Comic book fanatics and fantasy fans arrived in their thousands to attend Africa’s first official Comic Con at the Kyalami Race Track and Convention Centre last weekend.
Among the international stars was Kevin Sussman, who plays comic book store owner Stuart Bloom in the hit comedy series The Big Bang Theory.
As we enter the VIP area at Comic Con Africa we immediately see a big, baldish, burly man in a crisp white shirt, black trousers and bodyguard shades.
Oh boy, I think to myself, this is going to be intimidating.
But as we turn our heads to survey the area I see a familiar face sitting on a couch. He’s wearing an open baby-blue striped shirt with an Abraham Lincoln face peeking out with the traditional Vulcan hand greeting and jeans.
I’m immediately transported to episodes of The Big Bang Theory and that butterfly in the tummy stretches its wings.
Although shy, and a little awkward at times, Sussman’s demeanour is nothing like the deflated Stuart – even if the dressing is nearly on point.
He is friendly, sociable and cracks jokes – not those corny, self-deprecating ones like Stuart.
After a brief handshake and some pleasantries about the heat, City Press launches into a Q and A with Stuart, uh, Kevin.
Welcome to South Africa, Kevin, and it’s great to have you here at Comic Con Africa. How’s the trip been so far?
Thank you. We went to an animal reserve and I petted some baby cheetahs and I held a snake, which I hated *awkward laugh*. Well, I wasn’t handling the snake by myself, a “snake man” was there too. It was some type of constricting snake.
What are your first impressions of South Africa and what has surprised you?
Everybody is super nice here! I have noticed that in some cities, and I don’t want to mention city names, but there was this one city that I went to in America and people were just sort of like: “Who are you? Why do I want to meet you? Oh, you’re from that show, why am I supposed to care?” Things like that, but it doesn’t happen here in South Africa – everyone is super, super nice.
That’s good to know (props to you beautiful Mzansi peeps). So you play Stuart, Stuart Bloom in The Big Bang Theory …
Wow, you know Stuart’s last name? I’m impressed *laughs*
*Laughs* Sometimes we do research …
Wow, no “gotcha-questions”, please *laughs*.
So Stuart comes across as a bit awkward and shy. Are there any similarities between Kevin and Stuart’s personality traits?
You know there is a blend there between Kevin-isms and Stuart-isms. Stuart is a more extreme version of me, but there is definitely some similarities like immense cheapness, the loneliness and I think I’ve been going to therapy longer than Stuart has – so I have the character beat in that way.
We also dress similarly, although I think Stuart dresses better than I do. *pauses* I think now that this is the final season I am going to try and score some of my wardrobe, they’d be the perfect thing and it’s already my size and it’s exactly what I wear, just slightly nicer. I could do a Stuart makeover *laughs*.
In saying that, is Kevin low-key hardcore and verbose instead of reserved, like Stuart?
I think it depends where I am, like a place like this – a Comic Con or convention – and it’s like my people, you know, other awkward, nerdy-type people so I feel comfortable. Whereas if I went to a convention for accounting or something I’d be more shy or even hide. Or even if I went to a military tech convention, that would not be my bag.
I read somewhere that you used to own a comic book store. Is this true and how did that happen?
Not own, but I used to work in a comic book store before I worked at a fake comic book store. It was right after acting school in New York. When other actors got jobs as waiters I got a job at a comic book shop. When I got cast on The Big Bang Theory they had no idea. It was just a coincidence.
And what was the difference between the two?
The main difference is that in real life I had slightly more customers *laughs* but I also had to vacuum and wash the glass windows, and they don’t make me do that on the show – which is nice *straight face*.
But also on set they now defer to me when they say something like: “You should be doing something comic book store-ish. What would you do?” So I’m like: Well, I could take inventory or pack some comics or fold some T-shirts or something. And it’s good for me because it helps me feel like I’m really working in a comic book store because I just go into that mode.
Are there times when you suggest lines for your character based on your experience working in a comic book store?
On this particular show the writers are very rigid about the lines; the way they’re written. We never really do improv. Sometimes the actors will pitch a line or a joke but for the most part the actors will stick rigidly to the lines.
There was one instance: there’s a scene where this girl comes into the comic book store and I’m standing there with the guys and I’m like “watch the master” or something and I’m going to go introduce myself to this pretty girl and I don’t remember what the line was written as, but I was pacing back and forth in my dressing room because I don’t really know how to say this.
When we went to tape the actual scene I still couldn’t quite wrap my head around that line. So I just walked up to her and I said “Hi, uh…uh…it…uh…uh” and I just turned and walked away without saying the line and having stuttered and made some noises.
In the room Chuck Lorre, the creator of the show, was laughing off stage and he was just like “Yip, that’s it. Moving on”, and they used that non-line, which really was a happy accident.
Do people come up to you on the street and pick your brain for comic book material?
I do get people asking me for comic book recommendations on the street and I feel obligated to give it to them, but I don’t know comics as I used to when I worked in the actual store and on set it’s only DC comics because Warner Brothers owns DC.
We’ll talk about Marvel but you’ll only ever see DC or Star Wars stuff. I should be better in keeping up with my comic book knowledge but the fact is I’m a board game nerd. My favourite board game? I want to apologise in advance if anyone gets offended, is called a Few Acres of Snow. It’s based on the British vs the French conflict for territory in Canada.
Besides that I would recommend Pandemic – which I believe they are turning into a movie now.
What’s next for Kevin after Stuart?
Well we’ll see. They can always do something like a spin-off. We should definitely do a campaign, a Save Stuart campaign *laughs* where we can get 10 people on board. *laughs* But we’ve still got 20 more episodes to shoot and we’ll see after that.
Where did the love affair with comics all start?
I was more in to acting and at the time I didn’t know that comics had evolved into a space where adults could enjoy it with great writing and amazing graphics. So a friend got me a job at the comic book store, mainly because of the flexible hours, so I could still go to auditions and stuff. But working there was where I was properly introduced to Frank Miller and Alan Moore and I was like, wow, this is awesome.
Thank you Stuart this has been fun, uh, sorry meant Kevin *awkward laugh*
Uh, oh no it’s fine, I’m used to it. They still do that on set and I’ve been working there for nearly 11 years. It’s like when you have kids and you call them the wrong name *laughs*. Just name them all Stuart and that way you won’t forget them!