Partyin’ it up, nerd style

By Bertha Serrano

While many might decide to hire strippers for a bachelorette party, an entertainment company is heating things up-with nerds.

Donning colorful plaid jackets, flooded pants, hideous ties and glasses held together by tape, the five employees of Rent-A-Nerd Comedy Entertainment get paid to be nerds.

Since 1987, the nerds and nerdettes of this Chicago-based company have gone to countless birthday parties, wedding rehearsals, bachelorette/bachelor parties and baby showers to entertain guests. The catch with this type of entertainment is that the main guest of the party never knows about the special guests.

The Chronicle talked to founder of the company and Chicago native Mike MacDonald to find out the stories behind this group of nerds, what his definition of a nerd is and who they compete with every day.

The Chronicle: What has changed since you launched the company?

Mike MacDonald: People don’t want to spend money for good things anymore. It’s a Wal-Mart world, and people think that nerds are made in China and they can get them for a dollar. That’s really the difference between our business and the way it used to be. It used to be that people  appreciated quality, and now, people are more into the world. They really don’t want to spend money on anything good. We haven’t raised our prices since 1987. I don’t think the [performances] have changed a lot. We’re a lot smarter now on how we set up our performances. We have a really wonderful formula.

What’s your formula?

Well, like if we did a baby shower, we would send a nerdette as a nanny to raise the baby and live with the family. The point is, I think it’s really cute to think that our nerds and nerdettes are real, but they’re not. And everyone knows it’s a joke, and the guest of honor doesn’t know it’s a joke.

Do the nerds and nerdettes have rules to follow?

[We] don’t perform after midnight. No bars after midnight. Our performers are very talented, and the idea behind a Rent-A-Nerd is that we come up with a future. So, if we did a couple getting married, we might go to the wedding rehearsal dinner as a live-in marriage counselor.

How do you decide what act to perform?

We think [of] this weird person and how we [can] insert this weird person into the future of the guest of honor. That’s kind of how it works. We come up with a story line that makes sense.

Is there a certain age range for the performers?

A lot of the entertainers range from their 30s or 40s. I’ve had some younger people on, but the young people last about a year, maybe three months. It’s a tough environment now.

What criteria do you look for when hiring employees?

I take ads, but usually I find people through the improv community or acting. It’s kind of hard to find people now because, truthfully, the difference is that back then, people had a different work ethic, and now, a lot of kids don’t want to work.

What makes someone a nerd?

First of all, I think the big thing is that they’re passionate about something. Often what [they’re] passionate about is not cool, but so what? The second thing is that they don’t have a sense of fitting in. And that’s kind of a blessing because who wants to sit in with a whole bunch of people you don’t like anyway? They’re the ones who are brave enough to be who they are and get picked on and all that kind of stuff. They are who they say they are, and they do what they want to do regardless of what people think and at the expense of getting picked on.

Do you have any competitors in this business?

There’s something called substitution, like if you would say, “Hey it’s Valentines Day, I would rather take my wife out to dinner and a movie or flowers rather than getting her a nerd.” I have a degree in math and physics. I didn’t get into this business because I wanted to do a nerd performance. I had this great idea, and it took off.

Visit for more information on how to pick a nerd that would best fit your guest of honor for a party.