Curtis Armstrong, King of the Nerds, Comes to Comic Con

Friday, November 10 marks the start of the “Biggest show in the smallest state!” as fans gather at the Rhode Island Convention Center & Dunkin Donuts Center for a weekend of indulgence. In plain language, a bunch of NERDS are taking over Providence. This year, it’s more true than ever because Rhode Island Comic Con will host the largest reunion for the cast of the 1984 American film Revenge of the Nerds.

I was granted the opportunity to speak to Revenge of the Nerds‘ Curtis Armstrong, the actor and self-proclaimed “Nerd Founding Father,” about his book Revenge of the Nerd, Rhode Island Comic Con and Providence.

Jax Adele: How did this book came about?

Curtis Armstrong: The book came about just because for years I’ve been thinking about the different things I have done in my professional career, which goes back 40 years now or more. When actors get together just as a group, we’re always telling stories. And everyone’s got good stories about various points in their career. I had memories that were still pretty fresh, and in addition to that, I just don’t throw away things. So I had journals, diaries, letters and documents, and all sorts of things in a big trunk that got carried around with me for decades. And I was just going through the trunk and I just thought, “Gosh, there’s so much stuff here and it’s so specific.” I figured as a nerd, which I always consider myself to be, even before that word was actually used to define us, the idea of writing the nerd narrative, the nerd’s progress, born a nerd, raised a nerd, that has always been a part of who I am … I just thought it would be handy. Then there’s that connection with Rhode Island Comic Con … In 1984 with Revenge of the Nerds, it was really when nerd culture as a thing was coming into full bloom. It had existed before that, but for various reasons it was really becoming a force to be reckoned with in the mid-80s, and that was where all the parts fit into place. I just started writing and it seemed like it was something that people liked. I handed it around to a few people and then an agent read it and liked it and from that time on, it just ran its course.

JA: So you have this book. And it’s taking parts of your life, and you’ve stated you have journals and diaries and just entries of stuff you’ve been amassing you whole life. So it’s like you’re your own Metatron or scribe. [Curtis laughed. Metatron is his character from the “Supernatural” TV series.] You’re like a scribe of a nerd, but it’s a specific nerd because it’s Curtis Armstrong the nerd.

CA: It was a funny coincidence, actually, because I was working on the book at the same time I got the role of Metatron on “Supernatural.” So I would be up there in Vancouver playing the scribe of god, then going home at night and working on the book. The penultimate episode of Metatron’s was called “Don’t Call Me Shurley” (S11E20). Metatron faces off against god and winds up pleading with god to not destroy his creations and god is writing his autobiography and wanting Metatron to punch it up.  It was bizarre because at that very time I had gone into the editing process and so I would go to work during the day, playing Metatron editing god’s book and then at the end of the night I would go home and still be in the process of editing my book.

JA: You’re a lover of books, you’ve been reading books your whole life, you’ve been writing stuff down and now you have this book. And in this book you tell stories in a way, which I hear isn’t gossipy, and I applaud you for that. It’s just telling it because what if the people who experience these stories don’t tell them? How will we find them?

CA: Well it’s true. When I was first in the process of developing what the book was going to be, I had interest from a number of different publishing houses. And I had a meeting with one of them. The publisher or the editor that I was talking to said, “I think it would be better if you just made this a time frame tell-all. It should start with your first movie and end with the cancellation of ‘Moonlighting.’” So that would take into account Risky Business, Revenge of the Nerds, Better Off Dead and “Moonlighting,” the big ones from that decade. “But it should be a tell-all book, you worked with all these people, you should be able to do that.”

That was never the intention, and I would certainly never have limited myself in that way AND would have never considered revealing things. The stories that I tell about famous people are only new to people because they weren’t around at the time or you’re hearing it for the first time through someone else’s eyes as opposed to seeing it in block print in People. That was the way I approached it. I always end up talking about these movies and TV shows because that’s the thing people respond to. However, my idea always had been, this is a nerd’s progress, this is a nerd’s story and part of that story — a huge part of that story — is making these movies and TV shows. That’s the hook.

JA: Has Providence stood out to you in the convention circuit?

CA: I’ve been to the Rhode Island Comic Con once before this. These things now happen all over the country and there’s a sameness to it. Because basically you wind up never getting out of the building. However, there was one thing about Rhode Island Comic Con that I found when I was here the one time was because of its location, a lot of these places are out by airports and things. But in Rhode Island, you can actually go out and wander around and get a sense of the city. Which is what I did last time I was here. I would go out for breakfast before I had to show up to do whatever I was doing. You do get a sense of the city, because it’s in the city, and as someone from Los Angeles, I spent a lot of time on the East Coast and New England. It has a sense of place and it has that late 19th century feel that you definitely can’t get when you’re in Los Angeles.

Personally for me, as a book nerd, which is what the book is about in a lot of ways, one of my favorite authors when I was young and still enjoying a lot now is HP Lovecraft. Before I ever came here I had a sense of what Providence was like through those stories. I sort of interpreted that it was always dark, it was always cloudy and rather spooky because that was what I was getting from Lovecraft. Of course I now know it’s more than that, but that was my first actual connection with [Providence] through the work of HP Lovecraft.  I spent a year wallowing in these dark Eldritch tales. … One of my only real regrets is selling my Lovecraft collection. I guess I needed the money, but I’ve regretted it ever since.

When I was living in New York during my stage days, I used to come up to Providence because I had friends who worked at Trinity Rep. I would go up periodically to see shows there. That’s going back a very long way and things have changed, but all for the best from what I’ve heard.

JA: Are you excited about coming back to Rhode Island?

CA: I was already looking forward to coming back to Rhode Island. It is one of those places where you can slip out and run around. And this one in particular is significant because we’re having the biggest Revenge of the Nerds reunion that we have ever had. We had one major one before in Louisville, but at Rhode Island, were going to be having a huge, for us, collection of the actors who were in Revenge of the Nerds all together again. And we’ll be doing panels, and we’ll be doing the usual things, photo ops and what not. It’s going to be great to have everyone together. We always have a great time. I will be looking forward to that, and I will also be signing and selling the book.

JA: Is there a big group text where everyone’s chatting about stuff?

CA: We’re starting to get together with it. I’m still in touch with almost all of them. In fact, I interviewed a number of them for my book so you get their perspective for what’s going on during the Nerds movies. But Bobby Carradine I see all the time. I’ve been hearing from Julie Montgomery who played Betty Childs. I’ve been hearing from Don Gibb who played Ogre. He’s going to be there.  Brian who’s Takashi. Lamar Larry B. Scott. Wormser is coming up from New York, Andrew Cassese. A lot of us are getting together and for the first time we’re going to have Ted McGuinley there who played the evil bad jock. So we’ve got a fair number of them. Only one or two couldn’t make it.

JA: What are some of your new favorite nerd fandoms?

CA: Well, I’m still pretty much stuck in my old fandoms. When we were doing King of the Nerds, Robert Caradine and I, we were discovering all sorts of things that we had never gotten into before. We sort of knew what cosplay was, but it was that show that really introduced us to all of this. Its intricacies and so on. There’s lots of stuff. But at this time, I tend to dance with the one I brung.

I tend to be a classic horror film nerd, meaning ’30s and ’40s, music nerd and a book nerd. A book collector. And certainly the “Supernatural” fandom is a phenomenal and unique experience. But those are things I’ve always loved and the things I still love.

JA: Do you think there is a divide between old nerds and new nerds?

CA: I think the average kid wouldn’t. I think that nerd culture is something that has become so vast and has so many elements to it and there are so many types of it. It’s come such a long way from going to comic book sales in church basements, which is what I remember from the ’60s. All of these kinds of things are exploding. I think that new nerds coming up may get interested in the old-school type fandoms, or maybe not. Maybe they have their own new exciting fandoms. The technology changes constantly. The references change constantly. DC and Marvel were omnipresent when I was a boy, but only in the pages of the comic book. But with the movies and the TV shows, that’s an entirely different fandom. It can include the comic books, but it doesn’t necessarily. So all of the things keep changing and fandoms evolve over time. And whatever happens with to the new “Star Trek,” for example, “Star Trek Discovery.” I have no idea if that’s going to go or not. Whether that’s going to be a worthy connection to the traditional “Star Trek” fandom or whether that’s going to be an asterisk. It’s too early to say. But that’s one of the way that things keep evolving. You can’t really expect any 15-year-old to absorb 60 years of different fandoms because there’s really no need to.


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