5 People Who Rode Dorky Hobbies to Rock-Star Status
The past decade or so in society has seen a wholesale social glow-up in hobbies that used to be the social equivalent of crapping your pants in Spanish class. Gone are the days where playing Magic: The Gathering is likely to have you with the waistband of your jockeys mounted on your forehead. High schools and colleges now have esports teams, and by all reports, their practice rooms aren’t stink-bombed with regularity. Also, these days, football and basketball superstars, the kings of Jock Mountain, are running water-cooled PC rigs and discussing AMD versus Intel.
However, both now and before nerds grabbed the world by the repaired bridge of its horn-rimmed glasses, certain people have ridden decisively lame hobbies to shocking amounts of fame. Please know, too, that I use the word “lame” here out of the deepest endearing love. It’s like a big brother telling his younger sibling “good luck, loser” when he drops him off at a Halo tournament. All I’m saying is, please don’t DDOS me or hack my MTG Arena account and delete my deck builds. I’m on your side.
Here are five people who have ridden deeply dorky hobbies to rock-star status…
Neil DeGrasse Tyson
Space is an OG dork fascination. For a long time, obsession with space was only about one step above being obsessed with dinosaurs. After all, what is a telescope if not the most powerful pair of glasses of all? Space, especially monster-less, non-fictional space that revolves around knowing stuff like the name of Pluto’s moons, is lunch-money stealing territory.
Yet somehow, Neil DeGrasse Tyson managed to turn a love of the stars into something that brought him and his vests into the national eye. Hosting series like Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and StarTalk somehow drilled an interest in astrophysics into the layman’s brain, instead of that man’s brain creating dismissive jokes about Tyson not getting laid. Hell, in 2015, Tyson received a medal for “exciting the public about the wonders of science,” which basically says, “Somehow you got people to give a shit about stars.”
The ownership of cats, especially significant numbers of them, has been historically linked with being the end of a bloodline. There’s no doubt that they’re a very popular pet amongst people who hate their drinking glasses and like to feel lightly haunted in their own home, but they’re still not considered a “cool pet.” So it’s a little shocking that a man named Jackson Galaxy, possessing the facial hair of a man who would call himself Jackson Galaxy, was able to ride cat ownership to fame.
Do you understand the sheer uphill battle that is? Telling people your name is Jackson Galaxy, growing and debuting that facial hair or talking non-stop about cats should each individually be enough to clear out a lunch table for individual use in perpetuity. Yet somehow, Galaxy managed to walk this tightrope to become a sort of feline Guy Fieri, whose countenance is used to sell cat asshole wipes or whatever at your local Petco.
No domain of nerdom has recently had the level of mainstream invasion as Dungeons & Dragons. For a game that, as I was growing up, basically came packaged with a retainer, it’s still a bit shocking to see how much of a cultural phenomenon D&D has become. At the tip of the spear (1d6 piercing) of this movement is voice actor and tabletop RPG phenomenon Matt Mercer.
Besides a face and chiseled jaw straight from the cover of a romance novel, Mercer is through and through, a D&D player. Again, I’m not looking to cut him or his success down, just to emphasize that this isn’t somebody like Henry Cavill revealing they’re secretly a Witcher fanboy, this is a classic fantasy guy, leather wristbands and all, who somehow raised a tabletop game full of people doing weird old-timey voices to mainstream relevancy.
Let’s throw it back a little bit to an old-school cultural icon, rest in peace. The domain of the puppet show was forever that of birthday parties with a late-notice clown cancellation. Between puppeteers and ventriloquists, creepy talking toy-based hobbies were something that kept both your social calendar and your bed notably empty. But by creating the Muppets, Jim Henson somehow brought puppetry both into mainstream and adult-age relevancy with a single green frog.
Henson’s legacy lives on today through a collection of beloved movies and television shows, and it’s not a long shot to allow him a good portion of the credit when it comes to adult animation. The line from Henson to BoJack Horseman might not be direct, but it’s hard not to argue that one might have paved the way for the other (at least in a small way).
Weird Al Yankovic
It feels like the only rational choice is to finish off this list with the OG famous dork: Weird Al Yankovic. Like I said previously, do not confuse my tone here for derision. The first CD I ever purchased was Running With Scissors, and I was once specifically told by my parents that I had too much Weird Al on my bar mitzvah party playlist. (Which, fair.)
Love for Weird Al aside, becoming a bona-fide rock star while being the amalgamation of things that were worthy of a cafeteria roast session is incredible. Especially during the 1990s, when cultural cool was the outwardly macho iconography of barbed-wire tattoos and beanies that looked like they were on fire. Weird Al walked in with what I’d call a “relaxed Afro,” Hawaiian shirts and a fucking goddamn accordion, and rang the Billboard charts like a dinner bell for over a decade. In the world of Weird, Al is forever an icon.