Say the word “geek” to most people, and a particular image emerges: Comic-Book Guy, the overweight, pony-tailed “Simpsons” character who nitpicks over details in his favorite TV shows and writes Internet reviews declaring “Worst. Episode. Ever.”
It’s a hard-to-kill stereotype that Charity “Cherri” Mack describes as “basement-dweller people who other people think, ‘Yeah, you’re a geek because you play “World of Warcraft” for 17 hours!’ ”
Mack, founding member of the Salt Lake City-made podcast “Hello, Sweetie!”, does not fit that dated image of geekhood. Mack and her cohorts — Kristal Starr, Rebecca Frost and Danielle Über Alles — are not your typical fanboys, because they aren’t boys.
The fact that they are all young women, they say, is less of a big deal than it once was.
“The stereotype is girls are so rare in the geek world,” said Frost, 23, who is by day a student at Salt Lake Community College. “It’s really not the case. I’m at the point now where I’m common. I’m nothing new.”
Ironically, it was the difficulty of being accepted in Salt Lake City’s geek community that prompted Mack to launch “Hello, Sweetie!” She and others were listening back in September 2011 to “Geek Show Podcast,” the popular online show started by X96’s “Radio From Hell” host Kerry Jackson, local movie critics Jeff Vice and Jimmy Martin, and Tribune TV critic Scott D. Pierce.
“They never have any female panelists, rarely had female guests, and a lot of people were complaining about that,” said Starr, 36, a mother of three, and a buyer for a local nutritional company.
On one episode of “Geek Show Podcast,” one of the hosts said, “If you [women] want to have a podcast, you should start one.” As Starr recounts the moment, “Charity said, ‘You know what? I’m going to.’ ”
Mack, a 28-year-old administrative assistant for the Utah State Fairpark, posted a notice on “Geek Show’s” Facebook page, asking if anyone was interested in forming an all-female geek podcast with her, Starr and another friend (who later dropped out because of scheduling conflicts). They took the name “Hello, Sweetie!” from “Doctor Who” — it is the signature line of The Doctor’s sometime-girlfriend, the time-hopping Dr. River Song.
Danielle Über Alles (her nom du podcast) was at a “Geek Show”-sponsored screening at Brewvies when she saw the Facebook post. “As soon as we met with [Danielle], we knew that she was going to be a perfect fit,” Mack said.
Frost, who also knew Mack and Starr from roller derby, joined the crew because she was a rabid listener. “I told them I yelled at my stereo, ‘You have wrong information!’ ” Frost said.
The women’s geek credentials go back to childhood. Über Alles, 24 and also an SLCC student, was shown “Star Wars” when she was 6, and on one of her first Halloweens dressed as Han Solo. Frost, at 13, dressed as Buffy the Vampire Slayer for Halloween, and grew up on a steady diet of TV. (Her father, Bill Frost, is TV critic for Salt Lake City Weekly.) Starr’s geekdom of choice was editing her high-school literary journal. And Mack, who learned comics from her dad (he was DC, she’s Marvel — it’s complicated), described herself as “trumpet-toting band dork who’d rather play Dungeons & Dragons than try to date.”
The show is recorded every Monday night in Mack’s tiny apartment, where her cat sometimes crawls on the soundboard. The women each have their areas of expertise — Frost knows TV and roller derby, Mack handles science and comic books, Starr is the movie maven (and also covers roller derby), and Über Alles talks music and is the group’s only videogamer — and each brings items from the week’s news to talk about, often using profanities that would make a longshoreman blush.
“The key is to really come across as, ‘This is stuff that we’d be doing anyway,’ ” Mack said. “Even if we didn’t have a podcast, I would like to think that we would get together once a week and talk about the nerdy stuff that happened that week anyway.”
The podcast draws between 1,500 and 2,000 listeners a month, from as far away as New York and Louisiana, Mack said. The show is hoping to extend its audience by covering comic conventions in Phoenix and Denver this May. The women have launched a campaign on Indiegogo to get listeners to donate money for travel expenses.
Mack said taking “Hello, Sweetie!” on the road will mean fun content for the show, but also spread the message that geekdom is a bigger tent than people believe.
“If there are girl geeks that are under the radar, it may be because they don’t feel like they have anyone to connect to,” Mack said. “Yes, we are out there. There are girls like you. We aren’t going to stare and point at you and be like ‘Oh, look! A girl!’ We’re going to be like, ‘Hey, come talk about this cool thing that we like, too.’ ”
Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form, at www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/seanpmeans.