Nerds on TV tend to be caricatures of nerds in real life. They play up the fact that they’re brainy and uncool, some even snorting when they laugh, all in the name of comedy. But it’s not enough to just act the part. The actors behind TV’s most famous nerds had to look the part as well.
They often dressed like someone who works at a library or comic book shop and their hairstyles made it seem like they cut it. It’s no wonder some (but not all) of the actors look so different from the nerds they played on TV. See for yourself as we take a look at what TV nerds are like in real life.
Urkel’s shadow looms large
For most of us, Jaleel White is always going to be the nasally-voiced and Steve Urkel from Family Matters. And that’s been a problem for White’s acting career. People see the iconic Urkel every time they look at White, despite the fact that they don’t talk or dress alike or even have the same posture. “I wasn’t a nerd by any stretch of the imagination and [I was] decidedly more a jock,” White told TV Guide.
Urkel was famous for his suspenders and high-waist pants while White preferred Jordan sneakers and Nike jumpsuits in those days. Urkel geeked out over polka music while White opted for gangsta rap toward the end of the show’s run.
It’s not surprising White was ready to move on, famously telling TV Guide, “If you ever see me do that character again, take me out and put a bullet in my head and put me out of my misery.” Now a goateed father in his 40s, White, who has landed smaller roles on TV over the years, learned to embrace his past. He’s even open to a Family Matters reunion. “I have some ideas…” he told the Hollywood Reporter.
Hey, hey, what is going on here, Screech?
Screech had some serious nerd credentials. Bayside High’s true valedictorian collected bugs and owned a robot named Kevin. And don’t forget he was a chess champion. Take THAT, Valley!
In real life, the actor who played Screech, Dustin Diamond, is also an avid chess player. He said in a Washington Post live chat that he had been playing since he was 5 and told the AV Club that he did a lot of work with the US Chess Federation. Few are probably aware that he released a low-budget instructional chess video called Dustin Diamond Teaches Chess. More people are probably aware of another video he made.
He later told Milwaukee’s FOX 6 that he regretted the decision, but it ended up being just one of many calls by the former child actor. Who would have ever thought Bayside’s lovable dork would turn into an film actor.
It’s not unusual for fans to request the Carlton dance
It didn’t take much to get Carlton Banks to break out into dance on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The sweater vest-wearing Princeton transfer with questionable music taste was always ready to snap his fingers and swivel his hips like he was in a Broadway musical, even when he was unexpectedly stripping or on Soul Train. And he’d do so with the cheesiest of smiles plastered across his face.
The actor who portrayed Banks, Alfonso Ribeiro, especially since it has come up every time he’s in public for over two decades. “I get asked to do the dance every day I leave the house,” Ribeiro told ABC News. “I never want to take away their enjoyment of the moment. But … I’m not a dancing puppet.”
That’s not to say he doesn’t enjoy dancing. Ribeiro — who shares Banks’ wholesome reputation as the host of the family-friendly America’s Funniest Home Videos — is a former Dancing with the Stars champion. And yes, he gave DWTS viewers what they wanted.
There’s life after Willow
Our introduction to Buffy’s studious gal pal Willow immediately established her position in the school’s social hierarchy. Popular girl Cordelia ridiculed Willow for wearing a homely plaid dress in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series premiere and told new girl Buffy to avoid “losers” like Willow. The outcast role wasn’t that big of a stretch for Alyson Hannigan, who said she went through something similar in her younger years.
“Having not had a good experience in my personal high school life, to be able to be part of a show that reflects that — it just resonated so profoundly with me,” Hannigan told The Guardian. “I was just over the moon to have been a part of it.”
Hannigan went on to co-star in the American Pie film franchise and How I Met Your Mother. She told The Sun she didn’t truly gain her confidence until she was in her 30’s and has said in other interviews that her fashion choices in high school probably didn’t make things any easier for her.
“I went through a phase where I thought it was awesome to wear Dr. Seuss boxer shorts over leggings with a concert shirt,” Hannigan told Pop Sugar. Suddenly the homely plaid dress doesn’t sound so bad.
What would Dwight say about veganism?
Fact: Dwight Schrute is a weirdo. How else do you describe someone who wears the tuxedo his grandfather was buried in? Because he was so believable in the role of Schrute, Rainn Wilson often has to convince fans of The Office that he and his character are not the same person.
“[Everyone] thinks I’m Dwight … that I’m this kind of annoying, difficult, nerdy, creepy guy. And they don’t know Rainn Wilson,” Wilson told Big Think. “Although I’m a little bit nerdy, annoying and creepy, I’m not as much as Dwight Schrute.”
Wilson is the first to admit he used to be a nerd in school. He played Dungeons and Dragons and the bassoon and was part of the chess team, computer club, and marching band. But Wilson was happy. And isn’t that what matters most? “It was this weird little stinky petri dish of nerd-dom where we could just express our humor and our weirdness,” Wilson told Seattle’s KUOW. “And I’m really grateful for that.”
Wilson has since gotten married and had a son. He is a vegan and devoted follower of the Baha’i Faith. He and his family don’t live on a beet farm like Schrute, but they do own farm animals, including horses and pot belly pigs. They also have a zonkey because apparently that’s a real thing.