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‘Old Jake’s Skirts’ adds a second encore performance to raise money for festival

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John Lee of Duluth gestures during his presentation of "Godzilla: Mythos Revealed" during Nerd Nite at Teatro Zuccone on Wednesday night. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Even nerds get a night out in Duluth

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Believe it or not, there is a place where you can refer to the superhero Thor as an "Asgardian frat boy" and be rewarded with laughter from a like-minded audience.

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The safe haven is "Nerd Nite" and it features guest speakers getting to the nitty gritty of an intellectual niche. For presenter Tony Mayer -- creator of the Thor quip -- that specialty was the topic "Secret Identities: What Your Favorite Superhero Says About You."

"Every nerd has the secret desire to share their knowledge," said Adam Brisk, a co-creator and co-host of the bi-monthly event at Teatro Zuccone.

Wednesday night's "Nerd Nite Eleventy," was a mix of deconstructing the spandex-clad, a 12-minute overview of the American Revolution and a tutorial on Godzilla that drew about 50 nerd-curious people to the theater. The sessions include trivia breaks (name that secret language, anyone?) and door prizes (Who wants a paperback copy of Kevin Major's book "Dear Bruce Springsteen"?).

Heckling is of no concern. The punishment is co-host Crystal Pelkey reading from a copy of "The Notebook" by Nicholas Sparks that has been doctored to look like "War and Peace."

Audience member Ann Miller's nerd cred: She's a fan of "Dr. Who." She said one of her students recommended checking out "Nerd Nite." This was her nerd-in-public debut.

"It's normally been me in my own little nerd world," she said.

The trio of founding nerds of the Duluth branch -- Pelkey, Brisk and Jeremy Nilson -- started hosting the events in February 2010 as an educational happy hour. In the past 10 events, presenters have touched on topics like the mathematical formula for determining which five movies to bring along if you're going to be stranded on a deserted island, the making of "Star Wars" props and the board game Settlers of Catan. They have covered time travel and zombie survival and a theory that director Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landing and used the movie "The Shining" as his confession. And of course: The nerd's guide to getting to first base.

"It's more about laughing at each other and laughing at yourself," said Brisk.

The nerd herding isn't unique to Duluth. Events started in Boston in 2003, followed by New York City in 2006. The official Nerd Nite website lists 26 active groups around the world, including events in Chicago, Amsterdam, Dublin, and Austin, Texas.

Matt Wasowski is the curator of a monthly "Nerd Nite" held in a performance space in Brooklyn that regularly draws about 300 people. He's been surprised that in a time when attention spans seem to be shorter, the "Nerd Nite" phenomenon has continued to grow.

"The generalization is that people are being dumbed down," he said. "We can challenge people and give them a fun way of learning. People are more curious than we give them credit for. They're more willing to get smarter on their own time."

He said they have had presentations on the mating rituals of almost every species, but that recently the shift has been away from the traditional nerd-isms.

"History and arts nerds are coming out to see they can be on a par with science nerds and computer nerds," he said.

Wasowski sometimes speaks to recent world records -- largest skinny dip, youngest lion tamer. But anything goes, he said.

In January he is scheduled to release the first issue of Nerd Nite magazine, a compendium of Nerd Nite presentations around the country in article form.

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