The Booger man: Q&A with Curtis Armstrong of Revenge of the Nerds

Hundreds of comic book fans and pop-culture enthusiasts (a.k.a. nerds) will descend upon the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this weekend for the ultimate geek out: Toronto Comicon, a two day event where people are free to fly their freak flag proudly. We talked to Curtis Armstrong (Booger from Revenge of the Nerds) about crazy fans, gross-out humour and the appeal of nerds.

When you were filming Revenge of the Nerds, did you have the feeling that you were making something that would have pop-cultural posterity?
Not at all. I don’t think anyone thought that. We loved the idea of it and we loved doing it. And we thought it was a nice movie. It was funny, it was saying something and it had a good message to it as well. It did okay. And we thought that was the end of it. But once it started on cable and then video, we started to see it was having a life on its own. It was surprising over time to realize it meant so much to people.

Why do you think people responded so well to the movie?
I think because everyone thinks they are those people. Tony Edwards and Bobby Carradine [the other actors in the movie], how they approached it, they did it with absolute conviction and seriousness. We rehearsed a lot for the movie and there was a lot of rewriting and a lot of improv on the set. People who saw the movie, they connected with it. I realized the extent of the connection when I’d have some jock on the street, some ex-football player, a good looking, muscled guy, come up to me and tell me how important the movie was to him because he was an outcast too. It’s hard to believe, but the truth is he probably did feel like an outcast on some level. So it really had a strong effect because people will ultimately feel like nerds.

Nerds are cool now. Do you think the film could be made today and still be relevant?
They tried to make it. There was a film in production just a few years ago. It was the same story, but new characters. And they tried to shoot it and the script, from what I heard, was so explicit and so horrible and so gross, in the way that movies now have progressively become more and more shocking in an attempt to get attention. The movie fell apart and didn’t finish. There is a genuine innocence to that [first] movie — and we thought we were pushing the envelope at that time. Our movie was gross, but it seems almost benign now. There was a sweetness to it in spite of the gross stuff and I think that tends to be lost now. I think the energy is now on “how can we be more gross now? How can we be more offensive?”

How often are you stopped by people and asked about Booger?
Every day. It’s astounding. I’m older, but I’ve always looked pretty much the same, so I get it constantly. It’s quite something to have that many people remember something after so many years. Especially for someone who belched and stuff.

Describe the Comic Con experience for us. Is it really mayhem?
Not really. The ones I’ve been to are pretty well organized. You spend as much time as you want at the table and the rest of the time, you go off. I’m lucky this time, I have a couple of evenings free, so I can have a nice dinner somewhere. Sometimes you wonder, “Why have I been in the business for this long?” But when you meet those people who love your movies, you can’t help but think, “this is why I still do it.”

How many autographs do you sign in a day?
God, I have no idea. It’s a lot.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve witnessed at a Comic Con?
Once, there was a guy who came up to me. He pulled up his pant leg and he had my face tattooed on his calf as Booger. It was a picture from the movie. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’m looking at the guy, who was in his late 20s, and thinking, “What’s going to happen when he’s 70? Is he going to think, ‘Why did I do that?’”

Did you ever idolize a film or a character the way these fans do today?
Not too many in the movies. I was a movie fan, but books tended to be more my thing than movies. If there were something in movies, it would have to be Laurel and Hardy or Humphrey Bogart. Alec Guinness. George C. Scott. And I always loved the character actors too. But I went for literary stuff. I was a Sherlock Holmes fan, Washington Irving. That kind of thing was more my speed.

Have you ever been to Toronto before?
My grandmother is from Canada. I have a cabin a few hours away from Toronto. I love Toronto. The problem is that I don’t get much of a chance to be here. The thing is, I get to Toronto and I want to get to my cabin. But I do love the people, the restaurants; it’s a great, great town.

Toronto Comicon, Metro Toronto Convention Centre. March 10-11