How comedy (and books) can save the day for geeky tweens

Published on: 21 January 2019 Author: Catherine Wilkins

Comedian and writer Catherine (Catie) Wilkins gives us the lowdown on being a geeky kid and why it can have its advantages when you're all grown up and making people laugh for a living.

They say that comedians become comedians because they got bullied at school. You have to learn to be funny to defend yourself. Then you grow up and become a comedian – and you strut around, like, ‘Look at me now! How do you like me now, Donna?’ (I imagine).

There is a downside: a lot of the bullies grow up and go on to leave reviews. (I know it was you, Donna).

So, yes. When people ask me if there is a relationship between being a geeky kid at school and becoming a comedy writer, I have to say, yes.

Are you a geek or a nerd?

"Being a geeky kid" is almost an umbrella term now, to describe anyone who feels awkward or that they don’t really fit in anywhere (which is probably most people).

But when I was at school, "geek" had a more specific meaning. It was generally used to describe anyone that was into comics, superheroes or sci-fi, and then it gradually broadened out to mean someone who was passionate and knowledgeable about their favourite subject. E.g. "car geek", "football geek", "The Simpson’s geek".

It was "nerd" that meant someone who was super clever and enjoyed the pursuit of learning, though nerd and geek are used interchangeably with each other now.

Incidentally, I am a geek about the etymology of words (among other things). Did you know that the word "nice" has changed its meaning? It used to mean "not knowing" in Latin, and in Middle English, it meant "stupid"? Nice little fact, that.

Becoming "the funny one"

By the time I was an adult, "Geek Culture" had gone mainstream – Marvel and DC films are blockbuster hits, rather than a niche interest.

When I was taking my three-year-old daughter trick or treating for the first time, the gang of kids we were with were dressed mainly as various superheroes. At one house, a 12-year-old boy opened the door, took one look at everyone, and said, ‘Cuh, DC and Marvel together?’ disparagingly, before he handed out the sweets.

So going with the new meaning of geek, meaning being awkward, not feeling like you fit in anywhere, or having cool clothes… I was a geeky kid at school. (Even with the old meaning I was a geeky, too.) I liked comics a bit and was passionate about comedy.

Just like my character Ella in my book When Good Geeks Go Bad, I struggled to get "cool" shoes, and cool clothes, and my mere presence could sometimes enrage cool people.

I remember somehow managing to establish myself as "the funny one" by acting as an outlandish impression of a teacher in a school assembly that my form put on. One of the scariest kids in the year had found it hilarious, which got me some breathing space.

I’ve always found comedy to be a great way to deal with difficult situations. Whether that’s laughing about how awkward or embarrassing something is, or learning to use comedy insults to defend yourself against bullies.

Books I'd recommend for geeky tweens

And if you are a bit older and feeling adventurous:

  • Watchmen by Alan Moore
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut

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