‘Freaks and Geeks’ Creator Hated ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ — And Not for the Reasons You Think

As if we needed another reason to think ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ hasn’t aged well
‘Freaks and Geeks’ Creator Hated ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ — And Not for the Reasons You Think

In the 1980s, the dorks defeating the jocks and winning the affections of the cheerleaders seemed downright progressive. But the comedy Revenge of the Nerds hasn’t exactly stood the test of time, with its hidden cameras, gay and racial stereotypes and nonconsensual sex causing contemporary audiences to cringe. But none of those missteps are why Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Feig hated the movie. 

“When I first arrived in Hollywood and started writing comedy in the late eighties and early nineties, I found that executives would always react more positively to over-the-top characters,” Feig told Mike Sacks in his book And Here’s the Kicker. “They preferred the nerds with the big glasses, who snorted and laughed really loud. And I hated that. It was fake and wrong.”

People always ask Feig if he loves Revenge of the Nerds since he’s explored similar comedic themes about the underdog. “I always think, Actually, no, I sort of hate that movie. It feels ridiculous,” he says. “The kind of comedy I don’t like is when the performers and writers are winking and basically saying, ‘I know this is stupid and you know this is stupid. I’m not really this dumb, but I’m playing as if I am.’ And that’s fine, I suppose, but it’s dishonest and it’s kind of mean to the characters.”

The perceptive Feig wasn’t wrong about the actors looking down on their roles. “Bobby Carradine (who played Lewis) said, ‘Look, I don’t know what I’m doing here — I’m not a nerd, I’m probably a guy who would beat up a nerd,’" said director Jeff Kanew in GQ’s oral history of Revenge of the Nerds. Carradine was so embarrassed when buying geeky eyeglasses for the part that he had to whisper to the clerk, “It’s to play a nerd.”

Curtis Armstrong, who played Booger? “I hated (the character) on sight,” Armstrong writes in his ironically titled Revenge of the Nerd. When he was offered the role, he blanched. “Forget it! It’s a terrible part!” he screamed at his agent. “All the guy does is pick his nose and belch.” After accepting the role, he couldn’t stomach the idea of facing “all of my acting teachers from the Academy of Dramatic Art at Oakland University.”

When Feig came up with Freaks and Geeks, he wanted actors who took a different approach. “I don’t mind a broad comedy when I believe what’s going on and when the characters are authentic,” he says. “That’s what we tried so hard to accomplish with Freaks and Geeks.”

So instead of going after guys like Carradine, who’d been something of a Hollywood stud before Nerds, “we wanted to avoid the typical beautiful actors you find in most high school TV shows,” Feig says. “We didn’t want models. We didn’t want characters who were going to take off their glasses and let their hair down and then, all of a sudden, they’re gorgeous.”

It’s not as if Feig and his cohorts went out of their way to cast unattractive actors. But instead of looking for outrageous comic personas, Freaks and Geeks hired kids like John Francis Daley. When Daley came in to audition, says Feig, “he was just so real and so funny and so heartbreaking.”


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