Emerging Writers’ Festival:
Revenge of the Nerds Slide Night

Posted on 04 June 2012

As I’ve said before, it’s worth keeping your eyes open on the festivals around your city. Festival organisers love recruiting comedians for their events. Comedians love having gigs that help expand their fan base.

The Emerging Writers’ Festival regularly brings in a few comedians. This year they had comedian Ben McKenzie help organise and compère Revenge of the Nerds Slide Night.

This event involved writers and comedians. They each had 20 slides that were to represent their passions and obsessions. Each slide was given 20 seconds of screen time, during which the particular presenter was to explain how it related to their nerdy fixation.

Ben McKenzie kicked the night off with a beautiful outline of the event’s focus. We aren’t about cool, he said. Cool is about detachment and uninvolvement, a position of judgement. We are about the engagement and delight that comes with nerdiness. We do not judge, we immerse ourselves with a joyful passion that will not be diverted by the distraction of finding fault.

The diversity of subject matter was impressive. We heard stories about bees, Wil Wheaton, 17th century Australian naval history (involving cannibalism), and more. Certainly, some people delivered their material better than others. Not all of them were professional performers. They all managed to grab our interest. Boring is the only real sin in the arts.

Award winning comedian Andrew McClelland gave us a spirited talk about the joys of building tower computers for gaming. Nerdy subject, potentially boring. McClelland is a professional and lifted his material so that it was accessible and enjoyable. People understood computers a little better by the end of his talk. They also came away with a grin.

Two of our writers who delivered superb comic goods were Meg Mundell and Brendon Bailey.

Meg Mundell’s work has appeared in publications such as Meanjin, The Monthly, and Australian Book Review. Her first novel Black Glass was highly commended in the 2012 Barbara Jefferis Award, and was a finalist in the 2011 Aurealis Awards (I didn’t judge this year, so I can write about her). Her slide presentation covered the nerdy things readers and writers do, and rated those activities on a “Nerdometer”. She started with a beautiful slide that showed the correct way to order books on a shelf: by colours of the rainbow. She eventually launched a discussion about the nerdiness of writing in a book, and how many points you lose if you write in pen rather than pencil. Her pacing was brilliant. She brought a delightful bespectacled spiciness to her presentation.

Brendon Bailey used to sport dreadlocks, scribble poetry, publish a zine, and write about punk rock. In his estimation he was “cool”. Then he became involved in bicycling. Not just get you from “A” to “B” type cycling, but competing in alleycats and track racing. His slideshow illustrated his descent from two-wheel commuter to skin-tight neon jersey wearer. His most shocking slide was one showing the legs of a friend who was trying to get that extra aerodynamic edge by shaving his legs. Blood dribbled down the sides of his taut iron calves from inexpertly wielding a shaver. Bailey’s indepth inside information made it possible for him to regularly surprise his audience with amazing tidbits. Great comedy should always have this sort of edge.

Everyone was engaging. A couple of the writers were a little unsteady in concluding their presentations. One comedian had some great material, but needed to slow down and enunciate. Nevertheless, the audience was clearly appreciative of the night’s entertainment. Not only was the venue packed out, standing room only; people laughed, cheered, and interacted with presenters. One woman sitting next to me said she would love to see this done again, only make the subject cats! I’m game.

Ben McKenzie did a beautiful job of bringing these people together, keeping the evening lively, and including a little of his own nerdiness. I look forward to his hosting more such events.

Peace and kindness,


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