By his own admission, musician Jonathan Coulton is a nerd, and he certainly has the credentials to back up that claim. He’s a “contributing troubadour” at Popular Science magazine. His songwriting past contains a zombie-themed anthem entitled “Re: Your Brains.” He’s besties with geek impresario John Hodgman.
But privately, Coulton is worried about being exposed as a faux nerd, of having his geek card revoked by the rabid fanbase he has amassed since quitting his job as a computer programmer seven years ago. His shameful secret? The guy knows squat about comic books.
“It’s an embarrassing gap in my nerd cred,” says Coulton in a recent interview with Mandatory. “I mean, comic books are universally accepted as the main thing you should know if you’re a nerd. The Comic Book Guy on 'The Simpsons,' that’s what people think of. So when you call yourself a nerd and you don’t know anything about comic books, it’s pretty pathetic.”
On the day that the ultimate comic book adaptation, "The Avengers," lands in theaters--and Coulton's NPR trivia show Ask Me Another debuts--we thought we’d find out exactly how clueless this hirsute balladeer really is. We’ll let you be the judge. Read the 41-year-old’s comments in the slideshow and then answer the following burning question: is Jonathan Coulton a nerd?
Mandatory: How well do you know the Avengers?
Jonathan Coulton: I’ll tell you a story. I was on a podcast a few years ago and there were several topics of discussion that we all agreed upon beforehand, so that I wouldn’t be surprised by anything. The hosts said that one of the things we would talk about would be the rumors of the Avengers movie. I thought it was a strange topic because I was like, "Why do they want to talk about a movie they made already?" But I said, “Yeah, sure, I’ll talk about it.” On the podcast we talked about programming computers, video games,all the standard nerd things that I’m supposed to know. And then they said, “So what do you think about this Avengers thing?" And I said, “Well, didn’t they already make that movie?” And there was a clunk and a silence as they realized that I was one of those people.
Fact: Until very recently, Jonathan Coulton thought that "The Avengers" was a reboot of a laughable 1998 movie starring Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman.
Mandatory: What is the Avengers’ two-word catchphrase?
Coulton: The two-word catchphrase? Let’s see. Well, they’re avenging something, presumably. “Vengeance, ho!”? “Avengers, avenge!”? “Avengers, activate!” I don’t know!
Fact: Jonathan Coulton isn’t familiar with the popular Marvel superhero supergroup’s famous battle cry, “Avengers, assemble!” He spurns the phrase viciously. “That’s a terrible catchphrase,” he says. “It’s a very passive thing for a bunch of Avengers to do. I mean, it’s assumed that they’re going to assemble. Job one, before they do anything at all, is get together in the same place.”
Mandatory: You’ve seen the Iron Man movies, but what’s his alter ego’s name?
Coulton: It’s the guy. With the weapons company. Oh, no, I can’t remember. Harvey Dent? Nope, that’s somebody else. Roger? Rog? Roget? Fuck.
Fact: Jonathan Coulton might have been sleeping through the Iron Man movies, but points out, “Tony Stark! Well, I knew the first name had an ‘o’ in it.”
Mandatory: Which Avengers are assembling in this movie?
Coulton: Based on images that have flashed across my television and that have happened in the movies that I’ve seen that have apparently been leading up to this, I’m assuming we have the Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor. And then I’m sort of stumped as to who else. Maybe a fish man who can breathe underwater? And a man who is made of fire?
Fact: While he couldn’t name Captain America, Black Widow or Hawkeye, Jonathan Coulton is at least nerdy enough to know that it’s entirely valid to suggest that one of the Avengers might be a fish man who can breathe underwater.
Mandatory: What is the name of Captain America’s shield?
Coulton: The name of the shield? The Stars and Stripes. Captain America: “Throw me my Stars and Stripes!” Bad guy: “And now we have Captain America’s Stars and Stripes.”
Fact: Jonathan Coulton is bad at weeding out trick questions about Captain America and naming a shield that doesn’t actually have a name.
Mandatory: What do you know about Black Widow?
Coulton: First of all, she’s very sexy. She wears some sort of sheer, form-fitting garment that’s kind of rubberized. And she has a red hourglass on her abdomen. I think she might have a Spider-man–like ability to climb things, but I don’t think she’s going to shoot any webs. She’s probably a good climber and jumper. And, of course, there’s the poisons. She’s sort of outfitted her garments to contain poisonous spikes.
And she always talks in a very seductive way because that’s the thing: when cornered, she’ll seduce the bad guy with her feminine wiles and then stab him with her poisonous spikes.
Fact: Jonathan Coulton couldn’t peg Black Widow as your garden variety gadget-savvy femme fatale, but he did add, “What other super power does she have? I’ve got it: She can create an egg sac containing hundreds of spider eggs.”
Mandatory: What are Hawkeye’s powers, and what does his costume look like?Coulton: Hawkeye wears some sort of form-fitting suit, that’s sort of a brown and yellow pallette. He has wings. He can glide, but he can’t fly. He can see very far away; he has hawk-like vision. He also wears a hood that has feathers on it and pointy feather ears.
Fact: Jonathan Coulton seems to have mixed up the Marvel Comics hero Hawkeye with the DC Comics hero Hawkman, who was also a recurring character on the 1970s-1980s cartoon, "Super Friends."
Mandatory: You do realize that you’re confusing Hawkeye with Hawkman, don’t you?
Coulton: OK. I hope you can understand why I might do that. But wait. Wasn’t there a Buck Rogers character with that name? And didn’t he wear, like, a hat? No? He was literally a hawk man? That’s so weird. So in the future, hawks are like people? So that wasn’t a hat? It was actually feathers? Weird. So, technically, I think I confused Hawkeye with Hawk from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
Fact: Jonathan Coulton possesses intimate knowledge of Hawk from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
Mandatory: What actor provides the voice of the Hulk in the movie?
Coulton: Not Mark Ruffalo? Hmm. Maybe that one guy. Lou Ferrigno? No, he doesn’t do a lot of voice-over work. Oh, I’ve got it. What’s his name? Andy Serkis. That’s my guess.
Fact: Jonathan Coulton was very excited to learn that it is indeed Lou Ferrigno, and says, “There’s a little pathos there. We grew up with Lou Ferrigno. He’s the loveable Hulk that we all remember.”
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Mandatory: If I told you that there’s a Marvel Universe superhero consortium called the Great Lakes Avengers (pictured), would you believe me?
Coulton: You’re kidding me! They’re from the Midwest? Are they just sort of doughy and really polite and stuff like that? Do they say, “Avengers, apologize”?
Fact: Jonathan Coulton just made fun of the Midwest.
Mandatory: The GLA isn’t in "The Avengers" movie, of course, but we have two more words for you: Squirrel Girl (on the right side of the picture).
Coulton: Well, everybody loves squirrels. I have to say that part of the problem with the endless parade of comic-book characters is that there are some that are original and interesting, like the Hulk and Iron Man, but you can just see them churning them out after a certain point, where it’s clear that they just wrote the names of all the animals they could think of and put that list up on the wall and sort of churned through it.
Fact: Jonathan Coulton may very well write an ode to Squirrel Girl on his follow-up to his latest album, "Artificial Heart," which is produced by John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants. Download the record, and strongly consider checking Coulton out on tour in June.