nerd-off: danica mckellar vs. felicia day

A BGS* drew my attention to Felicia Day, actress and star of “The Guild,” a web based comedy about a bunch of online gamers. It’s good, even regular folks would enjoy the humor. I mentioned to my spouse that this definitely makes Felicia Day, who writes and produces the show, the Queen of Nerds. Then my spouse said, “Oh really, a bigger nerd than Danica McKellar?” And I was like, “Yes! Well, maybe… I dunno…. geez… let me think about this…”

Turns out that McKellar and Day are both crazy nerdy. The only way to settle this was to have a rigorous nerd-off, where one compares each contender on a range of nerdly qualities. So let’s start:

  1. Mathematics: Both are amazingly good at math. Day double majored at UT Austin (NRC rank 23) in mathematics and music – with honors in both. McKellar also knocks it out of the park. McKellar majored in math at UCLA (rank 12), also summa cum laudae. But here’s where McKellar dominates the competition. McKellar co-authored a scientific paper on spin models with a UCLA prof, it’s been cited 10 times, and she has an Erdos number of 4. Then, to show how amazing she is, post-graduation, McKellar authored a number of best-selling books explaining math and encouraging young women to achieve in science. Advantage: McKellar.
  2. Mainstream success: Nerds gotta show they have skillz that killz. Once gain, Day is a remarkably accomplished performer. In addition to being a professional violinist, she’s been in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse, the Bring it On franchise, and guest appearances on shows like Monk and House. But here, McKellar takes it up a notch. McKellar starred in two seminal shows of wide mainstream appeal, the Wonder Years and West Wing. Throw in guest appearances on nerd shows like Babylon 5 and Justice League. Advantage: McKellar.
  3. Social Networking: The new thing is social media and nerds should be deep in it. Here is where Day pumps it up to eleven. While Day and McKellar are both active online, Day crushes. Twitter followers: 8,000 for McKellar; 1.8 MILLION for Day. Holy cow! Facebook: 380k “like” Day’s page vs. 2k “like.” While McKellar has a few updates on Twitter, Day uses Twitter to connect fans and share new media. Day is an Internet phenomenon. Advantage: Day.
  4. Nerd Culture: Yes, McKellar will tweet about watching the Last Starfighter. But Day takes it up to a whole new level. The Guild is now a seminal accomplishment of nerd culture.The show’s a winner of multiple mainstream awards for online television and has corporate sponsorship.  In my view, it’s probably one the best humorous accounts of gamer life, alongside the esteemed Knights of the Dinner Table comic. On top of that, Day spends her time moving from con to con, immersed in nerdalia, sharing photos and reaching out. Advantage: Day.

The rigorous nerd-off shows Day and McKellar tied for title of all time biggest nerd. If nothing else, I have deepened my own nerdiness through this exercise.

*Brilliant Graduate Student


Written by fabiorojas

June 23, 2011 at 12:29 am

8 Responses

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  1. Nomination: Mayim Bialik. After Blossom, she got a PhD in neurobiology. Now she plays a neurobiologist on TV.



    June 23, 2011 at 4:14 am

  2. McKeller is coasting on past success. How many peer-reviewed articles has she written *lately*?

    More importantly, great as Winnie Cooper was, there was nothing nerdy about her, or about the Wonder Years.

    Felicia Day is out there every, well, day, geeking it up. Advantage: Day.

    Plus: How could you forget to mention Dr Horrible, a seminal event in geek culture? ;-)

    (Also a big Guild fan, you’ll be unsurprised to hear.)


    Jacob T. Levy

    June 23, 2011 at 9:41 am

  3. Danica may be nerdy, Felicia has more geek cred. Felicia also hosted IBM’s 2011 Innovate conference.



    June 23, 2011 at 4:04 pm

  4. @Ookie: It gets even crazier – Felicia just released a comic book she wrote and produced. Is there nothing the woman can’t do?!?!

    @Levy: If you love the Guild, why not emulate them and got GenCon? (hint…)



    June 23, 2011 at 5:25 pm

  5. I think we need some definitional issues settled before really making a determination, but to wade in provisionally… In terms of nerd *culture*, and especially the production of specifically nerdy works of art, Felicia Day is the clear winner for all the reasons mentioned above. Danica McKellar is clearly brilliant, and personally nerdy, but she’s not actively producing nerd-dom. Rather, she produced a math paper (yay!) and some excellent TV shows that had some nerd appeal but were basically mainstream successes. Most West Wing fans don’t know that she is a published math author. Most “Guild” fans have a pretty clear sense that Felecia Day is one of the .. guild. Thus, if we are really looking to crown a “Queen of Nerds”*, I think the choice is clearly Felicia Day.

    * Who would be the King of Nerds? Is this a useful question to ask before making a determination? Is it even possible, given the gendered connotation of “nerd” that make “Queen Nerd” something unusual? Would it be Stephen Hawking, an eminent physicist who has guest starred on everything from ST:TNG to Futurama? Or someone more like Gary Gygax (RIP)?


    Dan Hirschman

    June 25, 2011 at 8:08 pm

  6. @fabiorojas: While I’ve heard a rumor that the Guildies are going to a con next season, the correct way to really emulate them is by carrying on with an online RPG!


    Jacob T. Levy

    June 30, 2011 at 1:49 am

  7. Danica McKellar is the author of three books, generally targeted to girls. Note the different locations here at the Ann Arbor District Library. Math Doesn’t Suck, New York : Hudson Street Press, c2007. (Youth Y510 McK); Kiss My Math, New York : Hudson Street Press, c2008. (Teen 510 McK); Hot X: Algebra Exposed, New York : Hudson Street Press, c2010. (512 McK).

    However, as brilliant as she and Day are, Natalie Portman (Princess Padmè Amidala in Star Wars; but a slew of credits, including producer and director) was co-author on two academic journal articles before she left high school. Her real name is Hershlag.
    “A Simple Method To Demonstrate the Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen from Sugar,” Ian Hurley, Natalie Hershlag, and Jonathan Woodward, The Journal of Chemistry Education., 1998, 75 (10), p 1270.
    “Frontal Lobe Activation during Object Permanence: Data from Near-Infrared Spectroscopy,” Gaudette T; Kagan J; Baird A.A; Walz K.A; Boas D.A; Hershlag N., NeuroImage Vol: 16 Issue: 4.

    The sociological point here is that with the bachelor’s degree being the new high school diploma, it is not surprising that high achievers in cimema have other accomplishemnts as well. We might call that a consequence of the Flynn Effect.


    Michael E. Marotta

    July 3, 2011 at 12:18 am

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