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Tulsa Pop Culture Expo: Before 'Big Bang Theory,' actor Kevin Sussman worked at 'real' comic store

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Big Bang Theory

Kevin Sussman (left), who played comic book store owner Stuart Bloom in the CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” will be among celebrity guests at the 2019 Tulsa Pop Culture Expo. Monty Brinton/CBS

Kevin Sussman has never been to Oklahoma.

Until now.

Sussman, who played comic book store owner Stuart Bloom in “The Big Bang Theory,” will be among celebrity guests at the 2019 Tulsa Pop Culture Expo, a comic/pop culture convention scheduled Saturday and Sunday at a new location (the former Sears store inside Woodland Hills Mall.)

Is Sussman curious to find out anything about Oklahoma?

“I just want to see how it matches up with the musical and how accurate the musical was,” he said during a phone interview in advance of the trip. “It must be everybody’s stock answer who has never been to Oklahoma.”

Among things learned about Sussman during the phone chat: He was initially eyed for a role other than Stuart and — life imitates art — he once worked at a “real” comic book store.

Sussman said he knew “The Big Bang Theory” producer Chuck Lorre from a different project. Sussman said he was asked by Lorre to play Barry Kripke, a recurring character. Another obligation prevented Sussman from accepting the offer, so Kripke was played by friend John Ross Bowie.

Later, Lorre returned to Sussman with the Stuart opportunity.

“I didn’t realize at the time that it was going to be more than one episode,” Sussman said. “I thought it was just going to be a one-shot guest star type of thing and then it turned into basically an entire career.”

Lorre did not know about Sussman’s past as a comic book store employee when recruiting Sussman to play a comic book store owner, according to the actor. Sussman said the store he worked at was Jim Hanley’s Universe in New York City.

“Even when I got the job there, it wasn’t because I was really into comic books,” he said. “I was in acting school at the time and I couldn’t get a waiter job because I was a spaz and a friend of mine basically helped me get this job at a comic book store.”

Sussman, whose comic IQ quickly increased thanks to helpful and knowledgeable co-workers, said he worked at the store around the time when Frank Miller’s groundbreaking Batman story, The Dark Knight Returns, was published. The Watchmen came out the same year (1986).

Said Sussman: “That was like right at the dawn of this new wave of comic books written for adults, written by really strong writers — Killing Joke, all the Alan Moore stuff, the stuff that Frank Miller was doing and, a little later, Neil Gaiman. In fact, when Neil Gaiman did an episode of ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ he reminded me that he had a signing for Sandman when Sandman first came out at the store that I worked at, and nobody showed up because nobody knew who he was. It was before Sandman was like a phenomenal success. So then, years later, for both of us to be acting on stage in a comic book store was just an amazing full circle moment.”

Here are other excerpts from the phone chat with Sussman:

• Stuart graduated from recurring character to member of the “regular” cast. What buttons did Stuart push to merit the promotion?

Sussman answered the question by telling a story about an ad-lib in one of Stuart’s early appearances. After a Stuart interaction with Penny at the comic store, she walked away and, veering off-script, Sussman whispered “I love you.”

“Usually there is very little ad-lib or improv on that show, but the writers laughed a lot and, after that moment, they started having me back and I noticed that they started having the character of Stuart sort of regress,” he said.

In earlier episodes, Stuart is more competent and confident. The other characters grew, became more mature and entered into healthy relationships. Meanwhile, Stuart’s life got worse and he sort of de-volved, according to Sussman, who said the ad-lib opened up a new avenue for writers to explore.

Said Sussman: “It was the first time, really, that Stuart went from just being like a normal guy to being desperate.”

• “The Big Bang Theory” eclipsed “Cheers” as the longest-running multicamera sitcom in TV history. To what can we attribute the longevity?

Sussman said most TV shows flame out immediately and it’s rare for something to go a couple of seasons, much less as long as the 12-season run of “The Big Bang Theory.” He said things can go wrong in any area, whether it’s writing or casting or directing or a prima donna star. He said he views it as a fluke when a TV show comes along that works on all levels.

But “The Big Bang Theory” had a diva-less set and the writers were in a groove and the fallout was a series that, along with superhero movies, made “nerd culture” more accepted.

“I like to think that it had a part to play in the nerd movement,” Sussman said, adding that the word “nerd” used to be derogatory. “Now people wear it as a badge of honor, which I wish it was like that when I was in high school.”

Sussman, asked if he is a nerd or former nerd, said his main nerd thing is probably board games.

• All things must end. “The Big Bang Theory” went out with a bang in May. Was it time for the show to go or would Sussman have preferred to keep going?

“I could have kept going,” he said. “I am excited to do stuff that’s not Stuart, having done it for that long. But, at the same time, I never felt bored by it. I really liked the character and all the people I got to work with. That is one of the reasons why the show went on for so long. The cast all loved each other. As cliched as it sounds, it was like a big, happy family and I think that came off when you watched it. ... It was like a happy family. Everybody loved each other and that is definitely one of the reasons why I certainly would have liked to keep doing it.”

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Jimmie Tramel 918-581-8389

Twitter: @JimmieTramel


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Scene Writer

I cover pop culture and work as a feature writer at the Tulsa World. A former Oklahoma sports writer of the year, I have written books about former OU coach Barry Switzer and former OSU coach Pat Jones. Phone: 918-581-8389

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