'Big Bang Theory' stars say they aren't nerds and might be in the minority
MONTREAL -- The stars of "The Big Bang Theory" acknowledge they could well be the outsiders when it comes to the number of people in the world who are nerds.
"There's a lot of closeted nerds out there," says Simon Helberg, who plays the perpetually randy Howard Wolowitz on the hit TV show.
"Personally, I'm not into 'Star Trek' or physics or comic books but I know I might be in the minority."
He says co-stars Kunal Nayyar (Raj), Jim Parsons (Sheldon) and Johnny Galecki (Leonard) aren't nerds either, despite how well they play the socially challenged geniuses.
"I think ultimately everyone has those qualities of feeling a little bit like an outsider or being passionate about something," says Helberg, who will host the 'Tribute to Nerds' show with Nayyar at Montreal's Just For Laughs festival on Friday.
"The Big Bang Theory," which airs on CTV, is about four young scientists and their attractive -- and comparatively normal -- neighbour Penny (Kaley Cuoco).
One of the highest-rated shows on TV, the program was renewed earlier this year for another three years, compared with one year for most. While the show started strongly in 2007, it really caught fire through word of mouth.
"Nerds will talk," observed Helberg, although both he and Nayyar pointed out the show isn't out to just ridicule geeks but also to lovingly poke fun at them.
"People relate to it because it's about underdogs and it's about reaching out to the real world and it's about trying to find love and it's about friendship," said Nayyar, noting few people likely understand the science discussed in the show.
The show's fourth season finale set the Internet abuzz when Raj ended up sleeping with Penny, Leonard's former girlfriend.
Nayyar and Helberg are surprisingly like their characters when it comes to resolving that situation, with Nayyar saying he'd advise Raj to take a deep breath, not beat himself up, and rebuild his friendship with Leonard.
As for Helberg, he'd tell Raj to rebuild his bridges with Leonard -- "and brag quietly to your friends about your victory. Tell Wolowitz all the details because he's not going to let you go without it."
Both Nayyar and Helberg say the cast is as close off-screen as they are on and that contributes to their performances as a tight-knit group of buddies.
"It's a lot of fun," says Nayyar. "We're a family."
While Nayyar is not as shy as Raj, he says he can relate to him.
"I really feel that Raj is the younger brother in the group and I'm the younger brother in my family," he said in a telephone interview.
"I like to make jokes and poke fun at people to their face and Raj is really good at that too. He really knows how to push people's buttons."
However, his attempt to meet women when he first came to the United States sounds like something out of Wolowitz's playbook, even if it's what got him into acting.
Nayyar, who came to the U.S. from New Delhi in 1999 to study finance, says his views of American culture at the time came from movies like the raunchy "American Pie."
"Then I moved to college and it wasn't like that so I thought, 'how am I going to meet girls? I'm so lonely.' That's why I auditioned for a play."
Before "The Big Bang Theory," Nayyar also did theatre and played a terrorist on "NCIS."
Helberg, whose credits include "MadTV," "Joey" and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," says his Brooklyn-born mom wasn't quite as over the top as Howard's but "I can definitely relate to the yelling and coddling and dependency and that kind of dynamic."
While he might see himself in some of Wolowitz's insecurity and "I can relate to caring a little too much about fashion," Helberg says he doesn't have Wolowitz's vast collection of turtlenecks or gigantic, gaudy belt buckles.
"He's less evolved in terms that he's just like a rabid animal in the jungle trying to procreate," Helberg said of the uninhibited character. "There's no malice in him and there's no threat to him.
"He can hit on the same girl a million times and she says no and he doesn't even understand what that means because he thinks it's all part of the game and the hunt. That's just really fun to play."
Nayyal says any suggestion the stars are nerd icons is humbling and the idea gives him "goosebumps."
"I would hope that people who were poked fun at for being nerds or geeks in the past can now wear it proudly and I hope 'Big Bang' had some part to play in it," he said.
Helberg jokes that anyone who sees him as a nerd icon is "delusional" but he'll do his best.
"I don't know what nerdiness they see in me or why they immediately thought of my face when the word nerd was in the title but I will try not to let down the nerds," he promised.
"It's a big responsibility so I'm working on my nerdiness and perfecting it."