Curtis Armstrong & Robert Carradine: The Culture Brats Interview

I was a huge fan of Revenge Of The Nerds. I must've seen it a million times on HBO back in the day. Two of the movie's stars, Curtis Armstrong and Robert Carradine, have had huge careers in Hollywood, working with noted directors like John Carpenter, Taylor Hackford, Savage Steve Holland, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino. Armstrong and Carradine have teamed up again to create and star in King Of The Nerds, a reality competition about nerd culture airing on TBS beginning January 17th. The guys spoke with us about what we can expect from the show and Revenge Of The Nerds.

You guys aren't only the hosts of the show, but you're also the creators. How hard was it to convince TBS that America needs a competition show starring nerds?
Carradine: Boy. That is a great question. They held their cards pretty close to their chest, but when they reacted with eight episodes, we figured they didn't take that much convincing.
Armstrong: I would say that's probably true. We first had to convince our producing partners when we got involved with Five By Five Media and Electus. They were the ones who we had the initial meetings with. We had actually gone to a couple of places, but TBS was the one we really wanted. The reaction was pretty much the same as it's been from almost everyone who first heard about it, which was "How was it that this never happened before?" It seems like such a no-brainer, if you can say that about a show about nerds. I think TBS definitely saw the potential in it.

Did either of you find hosting the show any harder or easier than your normal acting roles?
Carradine: The thing that seemed to be challenging to me was last-minute script changes. But other than that, it was just a matter of being in the present.
Armstrong: It's physically not that dissimilar. You come in the morning and you put your wardrobe on and you go and you do it. That much is like any acting job. The difficulty is because we have to be really specific. The only thing that's written down in this set-up is when we're describing challenges and we have to be really word perfect on the challenges because we have to make sure that all of the contestants understand what is happening completely. The rest of the time that we interact with the nerds, that's pretty much improvised on the spot.

What kind of different challenges will we see on King Of The Nerds?
Carradine: I don't know if you've seen the opening episode yet or not, but that show had a challenge in it where they play a gigantic game of chess. One of the beautiful things about that was that we had Lou Ferrigno's son destroying the chess pieces as they are eliminated from the game and we also have a very fetching young woman who moves the chess pieces around.
Armstrong: I like "very fetching." That was a good way of putting it. She was very fetching. But the great thing about all of these challenges they all had to be regarding, in some way, nerd culture. For example, we have a physics challenge which is very complicated. It involves lots of glass, different sized weights, and enormous amounts of breakage. It has to be done in a way that's visually fun but also genuinely having to do with physics and having these nerds work out the calculations that were required of them.
Carradine: So it was important for us to be very specific about the thickness and the distances, etc.
Armstrong: Since they're making their decisions based on the information we give them, the information has to be exact. There are a couple of really great challenges. We have a debate challenge of the two teams competing against each other in knowledge of nerd superhero trivia, but it's done as an actual debate. But we also have a live gaming challenge which I think is the coolest, which is where they put the people in a big black room. One team has these helipads which they can operate using an iPad.
Carradine: It's like they're playing a game, but the game has a real physical aspect to it.
Armstrong: They have to fly these things through different traps and get points. While they're doing that, the other team is trying to shoot down the helipads using Nerf ammunition. That one was visually and imaginatively my favorite.

The contestants lived in the house where the show was filmed. How many days were they there?
Carradine: It's eight weeks total. The name of the house is Nerdvana.
Armstrong: They're there twenty-four hours a day. The only time they leave is when we have challenges that take place outdoors. In a couple of cases I guess, they're able to be let out for just a little r&r, but they're constantly being filmed the whole time. Of course, they have no access to phones or email or anything like that. They are totally cut off from the outside world.

Was there any stress involved for the contestants?
Carradine: Yeah! And I think as the show goes on, you'll see how these stresses play themselves out. There's not a dull moment, I'll tell you that.

What was it like working with the guest judges like George Takei, Kevin Smith, and Garfunkel & Oates?
Carradine: They were so excited to be there and be part of the show, it was infectious, wouldn't you say Curtis?
Armstrong: I would. I had worked with Kevin once before. He thought it was just a cool idea and it was so up his alley, both he and Jason Mewes. They said "absolutely" immediately. The only one that hesitated, which was kind of cool and charming, was George Takei. George wanted reassurance from us that we were not mocking nerds. We were able to confirm to him that this was a celebration of nerds. It was in no way making them look stupid or awkward. It was just a celebration of the culture. Once he understood that, he was on board all the way and was terrific.

That was actually going to be my next question. I've read that some people are concerned that the show might be mocking nerd culture, but it doesn't, right?
Armstrong: No. I've said this repeatedly because it does keep coming up and it's unfortunate that it does. First place, a lot of people are concerned about something they haven't seen, so they really should see it before making that kind of judgment. Robert and I feel really strongly about this. We have our lives as actors. Revenge Of The Nerds wasn't the only thing we ever did, but it was something we've got some real emotional investment in. That scene at the end of Revenge Of The Nerds where Bobby's character calls everyone down whether they've been called a dork or a spaz or a geek or whatever the names they called you when you went to Adams College, come and join us. It was inclusive. It was tolerant. That was what that movie was about and we do not change that at all for this show.

Cool. I interviewed Ted McGinley a few years ago and he called making Revenge Of The Nerds one of his greatest experiences ever. What was it like for the two of you?
Carradine: Every day, we were getting paid to do something we were loving doing. There was a lot of encouragement from our director Jeff Kanew to explore any impulses that came to us during the course of filming. I remember specifically after one take of one scene, I think he said to me, "Well, Robert. You got that out of your system. Let's go again." We were encouraged to go as far as possible. I loved that.
Armstrong: It was great. We're all still friends with these people. We still see them periodically which I can't say about any job I've ever had. Going to Arizona to shoot that movie, I had done Risky Business at that point. I'd only done stage prior to that. I was going to this thing and I thought, "Well, it's alright. It's kind of gross, the script." Which at the time, it was so. But then I got there and I have to say about Robert Carradine is he introduced to me to what it's like to be in that kind of world. He was so generous and protective of everyone else in the cast and it made the whole experience wonderful. It's one of the reasons we have strong feelings about it after all these years.
Carradine: Thank you, Curtis.

What's next for each of you?
Carradine: With a little bit of luck, it'll be the next season of King Of The Nerds.
Armstrong: That's what we're hoping, actually. We're looking forward to the 17th and seeing what happens.

King Of The Nerds premieres January 17th at 10:00 PM on TBS.

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