Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Revenge of the Nerd: American Splendor's Toby Radloff Is out and Proud about His Sexuality and His Nerddom

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Revenge of the Nerd: American Splendor's Toby Radloff Is out and Proud about His Sexuality and His Nerddom

Article excerpt

Toby Radloff is not your average gay icon. The openly gay Cleve land file clerk who appears as himself in the film adaptation of coworker Harvey Pekar's autobiographical comic book, American Splendor, has never appeared shirtless in a bar rag or been photographed with Judith Light at a fund-raiser or waved from a convertible in a pride parade. He's just been himself, his big nerd self. And as with the rest of the lovable eccentrics who populate Pekar's honest, workaday universe, it's impossible not to root for him. "American Splendor is about people who are seemingly invisible," asserts Robert Pulcini, who wrote and directed the film with partner Shari Springer Berman, "and how they find a way to get heard."

The message seems to be getting out. Splendor walked off with the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival, and according to an unsurprised Radloff, even former vice president Al Gore, an attendee at the lest in Park City, Utah, was impressed. "Of course Al Gore liked the movie," he says with a laugh. "Al Gore is a nerd."

And Toby Radloff knows front nerdism. Since making his first appearance in the pages of Splendor in the early 1980s, the now--45-year-old karaoke enthusiast and self-described "treasure trove of trivia" has continued to pop up--on a series of MTV spots and in the low-budget horror flicks Killer Nerd and Bride of Killer Nerd--as the quintessential glasses-wearing, nasal-voiced, pens-in-the-pocket nerd.

"Toby showed up on the set dressed so perfectly that our costumer did not even put him in another outfit," recalls codirector Berman. "When you see him on film, you might not be sure if he's in on the joke, but he totally is. Toby's in total control of his image."

And incredibly jazzed about the release of Splendor, even more so than Pekar himself. "That may be because I'm a little more neurotic than Toby," says Pekar with his trademark cynicism. "Toby's a smart, honest, hardworking, humane guy, and he hasn't had it easy by any means. Now things are starting to turn around, and I'm happy for him."

"The first time I remember being called a nerd was seventh grade," says Radloff, who still works as a clerk at the veterans' hospital where he met and befriended Pekar some 23 years ago. "It bothered me at first, and I tried to fit in, but I couldn't. I sort of embraced it after high school. Like Some gay people take the word 'faggot' and embrace it in a positive way', I've tried to do the same thing with 'nerd. …

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