Orlando Nerd Nite turns 11 as international anthology hits bookshelves, including some local contributors

'Nerd Nite is what TedX should've been'

Ricardo Williams with the international Nerd Nite anthology, "How to Win Friends and Influence Fungi"
Ricardo Williams with the international Nerd Nite anthology, "How to Win Friends and Influence Fungi" photo courtesy Nerd Nite Orlando

If you've ever had the chance to stumble into a Nerd Nite event in Orlando, then you've wandered into something wonderful. Capacity audiences gather to hear presentations that veer into monologue on subjects ranging from booze to blues records to sneakers and sci-fi. You might hear a history of product packaging or a B-side from a favorite band. One presentation that stands out in memory was about developments in revenue and royalties in the streaming age — it kept the standing-room audience completely engaged, with loads of questions for the presenter. Amazing! Educating entertainment. Nerd Nite is what TedX should've been, or at least promised to be.

No longer just a term of insult but a philosophy, "nerd" culture is now synonymous with connoisseurship. It signifies a way of doing things with a certain quality that bears the mark of the overachiever and the auteur, the maverick, the innovator and the "can do"-er. It's a lifestyle for those not content to be pedestrian bystanders in their love of something, but willing and active participants. The true cool kids.

One of these cool kids is the affable Ricardo Williams, who's helmed our local branch of Nerd Nite for over a decade. As Nerd Nite Orlando celebrates its 11th birthday, the world also welcomes an anthology of talks from the whole international organization bearing the amazing title How to Win Friends and Influence Fungi, published by none other than St. Martin's Press, an arrival moment on all sides.

Orlando Weekly connected with Williams to discuss the occasion.

Tell us a little something about Nerd Nite.

RW: Nerd Nite is a regular event that brings together people who want to present something they're passionate about; they make a presentation, and every event has two or three speakers. It started in Boston and New York 20 years ago as a company, and as a phenomenon, as I like to think of it, it reaches around the world. The idea is that it reminds folks that learning is fun. The atmosphere is fun and we try to find a host that's fun and it doesn't take itself too seriously.

What was your most memorable presentation?

Listening to a NASA scientist talk about the possibilities of growing cannabis in space. The premise of that leads to all kinds of humorous possibilities with just the audience questions alone. (laughs)

How did Orlando come to have our own chapter of Nerd Nite?

My dear friend and ally in this, Josh Manning, had seen Nerd Nite in D.C. about 11 or 12 years ago. He worked at NASA and his first thought was that this needed to be happening here in Orlando and the benefit of having it — he couldn't have been more right.

When I first heard about it through [co-founder] Valerie Cepero, I didn't understand and thought it sounded like a silly thing. I didn't get it. And then after she took me through it, it clicked with me and it was like, "Oh I get this!!!" Even better, we all had a similar vision for it. Something that everyone had access to, something that [you] could pop in to make friends, something that can be useful in [presenters'] lives and careers as well as honing what they do in an entertaining setting that could translate well to the workplace. Some of the speakers are using this as a part of their research for jobs and projects.

Why were you hesitant at first?

I think it was the word itself, nerd. There is/was such a stigma to that word. It was used as a pejorative for so long, like with negative meaning. Using the word as a selling point didn't work for me until she explained it to me. Things have changed since then, there's a bit of taking back of the word, and I got clued in to that and it clicked.

So often the "cool kids" are anything but. Let's talk about the book How to Win Friends and Influence Fungi, an international anthology published by the mighty St. Martin's Press. That little fact gives it some bragging rights, not to mention that about half a dozen of the contributors are Orlando-based!

So, Nerd Nite founders Dr. Chris Balakrishnan and Matt Wasowski have edited 70 essays from around the world from Nerd Nite talks, and I was able to squeeze in six of our best presenters.

click to enlarge Ricardo Williams presenting at Nerd Nite Orlando - photo courtesy Nerd Nite Orlando
photo courtesy Nerd Nite Orlando
Ricardo Williams presenting at Nerd Nite Orlando

Who are they?

The first I have to mention is State Rep. Anna V. Eskamani, whose legendary Nerd Nite talk, "10 Things You Didn't Know About Sex Education" is going to be in the book. WMFE host Brendan Byrne, based on his talk about the use of human excrement in space, something he has become quite an expert on and has presented on the subject a few times.

Bathroom talk, whether humorous or scientific, is always a popular subject.

Also included in the book are Derek Demeter, head of the planetarium at Seminole State, he's in the book. My dear friend Eliza Juliano writes about urbanism and using math to build a better city. The legendary Max Jackson, who's given more Nerd Nite talks around the world than anyone ... his "Ethics of Brain Experimentation" is an essay in the book. Fellow local Nerd Nite founder Josh Manning's really funny presentation about chindogu, the Japanese word for things that are made but are useless. For example, a cigarette umbrella, so one can smoke in the rain. A literal cigarette umbrella. Inventions that are silly but useless in some ways. Last and not least, UCF professor Dr. Zoe Landsman, who has one of the funniest titles I've ever seen, "Skyrockets in Flight, Asteroids Delight," about asteroid mining.

I'm already wanting to read this, my curiosity is piqued just from your descriptions. Better yet, seeing this live is where the real delight is. When and where is the anniversary and book release event happening?

We'll be at the Orlando Science Center on Thursday, March 14, for the 11-year anniversary and book release.

Location Details

Orlando Science Center

777 E. Princeton St., Orlando Mills 50



Subscribe to Orlando Weekly newsletters.

Follow us: Apple News | Google News | NewsBreak | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | or sign up for our RSS Feed


Since 1990, Orlando Weekly has served as the free, independent voice of Orlando, and we want to keep it that way.

Becoming an Orlando Weekly Supporter for as little as $5 a month allows us to continue offering readers access to our coverage of local news, food, nightlife, events, and culture with no paywalls.

Join today because you love us, too.

Scroll to read more Arts Stories + Interviews articles

Join Orlando Weekly Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.