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The Nerdist podcast was an early success in a now flourishing world of comedy podcasts. In December, the podcasts collectively drew 4.6 million downloads. The Nerdist audience, he says, is about 64 percent male, with most in their 20s.

The podcast has attracted big-name guests like Tina Fey and Mel Brooks. Tom Hanks, a typewriter enthusiast, was lured with a 1934 Smith Corona; he accepted in a typewritten response.

The YouTube channel, among those launched with funding from the Google Inc.-owned video site in a high-profile bid to develop original content, is a partnership with Jim Henson Co. and Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video. Its shows include “All-Star Celebrity Bowling,” in which TV show casts bowl against the Nerdist clan (given his father, Hardwick has skills); “Face to Face” with Weird Al Yankovic, a parody celebrity interview show; and “Star Talk” with astrophysicist Neil deGrass Tyson.

Currently running in a seven-episode season is one of Nerdist’s biggest hits: Neil Patrick Harris’ “Puppet Dreams,” in which Harris acts out scenes with Jim Henson puppets and adult innuendo. Just as Nerdist pulled in Hanks through a passion of his, Nerdist appealed to Harris’ love of puppets. Harris, a longtime friend of Hardwick‘s, has been a fan of Nerdist since it launched: “I was mostly just envious of the title,” he says.

“One of the things I love about Chris is he’s a true finisher,” says Harris. “He has expanded his empire radically and yet everything he sets his mind to accomplishing, he finishes. In this industry, you get a lot of people with great ideas but not a lot of follow-through.”

Like the popular gaming online network Machinima (which has executive ties with Nerdist), the Nerdist approach is to proliferate across platforms. Levin, who co-founded the newsletter GeekChicDaily before merging it with Nerdist in 2010, is looking to put Nerdist on set-top boxes that connect to TVs. Legendary, he says, gives Nerdist more muscle.

“From the top down perspective, they are clearly the market leader,” says Levin. “We look at ourselves as an important voice from the bottom up.”

Staying true to that spirit, Hardwick says, will remain Nerdist’s mission regardless of its big media partners. After growing up at a time when Dungeons & Dragons players (like himself) were outcasts, Hardwick’s empire will take all comers _ so long as they’re passionate about what they like.

“Nerds can be out about the stuff that they love without as much as the stigma against it as when I was growing up,” says Hardwick. “I just want people to feel OK about what they love. Unless that thing is murder and you’re a Murder Nerd.”

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Online:

http://www.nerdist.com

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Follow Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake_coyle