INTERVIEW: Jonathan Meadows of Nerd Louisville talks nerd stuff, helping the community, & the Last Jedi!

Nerd Culture has evolved at such an exponential clip that it feels devoid of the meaning that it was originally given. Gone are the days that the nerd or geek is a social pariah, a weirdo, an outcast, or an other, at least so it would seem in the wake of a revived Star Wars franchise and the popularity and continued success of the Marvel movies (to name a few prominent examples). But nerds are and always will be my people, for better or worse, and Jonathan Meadows, a member of the non-profit group Nerd Louisville, is right there with me. According to their bio, the group looks to “make Louisville, Kentucky the most awesome nerd city in the universe by fostering a sense of community, providing a hub to connect local nerds, and by promoting Louisville as a nerd destination,” adding that they “also seek to educate, inspire, and empower local youth.”

Those are pretty bold goals and the kind that we absolutely support here at Never Nervous, especially given the fractured and often contentious nature of the nerd community writ large (for proof, read the sheer vitriol emanating off the comments section of literally any comic book site). Meadow and company host a variety of events that involve gaming, camaraderie and booze, all of which we’re there for. you Can check out their next event, their regular Slur Your Role series, a role playing game night, at Kaiju this Sunday. In the meantime, we caught up with Meadows to ask about nerd stuff, helping the community, and space ships!

Never Nervous: How did Nerd Louisville start? Does your origin story involve radioactive nerds?

Jonathan Meadows: Our original founders noticed that Louisville had a big nerd community but it wasn’t connected at all. Nerd Louisville was started as a way to bring nerds together and create a bigger more vibrant community here in Louisville. What I find fascinating is that they had no idea what Nerd Louisville would become. The organization has helped so many people, and they have changed more lives than they realize.

NN: How would you define nerd in its current connotation? What made you a nerd?

“Being a nerd is an attitude more than anything else.”

JM: “Nerd” can mean so many things, and we try not to strictly define it. I’m a nerd because I love tabletop gaming, board games, video games, comics, and nerd culture in general, but I’m also a regular guy with other interests and hobbies. Being a nerd is an attitude more than anything else.

Like a lot of other people, my first hobby was video games and I remember all the older kids in the neighborhood playing Zelda, Sonic, Mortal Kombat, and Mario when I was a kid. I wanted to be just like them, so I started gaming as well. Eventually I discovered anime on Adult Swim and later got into comics and tabletop gaming.

NN: Tell us about your efforts to foster a sense of community? How do you empower youth?

JM: We do a few different things to foster a strong community. 1. We have a website and several Facebook groups where nerds can connect with other, like-minded nerds. 2. We host several events throughout the city including two tabletop RPG events (Slur Your Role at Kaiju and Friday Night RPGs at Heroes and two tabletop board game events (GameKnights at Kaiju and GameKnights at MagBar).

In terms of empowering youth, we donate money and supplies to at-risk nerds throughout the city. We’ve done everything from sending kids to see Black Panther to donating Chromebooks to sending kids to summer camp. We’ve worked with the Louisville Free Public Library to provide programming and nerdy books, we’ve donating D&D books to after-school clubs, and we generally try to support any nerdy endeavor that we can.

NN: Relative to that, with the increasing prominence of nerds in pop culture, are nerds still outsiders?

JM: Not really. Nerds are cool now. A lot of people who consider themselves “nerds” are regular people who you wouldn’t expect to have classical “nerdy” interests. In today’s world, everyone is a nerd about something, so it’s lost the connotation of being a bad or weird thing. You even have “Nerd” celebrities like Chris Perkins. It’s really cool to see the progression of nerd culture into the mainstream.

NN: Having spent ample time in comic book forums and comments sections, I’ve found it often infuriating to see what I identify as my culture having such vitriolic responses to changes to characters or stories (think Mile Morales Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, or Jane Foster Thor, etc.). And that all seems to mirror things like GamerGate and stuff like that. How does nerd culture move past that kind of ugliness to a better, more inclusive place?

JM: Vitriolic reactions to progress aren’t contained to the nerd community, but I think a lot of people who identify as nerds are a little protective of that identity, partially because of past prejudices they have encountered. For those people, it starts to feel like the people who persecuted them in the past are now trying to invade their safe space, so they push back on that. Progress can be scary for a lot of people, but I think there has been a major push in the community to move past that sort of thing. We try to make Nerd Louisville events as inclusive as possible.

NN: What can you tell us about your GameKnights and Slur Your Role events? What do you do there? How did they come together?

JM: Both events came together based on the interest of the organizers and are welcome to players of all experience levels. They’re great opportunities to socialize, play games, and have fun.

NN: How did you all become a non-profit and why? Are there membership dues? What role does money play in the organization?

JM: Nerd Louisville has always been a non-profit. We are not a membership based organization, however, and there are no “dues” for members to pay. We do ask for donations at certain events to help fund our charitable mission and the infrastructure we have in place, like our website. All of the money we bring in goes right back into the community in some form, usually through our Next-Gen Nerds program.

NN: What kind of fundraising have you done in the past and why? What organizations do you look to help?

JM: Our Slur Your Role event at Kaiju acts as a fundraiser. Players donate $5 to play. We also have a yearly convention called Nerdlouvia that attracts several hundred attendees.

NN: What’s your relationship like with the greater nerd community? Are any of your members in the 501st Legion? Do you all cosplay or help with the local comic/gaming events in town?

JM: None of the current members of our Board of Directors are involved in the 501st Legion or the Cosplay community, but we love those groups and try to help them however we can. We always try to get involved with anything nerdy happening in Louisville.

“I think a lot of people who identify as nerds are a little protective of that identity, partially because of past prejudices they have encountered.”

NN: You can pick one fictional ship. What do you pick and why? Also, would you drive it to work?

JM: When you say “ship” the first thing that comes to mind for me is Serenity from Firefly. If I owned that ship, I’d fly it into work every. single. day.

NN: Your thoughts on the Last Jedi. Go!

JM: This is a question without an easy answer, and we talked a lot about this in a recent podcast with James L. Sutter, the co-creator of Pathfinder and Creative Director in charge of launching Starfinder. The movie has so many layers and different individuals see it in different ways. Personally, I enjoyed the movie. I love how subversive it is and it wasn’t at all what I expected. There were a few parts of the film that I personally didn’t care for, but on the whole, I enjoyed it and can’t wait to see where the franchise goes next.

NN: What music do you all listen to when engaging in nerdly things like gaming or reading? Anything local?

JM: As far as local bands, I’ve always been partial to My Morning Jacket, VHS or Beta, the Villebillies, and Wax Fang. In general, I really enjoy Bluegrass, Country, Americana, and some classic rock. I’m a fan of Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, and Tyler Childrers. They’re all originally from Eastern Kentucky like me.