Britain Versus America: It’s a Nerd-Off!

OK, this is clearly what this entire Nerdist week has been leading toward. Buckle up, this is going to get rough…

America may have invented the word nerd (as well as geek and dweeb), but the Brits are no slouches in the pale obsessive department. And Britain is the source of some of the most cherished items of geekhood in the first place, whether it be astonishing science fiction, astonishing fantasy writing, or astonishing comics.

So, here’s a question; which country rules the roost when it comes to matters of nerdism? Who can lay claim to be the rightful bearer of the crown of Nerdia? Who is the true Nerdmaster? Well, let’s see, shall we?

Comedy Nerds – The IT Crowd vs The Big Bang Theory

When Graham Linehan, the British comedy writer, was first shown The Big Bang Theory, his only response, having already written and directed the first series of the similarly nerdy The IT Crowd, was that he preferred his Moss to their Moss. The ‘Moss’ being the supernerd who cannot properly form human relations. Of course, from the American perspective, that character isn’t a Moss at all, it’s a Sheldon. But which is best? Here’s Moss:

and here’s Sheldon:

Result: Pound for pound, Moss is funnier, but Big Bang has effectively four Sheldons to IT Crowd’s two. So, AMERICA WINS.

Painful Teenage Nerds – Simon Bird vs Michael Cera

(L-R): Simon Ward, Blake Harrison, James Buckley, and Joe Thomas

Which of us would truthfully want to relive our teenage years again? All of that tension, the inability to get any part of your anatomy – including brain and mouth – to do what it’s told, and worst of all, to be suddenly judged according to rules that are hard to fathom and appear to change depending on who you talk to. Stuff. That. And in case anyone is feeling nostalgic for The Awkward Years, we’ve got Simon Bird’s towering performance as stiff Will in The Inbetweeners, and Michael Cera’s visible queasiness as George Michael Bluth in Arrested Development, to remind us all that being young and slightly nerdy is a recipe for disaster at all times.

Result: It’s another close one, but Michael loses points for losing weight and becoming a cool nerd (how could he?) in Scott Pilgrim vs The World. So BRITAIN WINS.

Musical Nerds – Half Man Half Biscuit vs They Might Be Giants

If the history of prog rock has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t have to be funny to be a nerd. You don’t have to be eccentric either. Nevertheless, we are dealing with two bands, both of which make music that provokes a big laugh, both of which do so in quite a unique way, and both of which are quite nerdy. Half Man Half Biscuit are Liverpool’s hidden secret, the creation of singer-songwriter Nigel Blackwell, whose songs exist on a line between listing arcane points of historical interest he read in his local library, and viciously slagging off daytime TV celebrities. Here’s a song:

Meanwhile, They Might Be Giants follow a similarly crazy-paved path of their own:

Result: Half Man, Half Biscuit: ALL WIN.

Comicbook Nerds – Stan Lee vs Alan Moore

Alan Moore

Yep. We went there. We’ve put the man who invented Spider-Man against the man who invented Watchmen. We put the creator of the Marvel Comics universe against the re-creator of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. On one hand, we’ve got Stan, the guy who realized superheroes in comics could have complicated back-stories, just like their readers; the guy who wrote “with great power comes great responsibility;” the guy who likes to appear in the movie adaptations of his own characters; the guy who did more than anyone else to legitimize the reading of comic books for teenagers. And on the other, the guy who realized superheroes in reality would be a devastating thing for society to handle; the guy who put historical research, theism and magic into his work; the guy who won’t even allow his name to appear on the movie adaptations of his work; the guy who did more than anyone else to legitimize the reading of graphic novels for grown-ups.

Result: Seriously? We can’t call it. Can you? It’s a DEAD-HEAT.

Tech Nerds – Tim Berners-Lee vs Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

And finally, the brutal big guns come out. Who’s better, the guy who essentially invented the world-wide web (you can go ahead and insert your own caveat here, if you like), or the guy who turned Apple into, well, Apple (ditto)? Would you rather have the smartphone you can browse the internet on, or the internet that you can browse using your smartphone? Is it more impressive to develop a protocol for astonishing communication between offices and homes all over the world, or create and develop the devices on which the astonishing communication happens?

Result: Tim’s amazing. But Steve’s achievements at Apple have been hugely impressive on a technical, design AND business level – AMERICA WINS.

CONCLUSION: It’s a two-all tie. Nerdism means never having to say “HAH! IN YOUR FACE, YANK/LIMEY!”

Chris Hardwick will be on BBC America on Saturday night, September 24th, at 10/9c with the Nerdist TV special. The guests will be Doctor Who‘s Matt Smith and The Late Late Show‘s Craig Ferguson.

You are, of course, welcome to put your own categories and champions here:

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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