For an 18-year-old dressed as a Pokémon character hitting on an older woman, the kid is surprisingly suave. “This is my third Comic-Con, but it’s the first year I was old enough to do this,” Ash Ketchum says, gesturing to the 82 men and women seated in pairs in a conference room in the basement of the Javits Center. Lamenting the tyranny of football at his high school, he offers to show me his Poké Ball, but a Jedi knight with spiked hair yells, “Time’s up!” Our three-minute speed date is over.
Weekend Jedi warrior Ryan Glitch is the 27-year-old owner of Sci-Fi Speed Dating, which in three years has organized hundreds of speed-dating events at dozens of super-fan conventions. Glitch’s sessions have resulted in five marriages, two babies, nineteen engagements, “and over a hundred couples dating seriously,” he tells me at one of New York Comic-Con’s eight Sci-Fi Speed Dating sessions. “And that’s just what we know from people telling us on our Facebook page!”
A “big old nerd” from a family of NASCAR enthusiasts in upstate New York, Glitch is a gleeful one-man show of movie quotes, silly voices, and fart jokes. He first tried speed dating five years ago, at Atlanta’s Dragon Con. “It was like twenty guys and five girls,” he recalls. He left before the session finished.
Later that year, he emailed the organizers of Stars Wars Celebration V to suggest they try speed dating. “I got an e-mail back asking, ‘How does speed dating work?’ So I explained it to them. They asked if I’d run one. I told them I had. But I had not.” Every session sold out.
“From there it just blew up,” Glitch continues. “We got lucky, we hit on a good idea, and we ran with it.” Since then, he and a rotating staff of friends have organized speed-dating events at about twenty cons per year; Sci-Fi Speed-Dating reality show Geek Love aired briefly on TLC, then moved to gaming website IGN. “Next year I’m going to try to push it to 35 [conventions],” Glitch says. “I currently make enough to live off it. Well, live meagerly, I should say.”
Between cons, Glitch works in the back room of a local Walmart, assembling floor model displays. He estimates he is the third or fourth fastest assembler of bicycles in the Walmart corporation. He says his friend and speed-dating collaborator Jeff Hubbard is the best assembler in the world. “You know, aces in their places,” Glitch says.
Hubbard has been assisting Sci-Fi Speed-Dating setup and ticket sales since the beginning. The day I met him, he was wearing an Indiana Jones costume rigged to play the movie theme song when he walked. He doesn’t think he’s the fastest Walmart assembler in the world, but admits that in 25 years he’s gotten pretty good. “I like to work with my hands,” Hubbard explains. In the craft economy of Star Wars costuming, his specialty is fabricating armor. His Darth Vader costume is worth an estimated $10,000.
Glitch’s most prized costume is an Episode III Anakin Skywalker worth $4,000, but weight gain currently prevents him from wearing it. He recently dedicated his Facebook page to documenting his quest to slim down for the next Star Wars Celebration. “62 days soda and fast food free. 13 days in a row of jogging. 556 days till celebration. Starting weight, 367, current weight 346.2,” he blogged last week.
Glitch’s speed date hosting style is part stand-up comedy, part Soup Nazi. He packs as many speed daters into his sessions as is physically possible; to prevent 82-person pile-ups, speed date rotations must be orderly and quick. For heterosexual sessions, he pre-registers more women than men, then only admits as many men as there are available women. (LGBT speed dating generally occurs in separate sessions.) He is strict about lines. “In Denver we had bigger lines than their A-listers. In Salt Lake City, we had bigger lines than A-listers.” He describes a Sci-Fi Speed-Dating line that once overshadowed a William Shatner panel.
My speed dates include a Peruvian movie buff, a Wall Street financier in Final Fantasy armor, and a cosplay photographer from Hong Kong. Some men are looking for girlfriends, but most say they’d be happy even with the dreaded friend zone. “Just someone who accepts me,” a Power Ranger with a Long Island accent says, gesturing to his spandex-clad body. “Because people who meet me here, they see everything.”
Three years ago, Keri Brugge was dressed as a Jedi knight when she sat down in front of future husband Matt Brugge at Glitch’s first Star Wars Celebration V speed-dating session. Four months later, they were marching down a wedding aisle to the Star Wars theme song. Matt proposed by arranging his Star Wars figurines in a diorama version of a Sci-Fi Speed-Dating room. Keri’s engagement ring was hidden underneath Padmé Amidala of Naboo.
The pair live in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, with Matt's 7-year-old daughter, whom Keri is helping make a Princess Leia costume for Halloween. Stopping by the Sci-Fi Speed-Dating room at Chicago Comic Con this year, “I was like, awww,” Keri recalls. “And then I was like, everybody do this! It worked for us!”
“There are a couple people from the first session who I’ve already seen walking around holding hands,” Glitch tells me after the session. “It’s kind of an unwordable feeling. When Keri and Matt called to say, hey, we’re getting married, I was like—” He drops his jaw and pantomimes speechless excitement, hands flapping at the wrist. “In my contracts for a while, underneath where you sign, it would say ‘Ryan Glitch, Geek Pimp.’ They put it on the official contracts! I thought it was hilarious. It’s a cool feeling and I like it.”
The geek pimp himself, however, is single. Glitch’s most recent relationship started at his first-ever Star Wars speed-dating session; he was only hosting, but she found him on Facebook and they dated for several years. “I just want to have a wife and kids. That’s my only goal in life. If speed dating didn’t happen again, if we never filmed again, I wouldn’t care if I had a wife and kids.” But he isn’t sure whether he’ll mix business with pleasure again.
“I would love to meet someone,” Glitch sighs, “but I think it’s unethical to use my powers for evil or self-gain.”