This week my wife and I attended w00tstock 2.3 here in Minneapolis. This show was staged by Paul and Storm, Wil Wheaton, and Adam Savage as part of a limited tour of nerdy goodness. It’s a difficult show to describe. One part music, one part spoken word, one part local flavor, 100 parts nerd. Aside from the brilliant core team for w00tstock, they try to include local nerds for the particular local show their doing. For Minneapolis, special guests included Ukulele virtuoso nerd Molly Lewis; MST3K alums Trace Beaulieu, Bill Corbet, and Kevin Murphey; and even Neil Gaiman made a brief appearance. The three-ish hour show turned out to be more like five hours, but it was worth every moment. In retrospect, getting to w00tstock was as much of a journey as the event itself.
About a year ago, my wife and I attended a simulcast event featuring the crew from Rifftrax doing a live riff on Ed Wood’s B-movie masterpiece, Plan 9 From Outer Space. If you’re unfamiliar with Rifftrax, they record hilarious satirical audio commentary for the movies in your DVD collection. If you think that sounds an awful lot like Mystery Science Theater 3000, you’d be right. It’s the same brilliant people behind both. As much fun as that event was — especially seeing it in a theater with a big audience — the most significant takeaway for me was their opening act, Jonathan Coulton. I bought his seminal record, Best. Concert. Ever. and have probably listened to it at least a hundred times.
Now stick with me for a second here, ’cause this gets a tad Kevin Bacon. When I found out that Jonathan Coulton would be coming to Minneapolis in October of last year, I snapped up a pair of tickets right away. The show was amazing, but just like with the Rifftrax event, the opening act, Paul and Storm, sort of stole the show for me. The easiest way to think of Paul and Storm would be that they’re basically Tenacious D for nerds. From their very first number, Opening Band, all the way through The Captain’s Wife’s Lament, they more than warmed up the crowd. But beyond that, they sang backup for about half of Jonathan Coulton’s set and frankly, his music is always better when they’re part of it.
Back at home base, I started following Paul and Storm on Twitter, much to my enjoyment, and found that they were connected to a whole network of awesome, nerdy people. This included Adam Savage — best known for, well, blowing shit up on the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters, but his off-show work giving talks at TED and other events is fantastic as well. I also rediscovered Wil Wheaton, who is probably best known for his roles in Stand By Me and Star Trek The Next Generation. I was a little younger than Wesley Crusher back when I was watching TNG and always wanted to be the smart kid who saved the day. These days, Wil is an author, prolific blogger, and all around awesome guy and I still find myself wanting to emulate the awesome. He’s still acting from time to time, including appearances on The Guild, The Big Bang Theory, Leverage, and Eureka, but most of his time is spent writing as an independent yet successful author and producing a couple of very good, very funny podcasts — making him sort of the nerd’s David Sedaris.
Long story short, I’ve become a really big fan of all four of these guys and what they’re doing both on and off stage. So when Wil started talking about the idea of w00tstock on his blog, I hoped from the beginning that if the show happened, it’d make its way to this end of the country. When w00tstock Minneapolis was announced, I bought tickets within the first 10 minutes. The show sold out very quickly, showing just how much nerd love there is here in the Twin Cities.
Attending the show, at the amazing Guthrie theater, was a fantastic experience. It’s way too much to really describe and truthfully, you really had to be there to grasp the whole experience. For me, the highlights were definitely Wil Wheaton’s hilarious telling of how he lost his Rocky Horror Picture Show virginity, Molly Lewis’ ukulele song about wanting to have Stephen Fry’s baby, and well, the moment when I inadvertently heckled one of my heroes, Adam Savage.
Adam’s presentation was a touch of very funny storytelling mixed in with sort of a slide presentation about his love of costumes. Adam has made elaborate costumes ever since he was a teenager. This continued during his time working at Industrial Light and Magic, and these days, he’s even made it a contest at conventions like ComicCon in San Diego to find him in costume…if you can. Last year, the first person to find him got a Mythbusters-themed iPod and this year, whoever finds Adam among the throngs of other costumed nerds will receive a Mythbusters iPad. To be extra tricky this year, Adam revealed to us, his wootstock Minneapolis audience, what his costume will be ahead of time. But in this case, it’s not going to make him any easier to find. This year, Adam is going as a Storm Trooper from Star Wars. The brilliance of his idea is that there will be literally hundreds of people wearing that costume at ComicCon, guaranteed. Those out of the know are going to wonder why every three seconds someone is asking if they’re a Mythbuster.
When Adam revealed his costume and we all got the joke and the diabolical genius of his choice, I couldn’t subdue my MST3K comment reflex. Give me a break, they’d just been on stage! Half under my breath, I muttered “Aren’t you a little short for a Storm Trooper?” (If I have to explain that to you, then you are definitely reading the wrong blog post, my friend.) I said it to myself mostly — not really to anybody in particular, but the people in the 3-4 rows in front of me heard it and heads and shoulders shook with laughter in a wave out from where I was sitting — like I’d dropped a stone into water. It was just disruptive enough that Adam noticed from the stage. He peered out in my direction through the spot lights, his body language saying “what did I miss?” The pause was just perfect, so I went for it. “Aren’t you a little short for a Storm Trooper?” I said at full stage volume, trying my best to match Carrie Fisher’s delivery. The whole place roared with laughter and hoots and Adam let out a zinged “Oh!”, chuckled and then semi-indignantly rounded in my general direction.
Actually I’m a little tall for a Storm Trooper. All of the original Storm Trooper costumes were made for these british guys who were a lot shorter — so you can’t fit in that armor. SO THERE!
He would know. It was so perfect. I zinged him and he nerded out on me in retort! You can see the whole exchange at 9:00 in:
The show wrapped up, as any Paul and Storm event would, with a half-hour-long rendition of The Captain’s Wife’s Lament, but one of the final announcements Paul made before they started the song was especially indicative of the whole attitude of this event. Paul told us that the whole cast would be out in the lobby after the show to sign autographs, take pictures and that they didn’t want to turn anybody away. That would mean everybody would have to make it quick, but they wanted to make sure that everybody got a chance to say hi. Not everybody in the show is crazy famous, but I bet Wil Wheaton and Adam Savage can’t go too many places without getting recognized. Yet here it was 12:30 A.M. on a Monday night and the cast was going to take the time to connect with everybody who wanted to. I saw later on Twitter that the cast didn’t leave the venue until nearly 3:00 am. That’s got to be the new definition of gracious.
The Mrs and I exited the inner theater and found ourselves in the lobby just as the theater staff was announcing the merch line “forming here” and “going that way” and the receiving line “forming there” and “going that way.” We just happen to be in the perfect spot to be one of the first 20 or so people in the receiving line. I’d brought the Mythbusters issue of Popular Mechanics with me hoping to get Adam’s signature on it. More than anything, though, I just wanted to meet him. I wanted to shake his hand and in the short span of that surely forgettable interaction try to somehow tell him how much I appreciate all his shenanigans, w00tstock included. I also really wanted to meet Wil Wheaton. I’ve enjoyed his blog and podcasts so much over the last year and wanted to express my appreciation for all that effort, all that sharing of himself, and all the hard work that he obviously put into spearheading what became w00tstock.
Within five minutes, the whole cast was lined up behind the information table in the upper lobby of the Guthrie Theater and the line was moving along quickly. What I realized in retrospect was that I met 3/5 of the principle cast of one of my favorite shows, MST3K, and it didn’t even register. Sure, I thanked them for their part of the show and all that, but I was so focused on Wil and Adam at the far end of the table that the awesomeness of who I was meeting in that moment was completely lost on me. Sorry guys! You’re awesome! I got to Paul and Storm and greeted them and Wil somewhat at the same time. Wil shook my hand and I blathered something about being a big fan of his blog and especially his podcasts and thanked him for helping to put the show together. He was very gracious and seemed as happy to meet me as a fan as I was to meet him as…him. Now there’s a guy made of awesome! As the line moved a tad further, I found myself sort of between Wil and Adam and was at kind of a loss. This was it. This is why I was here. I didn’t know what else to say, so I just told the whole truth.
“I feel kinda like a dog who’s been chasing a car, and now that I’ve caught it, I don’t know what to do with it. You guys are awesome, I’m really a big fan, and I don’t know what else to say.” Both of them laughed and Adam reached out to shake my hand. I leaned in over the table a bit and said “I want you to know that you’re seriously one of my heroes. You’re the reason I build things in my garage. I’ve got a little one-car garage space converted into a shop, just like you do, and I’m down there all the time tinkering with one thing or another. So thanks for all that you’re doing.”
“Ha! I bet it’s still bigger than MINE!” Adam replied. “Here, if you’ve got a little shop like mine, you need to know about these.” He’d already signed my issue of PM and had now spun it 90º and started writing along the spine. “Check these out, they’re fantastic for storage.” He’d written a name I recognized from the PM article about his shop.
I was ready to burst. Adam Savage wasn’t just politely talking at me, he was talking to me, and he was doing me a favor. Holy Mythbusting, Batman.
“Wow, thanks so much! Would you mind if I got a photo with you? I’d love to have something to hang up in my shop.”
He looked around him really quick to try to see how he could make the photo happen easily. I ducked down at the end of the table next to him, and he leaned in. The Mrs snapped the photo and there we were. He shook my hand one more time.
“Thanks so much, and I’m SO sorry I heckled you!”
“Oh that was YOU?”
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll take anything for a good laugh line!”
And that was that. The Mrs and I headed home and I’m pretty sure I took half my normal number of steps. In one of my transparent fits of giddy, she turned to me and said “Just because you can die now doesn’t mean you have to.” God, I love her.
Thanks, w00tstock. Come back soon.