness and over-enthusiasm.