The veteran actor of memorable roles in ‘Risky Business,’ ‘Moonlighting,’ ‘Supernatural’ and other shows opens up about his new book.
The man behind many unforgettable supporting roles — Booger in Revenge of the Nerds — and voices — Snot Lonstein on American Dad! — takes center stage in his own life in his new memoir, Revenge of the Nerd: The Singular Adventures of the Man Who Would Be Booger (Thomas Dunne, July 11).
What was most surprising to you about revisiting your past?
I had a feeling it would be fun to go back and revisit some of the movies and TV shows, but what I found I actually enjoyed more and wasn’t expecting was the theater stuff. I was going into the theater stuff because I felt that that was part of the story, part of that nerd narrative. It brought back so many memories of what it was like in those days starting out as a stage actor. I can’t imagine what it would be like now. A lot of faces just came up, actors I worked with over the years in theater who I haven’t seen and some of them are dead, actually, and just remembering them and remembering what I learned was really a nice thing.
What was most interesting about your theater experience?
Realizing that I was playing in the theater exactly the same sorts of roles that I wound up playing in movies. It was always the second-banana comic part, the best friend of so-and-so, but it was in Noel Coward plays or Shakespeare plays.
What were you like as a kid?
For a significant period, I was in Switzerland, which kind of cut me from what we would call now American popular culture in the sixties. There was a lot of stuff that I missed. I had a passion for books and a love of reading, and that was something that never went away. There were comic books, which I was never particularly into. Science fiction and horror was a big thing for me. And I was a big British Invasion kid. The Beatles and subsequent bands became a huge focus for me, and again remain so today.
Were you a nerd?
At that point, there was nothing to embrace, really, other than my own obsessions and my own passions. We had to wait for the nerd culture to catch up with us. It became a community as a result of science fiction, comic book conventions, leading into the early days of computers, internet, all of that stuff. That was when people, incidentally around the time of Revenge of the Nerds (1984), that’s when people started embracing nerd culture. Once they found each other, they went from individuals or pairs or small packs who had been kind of wandering in the desert, they became a culture that then people on the outside wanted to join, which is really wonderful.
From my standpoint, I was embracing what I loved without concern of how people thought of me. I was dressing like Sherlock Holmes — you don’t get much nerdier than that. Or Humphrey Bogart — I was wearing the trench coat and a fedora. It was kind of ridiculous, but that was the way that I did it. But then it became, in some ways, easier when everyone discovered everyone else. It’s one of the points I go into in the book. The internet, they exposed us to each other, made us realize that there were others out there who were like us, and then allowed us to get together as a community. But at the same time, of course, it gave a platform for people who always hated us to continue doing that and do that anonymously, which is a major problem now.
What is going to surprise people about the book?
People think I work all the time; although I do work a lot, and I’ve been making a career of it for 40 years, it is not the thing where you go literally, necessarily, from one job to the next. I think people are surprised when they find out that there are chunks of time where I am not acting. And connected to that a little bit is the fact that they don’t realize how grateful I am to be working at all after all of these years. The fact is this has been a successful career by acting standards, really very successful, but it’s not something that I ever dreamed was going to happen. It is a constant surprise to me when somebody calls up and says, “Will you do something?”
What are you most recognized for?
Cross-generationally, it’s Nerds, definitely. Some of the other big ones from the past, like Moonlighting, unless I’m in Europe. Nerds is probably the big one, closely followed by Better Off Dead and then Supernatural.
That was a fun thing that happened. I would see people on the internet go, “I can’t believe it, I was watching this movie called Revenge of the Nerds, and Metatron was on it!” Their frame of reference is totally different. That happened at the same time as New Girl and American Dad! going on. Between those three shows, there was a really significant uptick in younger people recognizing me, but not necessarily knowing anything of my history.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.