From comic book character to MTV personality to Killer Nerd, Toby Radloff holds a firm spot in the pop culture world, all because a co-worker and buddy of his, Harvey Pekar, decided to get creative. When I caught up with him at the Sundance Film Festival, he was accompanied by actor Judah Friedlander (Wet Hot American Summer), who plays Toby in the film version of American Splendor. We spoke a bit about the film, but mostly we just nerded out.
So, Judah, you actually play Toby in American Splendor. What was it like to play a real life person?
Judah: Uh, it was pretty cool. Challenging cause I had to basically look and act exactly like this guy, Toby, right here. He’s a great guy and it was fun to do. I watched a lot of tape on Toby and hung out with him. Got to know him, you know, pick up mannerisms and all kinds of little gestures and stuff like that, as well as the voice. And then the fact that he’s also in the movie and right there it’s like, yeah, you better do a good job cause you could see the real deal right there, so you better match up.
Now, Toby, what was it like to see your life on the big screen, some actor playing you? What’s that like?
Toby: I felt real good about it. I feel honored. I see it as a once in a lifetime thing. Judah had my voice, my mannerisms, my looks down pat.
Now, let me ask a question, you’ve got this button on that says GENUINE NERD. You’ve got that button. But I saw you last night out with Selma Hayek. Was that you?
Toby:…Um, I was pretty much hanging around, I think it was Selma Hayek, but I knew I was hanging around with somebody after the premiere.
I’m actually just kidding.
Judah:That was me with Selma Hayek.
You were at the party, right?
Toby: I was at the party…I was at the party at this Asian place. I don’t remember what the name of it was.
Now, let me ask you, Toby. You’re now in this movie, you’re like a big star, when you’re at this party, is that something you could use to maybe open a little conversation with some women?
Judah: Yeah. It could happen. I’ve seen it happen.
I mean, in terms of extracurricular activity in Park City, Utah, I mean, this has got to be a huge opportunity for you.
Toby: Yes, it is. I feel real good about being here. It’s my first time in Utah. The views are breathtaking. The thin mountain air takes some getting used to.
But what’s cool is you can actually save on alcohol because one beer is like four beers.
Toby:Yeah, I know. But I don’t drink alcohol anyway.
What’s your drink of choice?
Toby: Diet Coke.
So, what do you hope, and this is my question to both of you, what do you hope people get out of the movie?
Judah:Oh, jeez! Uh, what do I hope they get out of the movie? I hope they like it, you know. I hope it makes you feel good afterwards. I think the movie does that. Don’t you think?
Toby: Yeah. I agree. When people see American Splendor, they’ll be awed and they’ll express a lot of interest in Harvey, in me and Joyce Brabner and anyone else who was involved with Harvey’s life.
Judah: And the movie really celebrates the average guy, you know. That’s what it’s about. It’s like you don’t have to celebrate somebody cause they won the Olympics. Just the regular average dude and that’s what it’s about.
Toby:It might even give the Department of Veteran’s Affairs a good word.
Judah:Yeah, that’s right. He works at the VA Hospital.
Toby: Yeah, I still work at the VA.
One other question. Judah, your hat. Record Breaker. What’s that about?
Judah:Yeah, I break records, man.
You do? What records have you broken?
Judah: You name it, man. Having an itch for the longest time and not scratching it…I have a record in that. Air hockey – undefeated – 10 years in a row. You name it, I’ve done it. I’ll go into an old age home, beat some dude in the push up record with like 12 or something but you know, I still beat him.
Toby:I’ve got about 2,000 LPs and about 5,000 45s.
Judah:And I’ve broken about over 8,000 records.
Toby:I probably won’t be breaking records by collecting records, but I love my vinyl.
What’s going to be in the sequel? Give me a taste of the sequel.
Toby:Who knows? Maybe I’ll be shuttling Harvey over to a bookstore in Kent, Ohio only to have my car breaking down all the time. That was an interesting story. Another thing is seeing Al Gore on the jet on the way here.
He was here?
Judah:Al Gore was on the same plane with him and was at the premiere.
Toby:Yeah, Al Gore was at the premiere Monday night.
Judah: Second row. And Al Gore is also (points to Toby’s button) a genuine nerd. Just another reason he lost the election. But he didn’t get a button. They ran out of buttons. That’s the most popular one. This is one of the biggest collectors items at Sundance, because there’s a lot of American Splendor buttons, but it’s the Genuine Nerd button…
Toby:…that’s the hardest to find.
Judah:Yeah. Toby has two of them.
Toby and Judah:NERDS, NERDS, NERDS, NERDS…