Toby Radloff is an enormous part of Cleveland underground culture. He was just a misguided nerd ’til his life was changed upon viewing “Revenge of the Nerds” and building confidence along with nerd solidarity. Things accelerated when he met burgeoning comic book artist, Harvey Pekar. He was shuffled into a world reserved for cult celebrities. Toby was now regularly making media and television appearances. I remember seeing “Killer Nerd” silently rest on the shelves of my local video store. The cover was vile and bloody so naturally I was fascinated, even obsessed. Somebody rented a copy one day and decided to keep it so I didn’t get to view the actual film until I was eighteen years old. Things haven’t been the same since. The movie is brilliantly bizarre and unparalleled in it’s psychotic nerdiness. I recently caught up with Toby and we had the following conversation. Make sure you read Toby’s answers in his very unique voice.
Matt Greenfield @rustbelthammer
Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Toby. I must ask, being from Cleveland, do you think that your environment has given you a unique perspective on the world?
Being from Cleveland has helped my uniqueness and has given me the good perspective of a lifelong resident of a city that others tend to ridicule or make fun of. I’m proud to be a part of Cleveland.
When it comes to Ohio, who are your favorite artists? I am interested to know who you favor when it comes to music, film, or visual art.
I do like Drew Carey, Halle Berry (she went to my high school, Bedford High, but several years after I graduated), and pretty much any musical act out of Ohio…too many to list. My musical tastes tend to lean toward music from the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s, music I grew up with. I like comedies and independent dramas, especially when the story lines are about nerd/geek types or simply everyday people.
What was it like the first time you saw yourself in comic book form? Did anyone expect that “American Splendor” would get such a cult following?
When I first saw myself in the “American Splendor” comic book, I was impressed. It got things rolling as far as my acting career went. Harvey’s success led to my success. The book took off around the time Harvey appeared on David Letterman, and my success rode on Harvey’s coattails, starting with my MTV appearances in 1987 through 1989. I am surprised about the cult following the “American Splendor” comics got over the years.
How did things change once MTV started doing features centered on you?
Once I started being on MTV (I credit myself as being one of the first, if not the first, non-music segments to air on MTV. Now, if you turn on MTV, where’s the music?) I started getting a lot of positive feedback regarding the MTV segments, and it led to better things, such as “Killer Nerd”, “Townies”, and later, the “American Splendor” movie.
Did you have fun filming “Killer Nerd”? It’s one of my all-time favorite movies. Seeing the scenes shot in Kent and Akron makes me happier with every viewing.
As for “Killer Nerd”, working from a script took some getting used to, and filming included late nights on which I had to go to my day job the next day. The finished product came out well and became a cult favorite.
Troma picked Killer Nerd up and it’s still kind of a “sleeper classic.” It’s usually not mentioned in “best of” lists when it comes to Troma’s cinematic history. I would personally put it in my top five and know many others who hold the movie dear as well. Why do you think the movie has remained so hidden?
Troma, as far as I’m concerned, did get the two “Killer Nerd” films out to a wider audience than the previous distribution company was able to do, although they sat on the films for years after buying the rights to them from Wayne Harold and Mark Bosko in 1994. Troma, however, didn’t promote it very well, but word of mouth sold the DVD sets.
Are you a fan of any other Troma films? What are the chances of a ‘Killer Nerd part 3″ or even a remake of the original? You would have to star in them of course!
As for other Troma movies, some are good while others are stupid or ridiculous. Lloyd Kaufman is quite the showman when it comes to “bad” movies. I have seen some “bad” films that were good, and some “good” films that sucked. I doubt it very much if I’ll ever do a third “Killer Nerd”. I pretty much outgrew the role. If a filmmaker wants to do a remake and cast a younger actor to play Harold Kunkle, I’m open to that. I would most likely play a cameo role unrelated to my original character.
Being that you are the “Genuine Nerd”, what sets you apart from mainstream society?
As for being the “Genuine Nerd”, I have always been considered a “different” type of person. People who know me like me, while others are either indifferent or don’t know what to think. At least I could still go places and not be recognized for my past acting roles.
What was it like trying out for the Howard Stern show? Was it a good experience?
As for being on Howard Stern’s show, it was a great experience. The crew and Mr. Stern, were very nice. I had a good time being on the show.
With the popularity of YouTube, many old segments of yours have come to the surface. What are some of your favorite clips and how has the digital age affected your artistic work?
I’m glad to see the old MTV and Eddie Marshall segments online. They were seen by very few people back then and have found a new audience. Sure, some people have been indifferent or even hateful toward these old segments but the vast majority enjoyed them.
What does the future hold for Toby Radloff?
As for my future, since Harvey Pekar died in 2010, I have been semi-retired from the video/movie business but still occasionally make new segments with Wayne Alan Harold. If some Hollywood or indie director wants to use me in a film, my phone number is listed.
Any closing thoughts to share with the world?
I still see myself as different even though the digital world has made my old stuff more accessible and my new stuff look good. Age has caught up with me, but I’m still the Genuine Nerd. Thanks.
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