It's 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday and there's a full house in The Cellar nightclub on Vancouver's Granville Street. It's unusual for a bar in the Entertainment District to attract a crowd this early in the evening, but then this is an unusual crowd for any night that isn't Halloween. I'm surrounded by super heroes, sci-fi cowboys, vampires and more. They're here for a night of nerdlesque, a mixture of burlesque and comedy aimed at fan-boy and fan-girl hearts.
They are here for Geeks After Dark.
Geeks After Dark are Cam Russell and Tyler James Nicol. Together with their stage manager, Fairlith Harvey, they've created a night that melds fandom, humour, and what can only be termed awkward sexiness. The night is part homage, part parody, and of course, part striptease. Tonight their subject material is all things Joss Whedon, the veritable demigod of nerddom.
The superheroes in the room are Avengers (Whedon directed the movie) and X-Men (he wrote a limited series of the comic). The sci-fi cowboys are in tribute to Firefly, and the vampires are Angels and Spikes, the "and more" are in tribute to every other Joss Whedon project you may or may not have heard of.
While I'm trying to identify the various costumes, Cam takes the stage dressed as Captain Malcolm Reynolds of Firefly and the crowd goes wild as if he were actually actor Nathan Fillion. By the time Tyler appears as the punch line to a joke, the laughter of the crowd is in danger of overwhelming the actors' voices, and volumes are adjusted.
Before the show I had the opportunity to interview the GAD men, and it showed me that they can be just as funny off the cuff as when on script. That's a good thing, because as Tyler has pointed out, they frequently veer off of it. After six previous shows together (Cam joined after the first GAD show, a fundraiser for a convention that never happened) they still haven't pinpointed just what it is their shows are, and that's the way they like it.
"It's a show, it's a comedy routine, it's a burlesque performance, it's a dance party, it's a trivia contest, it's a costume contest, it's a night of fun -- a night of nerdy fun," Cam answers when asked to describe Geeks After Dark in a nutshell.
"It's a grown-up nerd fever dream," Tyler chips in, a smile splitting his bearded face.
In its two-year run they've covered a wealth of material that indeed proves their nerd cred: Back To The Future, Batman, Spider-Man, Toy Story, Star Wars and British Sci-Fi have all gotten the Geeks After Dark treatment. And while recycling material might make financial sense (at the very least they'd save on costumes) they don't foresee having to do it with so many great sources to parody.
"We only do stuff we care about," enthuses Cam. "We don't do shows that we don't have any interest in. It's hard to write jokes, and we're just not about that. We love Firefly. We love Star Wars."
HAPPIEST MOMENT AS ARTHUR DENT
Tyler chips in with just how much he loves it. "I got to be Arthur Dent on stage, which was like my happiest moment. Because I'm a huge Douglas Adams nerd. I got to dress up in my pajamas, with my towel, and come out and talk to Dr. Who on stage. Then half-dressed women come out and run about. And, like, suddenly I'm 14-year-old Tyler, excited for reasons I can't explain."
Indeed, half-dressed women are the other part of Geeks After Dark's success. The dancers are a mixture of local burlesque performers and friends and fans of GAD who are often taking the stage for the first time. What they may lack in experience is made up for in enthusiasm -- both theirs and the crowd's.
The cleverest of this night's burlesque performances is actually a multi-piece, drawn-out one. A dancer named "Whatshername" takes the stage as a firefly, not the ship from the Whedon show of the same name, but a bug. Tyler and Cam berate her for not doing her research and send her offstage to work on her act.
Later in the night she reappears as an angel, the heavenly kind, not the vampire, and the guys appear to tell her to take the time to do a Wikipedia search. When towards the end of the show she reappears to finish her performance, it's to dance to the Roseanne show theme song, dressed and undressing as the famous comedian. The trivia geeks in the audience get the joke; the rest of us need to have it explained by the performer: Whedon wrote for five episodes of the series.
The trivia geeks are important. No GAD night is complete, I'm told, without the Sudden Death Incredibly Unfair and Random Trivia Contest. It's not as easy as the name implies. In short order 25 contestants are reduced to a single winner.
By the time the performance is closing out and before the dance party starts, they've fit in mention of seemingly everything Joss Whedon has ever done. There's been not one but two costume contests, a bevy of half-naked women, and many, many dick jokes.
Through it all there's a feeling of shared camaraderie in the audience that I wouldn't expect at a burlesque night. "We pride ourselves on accepting everyone," Tyler says. "That's the Geeks After Dark badge of honour. You want to dress up like a giant bunny wearing steam punk clothes? Awesome. You want to be in just a latex bra and panties? Fantastic. Anything you want to be, come to Geeks After Dark."
Perhaps I've been caught up in all the nerd-love, but it's a sentiment that seems very, very sexy.
The next Geeks After Dark show is Saturday, Sept. 1 at the Cellar Nightclub. It's a tribute to Jim Henson and The Muppets. Check out GAD on Facebook at www.facebook/GeeksAfterDark