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Parasitic Birds? Now That’s Funny. Nerd Nite Continues Tonight

Maria San Fillippo lecturing on Mumblecore at MASS MoCA Nerd Nite. (Courtesy of Nerd Nite.)

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A DJ spins records as self-proclaimed nerds chatter excitedly inside Cambridge’s hip Middlesex Lounge. It’s 8 p.m. on the final Monday of the month, which means only one thing: Nerd Nite is here.

Described as “the Discovery Channel with beer,” Nerd Nite is a local meetup where volunteer speakers give 20-minute presentations on subjects they’re particularly passionate about. The presentations are equal parts comedy and education. Think Robin Williams meets Richard Feynman. “We definitely encourage humor,” says organizer Mary Lewey.

Nerd Nite first began at the Midway in Jamaica Plain, but now branches exist in dozens of locations across the globe. Lewey, one of the current organizers of Nerd Nite Boston, says the idea for the events came about after founder Chris Balakrishnan returned from doing research on parasitic birds in Africa. “He would invite friends to come out [to the Midway] and chat with him about his research. This happened enough times that the bartender joked with him and said, ‘I’m tired of hearing this story! Why don’t you just get all your friends in this bar at one time and tell them about your research at once?’ A simple joke like that became the origin of Nerd Nite.”

Nerd Nite grew to the next level when Balakrishnan’s friend Matt Wasowski exported the idea to New York and soon Nerd Nites were popping up everywhere from Kansas to Germany.

Nerd Nite presenters are generally nominated by their friends or other attendees. Lewey says that presenters don’t need to be experts, they just need to have a topic that lies “somewhere between knowledge and obsession” for them.

A successful Nerd Nite is when “people are engaged with each other and the speaker,” according to Lewey. In fact, Nerd Nite is so dedicated to encouraging connections between audience members that they recently held a registration only “speed dating” event.

The next Nerd Nite features presentations on “Protecting Superman or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Intellectual Property” and “In Case You Didn’t Pay Attention in High School: Honest Sex Ed for Grown Ups.” It will be held on Monday, March 25 at 8 p.m. at Middlesex Lounge, 315 Massachusetts Avenue, in Cambridge. Admission is $5.

Chris Duffy is the editor of Paperweight Magazine, a new humor magazine for the iPad. He also produces and hosts “You’re the Expert,” a monthly show at Oberon that uses comedy to make academic research more accessible and exciting.

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