Wet Hot American Summer: Kevin Sussman

The Big Bang Theory Actor Heads Back to Camp Firewood

Jul 29, 2015 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Kevin Sussman had a small—but memorable—role in the 2001 cult comedy, Wet Hot American Summer. He played Steve, an eccentric, socially-stunted resident at Camp Firewood who appeared to have the ability to control the weather. In the Netflix’s new prequel series, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, Sussman will reprise his newly-expanded role, and we’ll see much more of his oddball character across the show’s eight episodes. Television fans may also recognize Sussman from CBS’ hit sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, where he’s played comic book shop owner Stuart Bloom since the show’s second season.

The actor and writer jumped on the phone to chat with us about his strange Wet Hot American Summer role, The Big Bang Theory, board gaming, and his other TV projects. (All this week we are posting interviews with diifferent members of the Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp cast. All the interviews will be linked to here. Also pick up our next print issue for a separate in-depth article on the show.)

Austin Trunick (Under the Radar): Did you ever attend a summer camp growing up?

Kevin Sussman: Not a sleepaway camp. I went to a chess camp when I was in grade school, but it wasn’t a sleepaway camp, and it was at a local school.

Was that anything like Camp Firewood?

Chess camp? Not really. Actually, now that I think about it, I think my parents were trying to force me into, like, an engineering background or something, because I went to science camp at some point. But again, not a sleepaway camp. I haven’t done a sleepaway camp. Nor did I go to a sleepaway college. I’ve never slept away.

At the science camp, they had a contest where you tried to design egg packaging, and they threw them off the roof of a building. My egg didn’t break, and I won a record. I believe it was Madonna’s Like A Virgin.  

In the original Wet Hot American Summer movie, you had replaced David Krumholtz in that role at the last minute. Can you walk me through how exactly that happened?

It came through my agent. I had actually worked with Krumholtz on Liberty Heights already. I don’t remember why he wound up not doing [Wet Hot], but I think it was just a scheduling thing. He’s hilarious, if you’ve ever seen him do comedy. But yeah, I don’t really know the details; I just auditioned for Wet Hot.

Your character, Steve, is an odd oneeven by Wet Hot standards. Did you get any explanation for why he is the way he is?

Showalter explained something to me that I had no idea about before or during the movie. He didn’t explain the logic to me until after shooting the movie, but there’s a scene where I’m holding a chicken and shooting it like a gun. The way it’s written, I think I’m just holding a chicken in the script when they come over and do the scene. Shooting the chicken like a gun was not part of the script. Later, I asked Showalter what the deal with the chicken was. He said, because at the end of the movie when I make the wind come … the chicken thing was [a reference to] a weather vane. That should have been a rooster, right? Aren’t weather vanes roosters?

Usually, yeah.

Anyway, that’s what he said the relevance of the chicken was. So me holding it and shooting it like a gun was completely off-script, but I don’t think anyone would have got the weather van reference anyway. [Laughs] But, I guess for someone who really wants to dig deep into the symbolism of my character from Wet Hot American Summer, yeah, there is actually some structural integrity with my cuckoo character. They actually establish that with the chicken, and me checking out the winds and stuff, and it actually makes sense. Well, maybe that’s a strong word…

So many actors from that movie just blew up. If they’re not A-list film actors, then they’re directing movies or TV shows, or—like you—on popular sitcoms. Do you think that was merely a wild set of coincidences, or was there something in the water at Camp Firewood?

I guess I don’t really consider myself part of that group, because a lot of those people were from The State. I kind of think of my thing on Big Bang Theory as more of an accident than the people who went on to have major careers after that movie. [Laughs] But that said, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. All of the people who were involved had like-minded sensibilities, and were all very funny. I think like minds attract each other. But again, I’m not including myself in that description, as we already mentioned that I was a last-minute replacement.

When you made that first movie, did you ever imagine that this would be a character you’d be coming back to in the future?

No. [Laughs]

How did the Wet Hot guys approach you about coming back?

David Wain called me, because he knew I was on Big Bang Theory. He said, “We’re doing this thing, and I want to check your schedule to see if you’re able to do it.”

Once you knew the new Netflix series was in the works, was there anything you were hoping to see happen in it?

I just fully trusted that whatever they did would be funny, and then when I got there everything was hilarious. I wasn’t really surprised. Especially now, since David Wain as a director was way more experienced with all of the movies and Childrens Hospital he’s directed, so I knew it would be good. 

I’ve seen you mention that you worked at Jim Hanley’s Universe in New York and on Wall Street prior to acting. What was the audition or role that finally broke you into the TV and film biz?

When I was on Wall Street I was working at a bank and wearing suits all the time, and then I’d go into a bathroom stall to change into a wardrobe-specific outfit and hurry out to an audition on my lunch break. But it was really just good timing for me. I started booking a lot of commercials, because that was during the dot com boom. I would go literally from doing computer consulting at a stuffy, conservative bank, to an audition for a commercial where they were casting “the tech guy.” I could walk in and go, “Okay, turn on the tape and I’ll give you your commercial.” I started booking lots of tech commercials, and that was basically when I was able to leave my day job and start spending all of my time doing acting. So it was commercials that broke me out of my day job.

I want to congratulate you on selling your Wife of Crime series to CBS–

Oh, thanks. It didn’t go.

Oh. I’m sorry–

But thank you. [Laughs] I’ve basically been selling scripts every pilot season for the past five pilot seasons. I had one that almost went, but no. That’s basically my actual thing: writing a script that doesn’t go. At some point I’ll break through, but as of now I’m sticking to my day job.

You were promoted to a series regular on The Big Bang Theory two seasons back. How does that work? How do they approach you about expanding your role?

Well, I’m not in every episode, so technically am I even a series regular? I’m contractually obligated—I can’t do other sitcoms. But, I’m not even sure what you’d call it, officially. I guess a recurring character. But I think it was simply because they wanted to make sure I was available when they wanted to write me in. I give more credit to the comic book store set. [Laughs] Maybe it’s because I actually worked at a comic store and I loved that job, but I love that set. I think it’s awesome. This is a sitcom with a comic book store in it. You know, when I get approached by people they sometimes say, “Oh, man, I love that set.” And I agree! The whole show—I find it delightful.

For the millions of people who watch the show and see you there, and maybe only know you as Stuart Bloom—are there assumptions people often make about you based on your character?

Yeah. I think because my character is sort of a meek pushover, there have been incidents where strangers will come over and grab me and force me into their selfies. The fact is that I’m physically weak, so there’s not much I can do about it. [Laughs] But for the most part people are super cool, and I’m lucky to be part of something that is so big.

Lately—because I’m doing more Twitter—I’m realizing how many insanely funny people there are out there. Every day I discover new people who make me laugh out loud. I guess this is more about writing than acting, but every I think, “Holy cow, I am lucky to be in the position that I am,” because there are so many talented people out there.

Have you learned anything from Chuck Lorre, or any of your colleagues at The Big Bang Theory, that you’ll bring with you when one of your TV series finally goes through?

Yeah. With Chuck Lorre, there are so many things, but definitely one of the main things is character, character, character. In all of his shows, all of his characters are so well defined. Big Bang is a good example. You can put those characters in any situation and you’re laughing before the character responds to whatever situation they’re in, because their points of view are so clear. And staying on story, as well. I’ve seen Chuck throw out funny jokes—jokes that were so good that they made me angry—because they were off story.

I know you’re a big board gamer. What games have been hitting your tabletop lately?

You know, I don’t get the chance to play tabletop games anywhere near as much as I’d like. I check Board Game Geek all the time so I’m up on it, but I don’t play anywhere near as much. That said, my favorite designer is Martin Wallace, which is part of the problem because he’s one of the designers that’s hardest to teach to new people, because his games—in the rules, there are always a lot of exceptions. Except for Railways of the World, if you’re familiar with that one.

I’ve only played his A Few Acres of Snow.

Oh! That is my favorite game.

I had to play through it a few times before I was able to get a grasp on the rules.

I mean, I wouldn’t recommend to someone who only plays Monopoly. I wouldn’t even recommend it to someone who only plays Dominion. But if you’re willing to put in the effort to learn that game, it’s amazing.

Back to Wet Hot again: what did the vibe on set feel like for this new one? How did it compare to your first time around?

Well, I had just broken my leg when I shot the new one, so I was using a walker. It was the first thing I had done that was not about lying in bed since I had broken my leg. So, that was very different than the one 15 years earlier.

So in the scenes that I’m in, I’m usually propping myself up or holding on to somebody. [Laughs] There’s one part where I am walking down a hallway and because I was having trouble walking, they were going to shoot it with me on a dolly. But, I was able to sort of limp around, and because I play a guy who sort of thinks he’s a robot anyway, it kind of worked. So they were able to save some time by not setting up the dolly, and letting me do my robot-like limp.

For my final question, I want to ask: what do you feel is the reason behind Wet Hot American Summer’s cult following?

It’s really, really funny. I guess that’s the main thing!

***
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp premieres on Netflix on July 31st, 2015.

To read our other Wet Hot American Summer cast Q&As, click here



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Rachel Farland
July 29th 2015
8:00am

While Paul Rudd alone has enough star power to make this an instant success, I wish Bradley Cooper had also been given a role for this epic sequel.

If you don’t have Netflix in your country, watch it with PureVPN. Go here: http://www.purevpn.com/blog/wet-hot-american-summer-streaming/