Felicia Day is a leader in the nerd world, especially on the internet. She’s the mind behind Geek and Sundry, a web-based media enclave that’s full of shorts and shows for “your daily dose of geekiness.” Felica also recently published a memoir called You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). Nerdette Podcast’s Tricia Bobeda and Greta Johnsen joined Felicia in front of a live audience at Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Chicago, where they talked about nerd culture, being a creator in Hollywood, and the importance of hard work.
GJ: We’re all nerds, so we’re familiar with the notion of the superhero origin story. We want to know your origin story. You seem now to be so comfortable with this idea of being a weird person. Was it always that easy for you?
FD: I think because I was home-schooled, I didn’t ever know that I was weird, because the environment I was in accepted me. So I just thought that it was fine to, like, program your day to watch Lost in Space, and to show your grandfather some calculus, and then play five hours of video games.
So it wasn’t the most normal thing. I’d never had a test until I was 15. I never got up before 10 a.m., ever. So it didn’t feel weird until after I actually started writing the book, when I realized, “Oh, this is some out there stuff, Felicia. No wonder you can’t connect with a lot of people.”
So I guess the biggest adjustment was when I tried to fit in in Hollywood. A casting director told me once, “Your outsides don’t match your insides,” and then he rejected me and did not give me a job.
So I don’t know which way he was rejecting the inside or the outside. It’s always bothered me. What did it mean, what did it mean? Was I prettier on the outside than on the inside? Or vice versa?
TB: Growing up and being home-schooled, you must have had some moments where you realized that other kids were going to public school (or to private school, or whatever it was.) Were there points when you felt envious of that?
FD: I wanted to get out of the house a lot, I literally would do research and come up with, “Well, here’s a boarding school I could go to, Mom.”
I wanted to go straight to college at 12. I was like, “I’m ready, let’s get this thing on, get me an apartment!” I wrote my mom’s checks anyway. I actually payed all of the bills my whole life. There’s a lot more weird stuff that I left out of the book, because then child services would probably call retroactively. My mom was fine. She just was cooky and and I took care of a lot of practical things.
TB: Was it allowable to find your own interest within that environment? You said you were playing a lot of video games, you’re watching Lost in Space, you’re doing calculus, were you doing those things because you discovered them on your own? Or were you sort of absorbing the things that were in your environment already?
FD: I think I was absorbing. I mean, I did a lot of lessons. I would go to play practice and I’d go to ballet practice and I’d go out, but only in a lesson environment. It was never unsupervised, so I didn’t get bullied until I was an adult, yay!
GJ: Felicia, there are a lot of really excellent takeaways from this book. I think some of my favorites have to do with your work ethic. So often, I think we tend to overemphasize the importance of talent, and that idea that you just magically get to do all of the great things. When really, these things take hard work, and often it is sweat, blood, and tears, and you are busier than you ever want to be, and it’s really intense and kind of horrible… but also really rewarding.
FD: I was a violinist, and I started playing when I was two or three. And when I would get bored, I would just go play. So nobody pushed me to be awesome at the violin. I just had so much time on my hands.
I was just like, “I’ll go play for a couple of hours.”
I wanted to play like I heard on the tapes and CDs. It made me work really hard at that. And I think that taught me that everything is incremental, and I do believe that was the best thing that I took away from it. I write in the book a lot about how I had problems writing for many many years, and I particularly struggled writing The Guild. which was my web series that I wrote that kind of started everything in my career.
I thought that in order to write you had to have it perfectly formatted and know exactly what you’re going to write down or you shouldn’t even try and you’re a failure. And I think that that was really hard for me, even know I struggle with it a little bit, but especially writing the book helped get over that.
TB: So let’s talk a little about The Guild, because I think it’s one of those amazing stories that I love, where sometimes you shouldn’t wait for permission— you should just make the thing you want to make.
FD: Always do that.
TB: Do you think that if you had just been shopping a pilot script around for that idea, would you be here today?
FD: No, I would not be here, no.
I mean, I’ve done that in Hollywood the last couple of years. It’s incredibly frustrating. They do not want to do anything that’s not exactly what you’ve done before, and that’s what I don’t want to do.
You have to partner with people in order to get to another level. You can’t do everything yourself. And I think the chapter I did on depression and anxiety shows that you can’t take everything on, especially when it gets bigger than what you can do. But you have to go the distance and do as much as you can and know that, “Okay, I need help at this point.”
If you’re an artist— if you just sit back and wait for somebody to say, “Hey, that’s good! Get it out there!” you’ll never do anything. Whatever your art form, or even hobby — just start making things. Because you’re never going to get better unless you make them.
TB: Do you see progress?
FD: I think there is a broader scope of women’s roles. There are a lot more TV shows that are anchored by women in leading roles. And I think just the more visibility of that, the more somebody will consider mixing up a lead role to be a woman instead of a man.
I don’t think that it’s this phenomenal thing that couldn’t just go backwards, because if you look at the ’80s, there were actually a lot of leading women in a lot more powerful roles than even now.
There was a big dip that kind of went backwards, because it really doesn’t give the opportunity for women to be fully realized as far as the different kinds of roles for women.
You know I just recently went out and auditioned for a lot of pilots, and I would read these parts and I’m like, “Whelp, that’s a dumb wife role.”
Just put a little effort into making a character, versus “Oh, I just need to fill the blanks between the guy speaking,” especially in comedy.
There are so many more balanced casts, I think, in genre— and that’s why I love that nerds rule the world now. Because it takes a sci-fi or fantasy world to put women characters in prominent positions.
I think it’s getting better and I would just encourage women to get behind the camera. Because that’s where the real power is.
Like Game of Thrones? Check out our other podcast: Nerdette Recaps Game of Thrones with Peter Sagal.