The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, February 21st, 2024  

The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg

The Pocket Protector

Oct 11, 2010 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Simon Helberg
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While he’s never engaged in a down-and-out brawl before, actor Simon Helberg can throw a mean punch, having earned a black belt in karate by the time he was 10 years old. That’s not to say, however, that he won’t feel really, really bad about it.

“There was a guy in my college who I was friends with but had kind of flipped out a little and said some weird things to me,” recounts Helberg. “And one day we were walking across the street and he put some snow down my shirt and I just instinctuallycaveman instinctcame out and I just punched him in the face. I didn’t mean it. And, of course, instead of being cool and saying, ‘That’s what you get!’ I immediately said, ‘Oh my God I’m so sorry! Are you OK? Are you OK? Oh God, I didn’t even know what happened. I was possessed.’ So that was it. And then I think I iced my hand in the snow that was in my shirt.”

Weighing just into the triple digits, Helberg is hardly what comes to mind with the image of hard-boiled badassery (“I peaked a little soon,” he jokes). For the past three years, his diminutive frame and Beatlemania mop top have made him a symbol of modern day geek culture, playing the delusionally suave ladies’ man Howard Wolowitz on the successful sitcom The Big Bang Theory. The show, now entering its fourth season, began as an experiment in “watching geniuses act like morons,” says Helberg. Its focus is the social ineptitude of four highly intelligent Caltech brainsLeonard (Johnny Galecki), Sheldon (Jim Parsons), Raj (Kunal Nayyar), and Howardwhose unusual inner circle is joined by Leonard and Sheldon’s neighbor Penny (Kaley Cuoco), a waitress and aspiring actress.

“They’re not equipped,” says Helberg of the sitcom’s nerdy foursome. “There’s something very funny about giving a menial task to a genius and watching him find so much complexity and overanalyze it to such a degree that the waitress from Nebraska working at the Cheesecake Factory has passed them all by.”

Filled with a Comic-Con convention room’s worth of fanboy reverence, The Big Bang Theory has become a televised forum for all things supposedly uncool, invoking popular sci-fi programs, DC and Marvel superheroes, and video games, to create full-blown plotlines or bazinga-inducing one-liners with great comedic effect. Helberg admits he and his fellow cast members are a little more mild-mannered off camera.

“The stuff that we do on our show is pretty far from what I do in real life,” he says. “It’s funny, because if you were to pick any four guys off the street, the chances of them being into Star Trek or video games or comic books would be really good. And you have the four guys on our show, and none of us are into the things [our characters] talk aboutrelatively.”

Helberg describes Wolowitz (an aerospace engineer who lives with his mom) as being a “mix of Don Knotts and Mick Jagger,” and unlike his character, the Los Angeles native’s extracurricular activities lean toward playing jazz piano or listening to records by Elvis Costello and The Beatles. Even further from the turtleneck-wearing, Vespa-driving, desperate Casanova he plays, Helberg has been married for three years. “I think she finds it hilarious that I could be that confident with the ladies,” he says of his wife, “because she sees my neurotic, insecure side.”

From Helberg’s perspective, much of The Big Bang Theory‘s popularity is drawn not just from its beta male characters, but from its grounded take on the kind of guys that were consistently picked last in gym.

“There’s a fine line between playing something over the top and letting this sort of grand nature of the character come out truthfully,” he says. “I’ve always been a fan of playing nerds. It’s something that I hold very dearly to my heart, in a way, because I think the idea of playing a nerd is a wonderful thing, the idea of having an actual, believable guy who is an outsider and is incredibly passionate about the things he loveswhatever that may beand is enthusiastic about sharing it despite other people’s interests. Those traits are very fun to play.”


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