Zachary Levi Gets His Geek on for the Sixth Annual Nerd HQ at Comic-Con

Michael Logan
Zachary Levi 
Courtesy The Nerd Machine
Courtesy The Nerd Machine

Beware of nerds who have a machine. They make the most astounding things happen! Former Chuck star Zachary Levi, his business partner David Coleman and their multimedia company The Nerd Machine are about to kick off the sixth annual Nerd HQ fan event, an unforgettable—and surprisingly intimate—experience for gamers and sci fi-fantasy lovers. The dates: July 21-24. The locale: The New Children’s Museum in San Diego, California.

Yep, Nerd HQ is once again happening mere steps from San Diego Comic-Con so you never know who’ll pop up. Past guests have included Guillermo Del Toro, Tatiana Maslany, Jeff Bridges, Eva Green, Joe Manganiello, Vin Diesel, Norman Reedus, Andrew Lincoln and Zachary Quinto. And this year’s event, a fundraiser for Operation Smile sponsored by Johnson & Johnson, Hallmark, Oculus and Kellogg’s Krave, is sure to be just as star-studded.

Panels include Sherlock, Orphan Black, Colony, Drunk History, Con Man, Teen Wolf, Dead Rising, Supernatural and more. (For a full list of panels, gaming opportunities and fan parties during Nerd HQ week, go to thenerdmachine.com). We spoke with Levi, fresh from his Broadway success in She Loves Me, to get the scoop on Nerd HQ No. 6. Warning: If you are planning to attend the event this year, bring plenty of tissues. Not for you. For Levi!

Each Nerd HQ has been increasingly terrific. How do you top yourself?
We don’t. We’re bringing the same, and that’s kind of the point of Nerd HQ. I’m a big fan of keeping things simple and not fixing stuff that ain’t broken. Part of what we want to keep special is that we’re not competing with SDCC. We offer complimentary programming in a smaller, more interactive and personal setting. We don’t try to pack more or different into each year. We keep everything intimate for the fans and the talent. All the money goes to charity. We have awesome sponsors returning. It’s pretty much business as usual. That said, we listen to the people after each event and try to improve every part of the experience.

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You choose not to have moderators at the panels. What’s up with that?
It’s another way we differ from SDCC. We always try to create a fun, really different environment by putting the power of the questions into the hands of the fans themselves. And that’s really electric! You never know what will be asked.

Does that ever make the talent nervous?
Some people aren’t quite sure what they’re getting into but, in all the years we’ve done Nerd HQ, no fan has ever been sh--ty or asked a question that was insulting or demeaning. There’s been nothing but love and support and appreciation. The questions are mostly really smart but even the occasional silly question can lead to incredible conversation. The panels are all about entertaining the folks. I believe in fostering relationships with our fans. They are the patrons of our arts and they just want to feel recognized. They pour a lot of time, love and energy into the content we create and they want to be appreciated for that. That’s where the intimacy of the panels really pays off. In a room holding just 200 people, we can see everyone in the audience. We can look you right in the eyes and we can have really vulnerable moments. I have them all the time. I think I have cried at every single Nerd HQ. Someone will ask me a totally normal question and I’ll just lose it—partly because I’m such an emotional wreck by the time the event rolls around but also because I pour my heart and soul into this experience.

Word is, you were also crying on stage during the final night of She Loves Me. Zach Levi, you are a marshmallow!
Yes, it’s true. I was crying. It really came out of nowhere. I was fine through most of the performance. It was Jane Krakowski who’d been all glassy-eyed and getting really emotional at various points that night. But I was fine until I looked over at [costars] Byron Jennings and Nicholas Barasch and realized it was the last time my character would be saying goodbye to their characters and I was gone. The tears started pouring. A lot of people thought, “Wow, he’s so sad.” But it was really more the culmination of the Broadway experience. Doing a musical for eight shows a week was like doing an Ironman. It is a massive and intense commitment that is emotional, intellectual, spiritual and physical, and I couldn’t believe I had gotten through it. There were some shows where I wasn’t feeling well. I sustained some pretty bad injuries. But I didn’t miss a performance and was very proud of that. On that last night, we had so many friends and family in the audience that I could actually feel the love and the energy in a tangible way, and it got the best of me. It’s the same with Nerd HQ. You wouldn’t believe how much love gets packed into that place. I like that it touches people, that it brings so much happiness and joy.

Zachary Levi

Courtesy The Nerd Machine

Levi and Coleman get their Nerd on.

What’s been your biggest “get” at Nerd HQ—the one that really knocked your socks off?
Man, so many! I think maybe the first time Joss Whedon came and did a panel for us. Getting Steven Moffat was a huge deal. And how do you top Shatner? That one happened because of Twitter. Someone sent him a tweet saying, “You should do HQ,” and he said, “I’d love to. Where’s my invite?” So I tweeted him and said, “Here’s your invite.” It really was that simple. That Tom Hiddleston would make time for us after his big Marvel panel at SDCC a few years ago was amazing. Nathan Fillion has supported this vision since year one. He’s been to every HQ, doing multiple panels. Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Stephen Amell, these are good guys who show up because they’re so damn appreciative of the fans.

Any plans to expand Nerd HQ and hold the event at other cons?
Right now, no. My partner, Dave Coleman, who is the brass tacks of this event, is the guy who rolls up his sleeves and makes so much of this happen. I get to vomit out my ideas to him, but he’s the one who really works his butt off. Dave is a tremendous man and everything we set out to do we do to the best of our ability. To me, that means staying at this level for now, maybe forever. The user experience is what’s most important and that means not getting too big. I don’t want fans to come to Nerd HQ and just like one thing. I want them to like the panels, the food, the games, the parties. I want them to walk away going, “Wow, I finally got to ask Jared Padalecki that question I’ve had burning in me for years!” or “I danced my ass off until 2 in the morning with Chewbacca!” I want them to love everything. Anything less is a fail.