Everyone is a nerd now. They brag about loving science fiction, superheroes and video games–which are things for stupid people. When I was a nerd in high school, you had to be smart to be a nerd. You needed to like fractals, translating numbers into hexadecimal and reading James Joyce. Every so often there would be some kid with glasses, a thin neck and an obsession with World War II battles in the Level 1 classes, and all the AP kids could think was, The only thing sadder than a nerd is a dumb nerd. If we had been better people, we would have let that kid come into our calculus class and sweat out the differential of a function on a blackboard while we chanted “Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!” regardless of what the kid’s name actually was.
So when models, rock stars and former MTV hosts started calling themselves nerds, I abandoned the cause, referring to myself instead as a pseudo-intellectual, which means I am so smart I know what pseudo means. But it turns out that nerd self-referrer Rivers Cuomo, the lead singer of Weezer, has some serious nerd bona fides: he went to Harvard, likes soccer, was in a high school barbershop quartet, stayed celibate for two years, referenced Dungeons & Dragons in his lyrics and is married to a woman from Japan, which is the second nerdiest country ever, after Lothlórien. Plus: I’m a fan. So when I found out that Cuomo hosts Nerd Nights in Los Angeles–fans apply on his website to be one of the 15 people he buys two tickets for so they can join him at a Shakespeare play–I asked to nerd along.
I showed up for Nerd Night VII to see Julius Caesar at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica. A few minutes before the play started, a guy who looked just like Rivers Cuomo walked toward the theater, but no one approached him. I walked up and introduced myself, and he said, “What can I do for you?” At which point I realized that lots of guys who see Shakespeare plays look like Rivers Cuomo. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I thought you were someone else.” But then he asked me if I wanted to just observe Nerd Night, and it became clear that he was indeed Rivers Cuomo and that this was a totally normal awkward nerd interaction.
Cuomo had come with his wife, mom and stepdad and was dressed like he was performing at a Weezer show, which means he was dressed in a way entirely appropriate for the theater. I thanked him for representing the real nerds instead of the fake comic-book ones. “I read comic books,” he said, “when I was 10 and 11.” I gave him a mental high five, afraid that if I gave him a real high five we’d miss each other’s hands.
I admitted to Cuomo that despite having taken two Shakespeare classes in college, I’d never seen or read Julius Caesar. He warned me that the play is really about Brutus, since Caesar dies in the third act of the five-act play, but that plays back then were titled after the highest-ranking character. He also cautioned that “histories have a different story trajectory than what we’re used to.” This was way better than when I ran into Stephen Colbert in the street before a screening of Lord of the Rings and he told me he was too excited to talk. Though I get the feeling Colbert would have told me that if we’d been outside the theater for Think Like a Man Too.
The play was great, partly because it’s Shakespeare and partly because one actor got carried away during the assassination scene and accidentally gave the guy who played Caesar a black eye. After the play, a few people started walking up to Cuomo, and I realized nearly all the people there were part of Nerd Night. For super fans, they were super mellow, thanking him for the tickets and telling him they love Weezer’s new album, Everything Will Be Alright in the End, which contains a section about getting advice from his fans called “The Panopticon Artist” and has a title that I think is grammatically inaccurate. He posed for a photo onstage with fans and asked them about their lives, the play and which single he should release next before the actors kicked us out of the theater. It was simultaneously natural and painfully awkward, like all nerd encounters. No hugs were given, despite the fact that everyone needed one.
Cuomo says he almost can’t watch TV or movies anymore because they seem boring compared with Shakespeare. Still, he said he thinks for the next Nerd Night he’s going to host a different activity, like visiting a museum or boogie boarding. I asked him if boogie boarding was nerdy enough.
“The way I do it is,” he said.
“I was thinking the same thing,” said his mom.
I went home, once again proud of being a real nerd, in that I could again pretend I had purposely chosen to be bad at sports, afraid of girls and unable to drink more than one beer without getting a tummyache. Cuomo invited me to come back for the next Nerd Night, and I’m definitely going to do it. Unless it’s boogie boarding. That sounds dangerous.
This appears in the November 03, 2014 issue of TIME.
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