10 Modern Heroes of Black Nerddom (and Urkel Is NOT One)

Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 6:00 am

5. Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key: Deep Pop Culture Cuts in Brilliant Sketch Comedy

Fact: while prepping this post, I started laughing just thinking about the Key and Peele sketch "Continental Breakfast." And that's before I remembered the call-out to The Shining in the last scene.

The comedy duo, who just wrapped the third season of their Comedy Central sketch show, structure their comedy around carefully-observed bits of (pop) cultural behavior, and even their dumbest joke is smart (if that makes any sense).

Some of you might know them from their Obama and Luther sketches which give our notably reserved Commander-in-Chief a chance to vent, while others might know them from the pair of action movie-obsessed bellhops with a thing for "Liam Neesons." Key and Peele hit on the not-so-subtleties in the ways we communicate, in the way we mess with each other and - specifically - navigating the black experience in modern America.

Given that the pair are both biracial, they offer uniquely-informed commentary about being a part of something while not belonging, "positive" prejudices and the intricacies of using the "b" word. You know the one. Don't use it in front of your lady friends.

And yes, they're great big nerds in a smart way (as opposed to a pandering way): consider the pair of zombie sketches - the first, a look at white flight from black survivors in the middle of an apocalypse and the other about the awkwardness of trying to get your director to see how you can get your zombie growl on. Or how vampires have become a little too sexy, or asking why people in musicals are down with singing over one another, all without a single awkwardly inserted "let's make a joke that will be stale 10 minutes from now" sketch.

They're like the anti-Friedberg and Seltzer, and for that alone, they're my heroes of black nerddom.

4. Michael Pondsmith Rolls a Natural D20 for Awesome

Until last year, my knowledge of RPG luminaries began and ended with Gary Gygax. But that was before The Witcher developer CDProjekt Red announced they would be partnering with Michael Pondsmith to adapt his pen and paper RPG for current-gen consoles.

Over the last 30 years, the Seattle-based Pondsmith has been lending his graphic design skills to game companies but he'll always be attached to Cyberpunk 2020, first published back in 1988.

Inspired by the likes of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, Pondsmith's rain-drenched future is packed with trenchcoat wearing killers and badasses, augmenting and upgrading their way to fun and profit.

Mostly profit.

With novels, collectible card games, and the inevitable expansions, it's a surprise that the current decade hasn't seen an expansion of the game's universe (the upcoming console and PC game will be set in the year 2077, though, taking the series further and further into the future).

3. Aisha Tyler: Don't Tell Lana Kane She's Not a Hardcore Gamer

Back in 2012, publisher Ubisoft hired comedienne, Archer actress and all-around funny woman Aisha Tyler to host an incredibly awkward E3 presentation which made the publisher (and pretty much everyone standing on stage) look out-of-touch.

Cue the angry video game nerds, always on the lookout for inauthenticity, who went after Tyler as one of the many perceived interlopers into their precious video game spaces. What does this actress know of games and gaming? Begone with her!

You know, except it's the Internet, so it was grosser, more misogynistic and a little racist.

Tyler took to her Facebook page to address the haters, and Kotaku handily collected some of her best quotes.

It gets saucy:

I go to E3 each year because I love video games. Because new titles still get me high. Because I still love getting swag. Love wearing my gamer pride on my sleeve. People ask me what console I play. Motherfucker, ALL of them.

I don't give out my gamertag because I don't want a mess of noob jackholes lining up
to assassinate me on XBL.
I don't give a shit what you think about my gamerscore.
I don't play to prove a point.
I don't play to be the best.
I play because I love it.

And I love you, Aisha Tyler, for not letting the same, boring cultural gatekeeping stop you from being a great, beautiful, black gaming nerd.

2. Neil deGrasse Tyson Makes Space Cool Again

I'm going to throw this out here right now and I want you to check in with me in a couple of weeks: the new Cosmos is important. While I'm embargoed from giving any impressions about the first episode, I can say that a network throwing big dollars behind an hour-long series about science in kind of a bid deal, especially in an intellectual climate where a solid quarter of Americans believes the sun revolves around the Earth.

And it's important that deGrasse Tyson is the public face of the series - an astrophysicist who doesn't equivocate when it comes to the science of the universe, who doesn't allow the "maybes" and "reasonable doubts" of our peculiar, homegrown anti-intellectualism to infect the conversation about the observable universe.

It's perhaps inappropriate to use this word in the context of his career, but deGrasse Tyson has become a sort of evangelist for rigorous, informed-by-facts conversations about science, while calmly talking down the dogmatic types who would rather believe than think.

Hey, in an era where sci-fi has largely given way to science fantasy and science denial is in vogue for a certain type of gut-based thinker, deGrasse Tyson is the science hero we need, and better than we actually deserve.

1. Dwayne McDuffie Creates a DC Milestone, Controls the DC Animated U

He was a black comic creator who knew that he was always treading a line of alienating the predominantly white audience with "black" comics, and maybe that's why Dwayne McDuffie is at the top of this list: he articulated so perfectly the struggle of trying to represent our people in pop culture while the established fandom said that fandom would always be kind of uncomfortable seeing anything beyond the same old same old.

But it was under his stewardship (in part) that for young fans of the animated DCU, John Stewart became the Green Lantern of record, he wrote a killer Fantastic Four, and he did his best with a comic incarnation of the Justice League that was getting increasingly diverse (even as DC's weird editorial interference made the team's membership a revolving door).

The Milestone Imprint, Damage Control, Ben 10, the list goes on. McDuffie didn't just write and produce, the man created worlds.

And the amazing thing is that even as his fortunes in the comics industry seemed to be waning (he was fired from DC for airing the dirty laundry about how Justice League of America was made, and the inclusion of his Milestone characters in the DCU was handled... poorly), McDuffie's profile in animation was only rising, as he became the increasingly prolific writer of DC's direct-to-video animated features.

How many people do you know who discovered DC's comics stuff thanks to their animated stuff? McDuffie is, in part, responsible for that - instrumental, even.

McDuffie gets the top spot among our heroes of black nerddom because the man honored the comics history that came before (across media) while still creating something new and exciting.

You have to love that.

Previously by Charles Webb

7 Ways Hollywood Tried to Make the First RoboCop Family-friendly

The Top 7 Ways Vision Will (Probably) Attempt to Kill His Teammates in The Avengers 2

Deathlok Lives! 6 Things to Know About the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Kill-Borg

The 10 Grossest, Weirdest Reactions to Gal Gadot Being Wonder Woman

The 8 Craziest Things About the Dead Rising Franchise

20 Wonderful, Weird and Wild Things to Do at New York Comic Con

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