Wizard World: Wil Wheaton Versus the Burrito
'ST:TNG' star explains how Twitter helps bind the geekverse
By Richard Whittaker, 9:00AM, Sat. Oct. 27, 2012
So I'm waiting for Wil Wheaton to call me, so we can talk about his visit to Wizard World Austin Comic-Con this coming weekend, and we're having all kinds of technical problems. Him being a notorious Twitter user, I'm about to send him a message, when I read something very important on his feed. He is midway through a truly awesome burrito.
It used to be that celebrities guarded their privacy jealously. Wheaton, as one of the godfathers of nerd culture, is a little more open. Sure, he wants his quiet time, just like anyone else (he recently called out a paparazzo for interfering with his vacation, then tweeted photos of himself to totally undercut the intrusive lens.) But Wheaton shares a lot, especially when he thinks there's a good reason. Like a particularly excellent burrito. He said, "Not everything in the world needs to be super-serious all the time. And I think it's very easy, especially as we have entered the silly season of the election, for people to take everything online so seriously." He called the Burrito Tweets"a contribution to the general positive silliness, to do things like that once in a while."
Not that he was an early adopter of Twitter. "I was originally profoundly unimpressed by the whole thing," he said, "And to Twitter's credit, that was my problem. That was me not understanding it." What he loves about Twitter now is "the ability to have asynchronous conversations with people." He added, "It's been a really great way to get my work in front of people, and communicate with a lot of people very quickly."
Case in point: w00tstock. Dubbed "the variety show for the Internet set," the occasional show was the brainchild of Wheaton and his friends Adam Savage (MythBusters) and music-comedy duo Paul and Storm. On its one trip through Austin, it sold out the Paramount on election night 2010 by word of mouth. Or, rather, by Twitter and Facebook. On the night, Wheaton's role as MC and professional Wil Wheaton was taken by award-winning comic writer and novelist Mr. Amanda Palmer AKA Neil Gaiman (in a rather splendid hat.) "I think Austin wins," said Wheaton. "I kind of wish I'd been there to actually see it."
Wheaton's business card these days should probably just say professional nerd. He said, "My entire life is getting to do the things I love. That's my job." He hasn't changed a bit: he's still the same sci-fi loving, game playing guy he always was. Just now, it's a little more socially acceptable. "The basic level of self-esteem for the average nerd has increased," He said. "As technology became more affordable and integral to our lives, the people who knew how to use technology became more indispensable, and began to get a seat at the table."
If Twitter and social media have provided one service to geek culture, it's that it's easier than ever – nay, actually possible – for the kid reading comics in their basement to know they're not alone, that there is an entire cosmos of kids just like them. Wheaton said, "It's important to me, as a person who can occasionally speak on a table and speak a little above the crowd, to be respectful of that, to value that, and to make an effort to make the world OK and safe and awesome for the next generation of nerds."
There's a balancing act, though. The whole with great power comes great responsibility deal. "I try not to think about it too much," said Wheaton. "If I do, then I feel like I'm Lennie taking the rabbit behind the barn, and I don't want to pet it to death."
Speaking of the community of nerd, turns out Wheaton has a local connection. "I helped break Ernie Cline," Wheaton said. Yup, that Ernie Cline, author of Ready Player One, creator of Fanboys, and owner of that badass DeLorean you see round Austin some times. Wheaton had heard Cline's poem 'When I was a Kid.' He said, "It was all about how hard life was for kids in the '80s who didn't have mobile phones or pocket video games. It's very funny. He had MP3 files up on line – although they would have been Realplayer files or something like that back then – and they were great. I submitted it to Fark.com, and he went viral almost immediately, because people really loved it." The pair didn't meet until after Cline returned the favor by asking Wheaton to read the audiobook of Ready Player One. Wheaton said, "He told me that was a moment when I really helped bring him to the attention of people outside of Austin."
Of course, there's one Tweet that everyone is waiting for. "Austin, I am in you." Wheaton's trademark announcement that he has arrived in a town. Again, the trademark humility. "I'm pretty sure Kevin Smith was the first person to do that." There was no intention of creating a meme, said Wheaton. "I was just travelling between Los Angeles and Vancouver for work so much that I just started saying, 'Canada, I am in you.' It was funny to me, and then I just started announcing I am in place everywhere I went." It's had unexpected consequences: "The Opportunity rover landed on Mars, and the first Tweet was 'Gale Crater, I am in you.' I was like, 'Holy crap, how did that happen?'"
That was one of the highlights of Wheaton's life. Only one? Yes. "The highlight of my life was when my step son asked me to adopt him."
And so how was that famous burrito? "That burrito was delicious. It was magical."
Wizard World Austin Comic-Con, Oct. 26-28, Austin Convention Center, 500 E. Cesar Chavez. www.wizardworld.com/home-tx.html/
Star Trek: The Next Generation 25th Anniversary Reunion, Ballroom FG, Oct. 27, 5:30pm.