Actor Kevin Sussman talks about his college days working in a comic book store and how it helped him shape the role of Stuart on the hit CBS sitcom, The Big Bang Theory.
In March 2019, The Big Bang Theory will end after twelve seasons on the air...
Asking fans of the show now who their favorite character is, most times will get you any of the following names: Leonard, Penny, Raj, Howard or Amy; Even though, everyone usually suggests: “Dr. Sheldon Cooper, of course.”
No-one ever says their favorite character on the show is "Stuart."
With The Big Bang Theory coming to an end—where's the love for Stuart? After all, it's been Stuart, the Big Bang Theory comic book store guy, who's provided the show with many of its better laughs in recent years, as he's been serving the show as its empathic fodder, the existential figure within its absurd scenarios—he's the character that fans pity the most, when you ask.
With The Big Bang Theory's laughs coming from Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Sheldon's (Jim Parsons) Odd Couple-like relationship, their co-workers-cum-roommates situation, but also from Sheldon's precociousness juxtaposed with his unwitting, naive ego, and from the man-baby antics of Howard, and the sexual tension between Leonard and Penny (Kaley Cuoco)—the jokes have always been derivative. The show's writing has always proven to be a fine example of classic American TV sitcom tropes. But, that's what has made the show the most popular sitcom on television in its tenure at CBS from 2007 to today. If one chooses to ignore its formulaic nature, the show should thank Stuart, as it's because of him, perhaps, that the show has grown its fan base in the last few seasons, now with the show running circles around everything in syndication. Its because of how Stuart has become a working-class symbol—he's the real in an unreal universe. At his own expense, it's been Stuart, with his dry-wit and sardonic view of life, which, when coupled with the other's constant disregard for his always-down-on-luck situation in life, that's given the CBS sitcom Big Bang its relatability, but it has also proven to produce some of its best laughs with the show having struggled in the last couple years, with it transitioning over—because of the story-line—from being a roommate comedy to a workplace comedy to what it is today, a domestic comedy.
Why does no-one care about Stuart?
Introduced in 2009 during season two in the episode, “The Hofstadter Isotope,” Stuart—whose full name is Stuart Bloom—is the odd man out. He's treated badly on the show by the other characters because he's not only the proverbial third wheel, he's the comic fodder, the outsider, who is always on the fringes of the group. His life is always in utter ruins when the other's are perfect. He's never been able to catch a break for himself, always having to make compromises. A character on the show for a long time now—Stuart has gone from serving the show as a background player, he owned The Comic Center of Pasadena before it burnt down, to being the sexless, live-in caretaker of Howard's mom and later, a sort of au pair to Howard's own children. As a character, Stuart has been in more episodes of the multi-camera CBS sitcom, than any other secondary character, he's even beat out Professor Proton.
Going from the background in season two to being a regular at the start of season six to getting dropped at the end of that very same season, Stuart returned in season eight, He has become a series regular again with season eleven, and will most likely remain one until the show ends this year in March with the conclusion of it's twelfth and final season—how could he not? Now, with this being the last season of The Big Bang Theory, his life is just now finally starting to look to be on the bright side with the introduction of Denise, Stuart's girlfriend.
Who is Kevin Sussman?
Playing Stuart, American actor Kevin Sussman was born in 1970 in New York. Attending college first at the College of Staten Island, the future Big Bang Theory star studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts with famed teacher Uta Hagen for four years. Sussman broke into the business after booking several television commercials. Later, appearing in movies and TV, Sussman has been in such films as Liberty Heights, Wet Hot American Summer, Sweet Home Alabama, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and Burn After Reading in 2008. It was when Sussman was cast as “Walter,” on ABC's short-lived—but much-loved—series Ugly Betty in 2006, that he got his big break. It was when he was almost finished with work on Ugly Betty, that he got an offer for The Big Bang Theory. "I originally auditioned for The Big Bang Theory, a couple of times," remembered Sussman in 2014. "But, I couldn't do it, because I was under contract at Ugly Betty—even though, my character had been written off the show." Ugly Betty's boyfriend, Walter, cheated on her in the first season—fans were outraged.
Even though he was unavailable at the time, Sussman made an impression on Big Bang creator, Chuck Lorre. And with the show in its first season in 2007, Lorre kept Sussman in mind when secondary characters popped up for future episodes. "Again, I auditioned for Chuck Lorre—at that time he had wanted me for Barry Kripke," recalls Sussman. "But, at that time, I was just starting on a movie or something." It wouldn't be until Stuart, the comic book store guy, would come along in season two of The Big Bang Theory before Sussman would become part of the show—the role fit him like a glove. “I used to work at a comic book store. I worked at Jim Hanley's Universe in New York City while in acting school," remembers Sussman. "I wasn't a fan of comics before I started working there, but I became a fan afterward. I am a really big fan of Frank Miller and Alan Moore," suggests Sussman. "When I was working at that comic store, fellow employees introduced me to things, good stuff like Love & Rockets. Also, to Daniel Clowes. I love his book called Eight Ball—its probably my favorite comic book." With a background in comics, Sussman, who plays Stuart Bloom, was immediately able to bring an authenticity to Stuart on the show. "I know what it's like to work in a comic book store; I know what tasks need to be done as the owner. And having that history has really served me really well on the show over the years because it has allowed me to stand in the background and look busy if the guys stop into the store to look for books and talk. I knew what Stuart needed to be doing as an owner—so I used that experience from life.”
Stuart's dry-wit, his sardonic sense also comes from Sussman. Much of the character is me," says Sussman. "The writers on The Big Bang Theory are amazing. They really, even early on, wanted to delve into me—who I am as a person. They wanted to get close to me—so everything is really in my wheelhouse. Stuart's ironic dryness, his objectivity, his low nerd status, being broke while trying to run a comic book store and how awful that existence is—I can totally relate to. I didn't own the comic book store that I worked at in New York City when I was in college, but I know the owners of it really felt much the way that Stuart does on the show."
Is there any room for improvisation on the show?
“The cast doesn't improvise,” Sussman says. “Because "we don't need to. The writers are so good that if a joke doesn't hit, the writers will converge on the spot and within three minutes have it rewritten—so it is funny," tells Sussman. "The writers on The Big Bang Theory are probably the best in the business when it comes to on-the-spot writing. It's not a single camera show like The Office was," suggests Sussman. So, "everything is very tightly-scored. There are four cameras all going at once, so everyone has to watch where their marks very closely. That doesn't leave any room for improvisation, really."