'Nerd Nite' draws crowds to D.C. club

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 28, 2011; 11:13 PM

Welcome to nerd heaven.

Jenna Jadin, wearing a smart blue dress and stylish square glasses, is up on stage at DC9, a club near U Street, hosting yet another sold-out Nerd Nite.

As is her custom, Jadin opens by defining the word that brings 200 beer-happy nerds together every month. The Merriam-Webster version draws howls: "Nerd: Noun. An unstylish, unattractive or socially inept person; especially one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits."


The dictionary people may want to reconsider, because nerds are in now, especially in this town. On the Saturday night before Valentine's Day, a line of could-be, wannabe and surefire nerds runs out DC9's door and down the block. Those without tickets are turned away.

"I think nerds are much more well accepted now," Jadin said earlier. "People like us. It's cool to be a nerd."

She positions the Washington area - with the highest proportion of college-educated adults in the country - as the "nerdiest city," throwing the gauntlet at such famously nerdy towns as Cambridge, Mass., and Berkeley, Calif.

She may have a point. In addition to talks on chess strategy and the hidden human drama of the periodic table, the night's agenda includes Sam Fleming, the leather-jacket-wearing, seven-time national motorcycle-racing champion, who discussed the physics of rounding the track at 190 mph. His day job? Medicare analyst.

Bryan Richins, a software engineer from the District, has brought his girlfriend, Kristin Page. Oh yes, they are nerds, they say. Their first date: an earlier Nerd Nite that featured talks on caffeine and colons. What's not to love?

Inside, Jadin's prologue turns to some famous nerd couples, and includes slides of Marie and Pierre Curie, Isaac and Janet Asimov, and Bill and Melinda Gates. On an illustration of Adam and Eve, she adds square glasses and pocket protectors. The original couple were the original nerds, she claims, as their apple-chomping proved they only wanted a little knowledge, the accumulation of which is a prime nerdly trait. Who knew there'd be such consequences?

Nerd Nite D.C. is a consequence of Jadin's flag-waving nerdiness. In 2003, Chris Balakrishnan, a friend of a friend launched the phenomenon in Boston, entertaining bartenders with tales of sneaky African indigobirds, which become the ultimate deadbeat parents when they lay their eggs in other birds' nests and then fly away.

Since then, the events have spread to 15 cities on three continents. Balakrishnan even sends out starter kits to would-be hosts, laying out the desired aesthetic. Tag line: It's like Discovery Channel with beer.

A Nerd Nite TV pilot is in the works, too, Balakrishnan said.

Jadin knew she was the right person to launch a local version. (Her friends Zaki Ghul and Rebecca Blank also serve as co-hosts.) Jadin had a strong background as a certified nerd in several disciplines, including cricket sex, bat wrangling, vintage cocktails and fashion. And she loved communicating science, something she discovered in 2004 after authoring a cicada cookbook. That breakout Internet hit emerged with the region's cicadas, and Jadin found herself juggling TV interviews and judging cicada-cooking contests.

At the University of Maryland, Jadin earned a PhD in evolutionary biology by spending five years watching Hawaiian crickets court and mate. It turns out that unlike, say, humans, the males of these species get to be the choosy ones. They dance around the females and deliver packets of fake sperm. Jadin found that the males will deliver the goods only to females that accept enough of the bogus gifts.

Jadin also discovered a male preference. "They mate more vigorously with the larger females," she said. So at the first Nerd Nite D.C., in December 2009, Jadin launched the show with "Doing It Buggy Style," a huge hit.

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