It's hard to measure what sort of impact AMC's "Talking Dead" has had on host Chris Hardwick's career. Hardwick already had a steady stand-up career and popular podcast before he began hosting the live talk show, which airs shortly after the mega-hit zombie drama "The Walking Dead." But you can bet Hardwick — who was stuck in a rut after co-hosting MTV's "Singled Out" with Jenny McCarthy and then Carmen Electra in the 1990s — isn't taking his "Dead" gig for granted.
"I don't know if I've ever worked on a show that many people watch," Hardwick said over the phone last month from Los Angeles. "Maybe 'Singled Out.' Any time you're lucky enough to get on a show people watch, it's a good thing. Five years ago, I decided, after working on stuff I didn't care about just to survive, that I really only wanted to work on things I care about. I wasn't in a financial position to make that decision, but I did it anyway."
Hardwick was a fan of "Walking Dead" and had moderated the show's panel at San Diego Comic Con in 2011 before he was given the job. Now, his name is associated with the series — which is AMC's highest-rated show and debuted this season as the highest-rated entertainment premiere among young adults anywhere on TV — even if he's never appeared on the show.
(During a recent episode of "Talking Dead," Hardwick said "we" when referring to "Walking Dead" before quickly correcting himself.)
"I know actors on the show. Not really well, but enough that I care about them," said Hardwick, who watches "Walking Dead" episodes the afternoon before they air so that his reactions are more organic than they would be if he watched days in advance. "I've seen the show build the last couple years. It's been exciting to be a small part of that."
Hardwick will perform Friday at Zanies Comedy Club in Old Town and Saturday at Zanies in Rosemont. Does he believe some of the people in the crowd will expect "Walking Dead" talk during his stand-up set?
"I haven't fully been on the road yet, so I don't know," Hardwick said. "It wasn't a problem last year. But 'Talking Dead' did well last season and has done really well this season. … People who come to the show know what I do. I'm sure I'll inevitably drift into that ('Walking Dead') territory."
The Nerdist brand created by Hardwick includes specials on BBC America, a 9,000-square foot theater in the back of Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles and more than 20 podcasts, including his own. Hardwick's podcast, The Nerdist, was named one of Rolling Stone's 10 best "Comedy Podcasts of the Moment" last year and has featured possibly the most impressive guest list of any podcast. While many struggle to book big-name guests, The Nerdist has featured A-list stars such as late night talk show hosts Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Kimmel and actors Tom Hanks, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
"The first two years or so, it was just me reaching out to friends," Hardwick said. "But at a certain point, I ran out of friends and hired bookers who used to book for Conan. Now we also get pitched a lot of people, like, 'Are you interested in having Malcolm McDowell on the show?' It's been exciting for me to check off names of people I want to meet."
Although Hardwick is making a living off of being a fanboy, he has found himself on the other side of the spectrum as of late due to "Talking Dead." Some fans seem to think he has a say on "Walking Dead" storylines and commercial placements, and they'll vent to him.
"People complain to me about the show," Hardwick said. "They need to be heard somewhere. If that's the quote-unquote burden I have to bear to be close to this thing, it's worth it."
For more celebrity news and sightings in Chicago, go to chicagotribune.com/luis
When: 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Friday at Zanies-Chicago, 1548 N. Wells Street 8 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday at Zanies-Rosemont, 5437 Park Place, Rosemont
Tickets: $30 plus two-item minimum at Zanies-Chicago; $25 plus two-item minimum at Zanies-Rosemont; zanies.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun