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Glen Ellen actor Brian Posehn, 'Big Bang Theory' star, embraces his nerdiness in new memoir

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Throughout much of his childhood Brian Posehn was unaware of his nerdiness. It was a state that came over him pre-puberty, by about age 10, when he had sprouted into what he characterizes as a “lethal combo of super tall and super skinny with dorky, black-framed glasses, pimples and braces,” not to mention the uncool clothes and bowl haircut.

Posehn was drawn to anything that defined 1970s nerdliness, from Dungeons and Dragons to comic book fanaticism to an obsession with Star Wars.

Who would predict that the gawky kid from Glen Ellen, who avoided loneliness while taking refuge in the library at Dunbar School — where he discovered KISS — would geek his way to fame and fortune, all without changing a thing?

His is not a Cinderella story. In a real life “Revenge of the Nerds,” the balding, bearded, and bespectacled Posehn — all 6-feet 6-1/2 inches of him — had the last laugh. He found a way of making a living off his not classically handsome looks, adolescent “fart and wiener jokes” and love for heavy metal and superheroes. It’s also worth noting he married the cute 5-foot-2 inch blonde cheerleader, who also happens to be a manager of comedians. So neener neener neener.

Nerds rule

Posehn, a stand up-comic, writer and actor who has a recurring role as the geologist Bert Kibbler on “The Big Bang Theory” — a “Friends” for science geeks — recounts his awkward ascent in his memoir “Forever Nerdy: Living My Dorky Dreams and Staying Metal.”

The twisted coming of age story (Da Capo Press; $26) larded with cultural references to TV shows, toys and movies before the Internet era, will resonate with any kid who was ever picked on.

It’s also a period piece — a “Christmas Story” updated for the cringey 1970s. With references to Santa Rosa’s old Parkside Theater, Sonoma’s Sebastiani, Tower Records and other landmarks here and gone, it’s sure to stir nostalgia for anyone who was a kid in Sonoma County 40 years ago.

“Growing up there felt really lucky,” said Posehn by phone from his “nerd cave” at his home in Encino, where he lives with his wife Melanie Truhett and 9-year-old son. “It’s such a cool place and so beautiful. But when you’re a teenager it’s all about getting out of there and going to San Francisco and seeing bands. Now I wish I never left. My dream is to eventually own something and move back up there again.”

Posehn’s is one of those faces you can’t forget. If you don’t recognize his name, you know you’ve seen him somewhere on the screen.

Before “Big Bang” he was a regular on the “Sarah Silverman Program,” and has also appeared on leading sitcoms like “Seinfeld” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.” His film credits include “Devil’s Rejects,” “The Five Year Engagement” and the indie comedy “Uncle Nick,” in which he starred.

He still does a lot of stand-up comedy and will return to the Bay Area for a gig at Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco March 21-23.

Favorite obsessions

Posehn devotes much of his memoir, which includes a forward by his close buddy and fellow geek comic Patton Oswalt, to objects of his obsession, from the original “Star Wars” (ask about the prequel and expect a few expletives) to TV shows like “Starsky and Hutch” and movies perhaps only he remembers, like “Foul Play.” Favorite bands “Metalica,” “Rush” and “KISS” get their own chapters.

“The books is really more about the influences” on his comedy, he said.

“I felt the story I wanted to tell was of this kid who found these things as a 10-year-old to entertain himself when he didn’t have a ton of friends. And these things I was drawn to — comic books, horror films, heavy metal, comedy — I’ve been able to make a career embracing all of those things. I get to live the dream, since I’m been involved in all of them. I feel it’s kind of unique.”

In addition to stand-up comedy and TV, he co-wrote a 45-issue Deadpool series for Marvel Comics with Gerry Duggan, hosts a popular comedy podcast, Nerd Poker, and has done voicework for videogames and animated series like “The Simpsons.”

Posehn grew up in an apartment in Glen Ellen the only child of a single mother, Carol, who worked at Sonoma Developmental Center.

His father, who was even taller than he is, suffered a freakish death from an allergic reaction to medication given for a blood disease when Posehn was only 2. He doesn’t remember him.

“I think part of where I get my comedy is from reacting. I always feel like once I knew what gallows humor was, I thought, ‘Wow. That’s me.’ It’s what I’ve done my whole life. You respond, or you should respond, to pain and sadness by trying to find something funny about it. I found it in telling my life story.”

Move to Glen Ellen

Posehn moved with his mom from the Peninsula to an apartment at Madrone Road and Arnold Drive in Glen Ellen when he was 9 in 1975. His safe place became his bedroom, where he didn’t have to deal with bullies and where he immersed himself in music and TV. Posehn invokes a lot of Bay Area cultural references of the time, like listening to Dr. Don Rose on KFRC. As a nerdy kid he spent a lot of time alone; pop culture became his world.

One of the great disappointments of his childhood — think Ralphie and his misfired Red Ryder BB gun — was anticipating with uncontrolled excitement the airing of a KISS special, only to have his mother drag him to her friends’ house for dinner that night. As luck would have it, she had no TV reception. For a kid in the pre-streaming, pre-VCR era, it was a bitter blow.

Posehn was picked on and often shunned at Sonoma’s Altimira Middle School. He remembers the “accidental” bump or shove and the names: dork, nerd, loser. The latter, he said, stung the most.

Although he was super tall, he was super skinny.

“I also was wimpy looking and wore that. That’s the way I acted to people” he said. “I was not timid but I certainly wasn’t tough or defensive.

“I’m sure some people when they get picked on, learn to fight back. I never did. It never felt comfortable. When I did it didn’t go well. I abandoned that and sort of took it.”

Calling out bullies

Posehn calls out many of his bullies, generally with undefined names. But if you were a kid in Sonoma Valley in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, you might figure a few out. He also mentions people who stood up for him or lent support, from other kids to teachers.

One was the Rev. Rich Gantenbein, the minister at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church near Glen Ellen where Posehn was active in youth groups.

Posehn did not exaggerate his plight, the pastor said.

“I just think this is a great story that a kid who really struggled, prevailed. I don’t remember doing as much good for him as he does. But I’m glad I did, that it was something that was important to him and helped,” said Gantenbein, who is still pastor at St. Andrew’s.

“But he was determined. He didn’t let the struggle become part of him.

“Every teacher, every pastor, every coach has these kids that struggle. You plant these seeds and you hope.”

Posehn always managed to have a few friends, until he hit Sonoma Valley High. Then his posse, not wanting to be tainted with his nerdliness, turned on him, freezing him out and leaving him friendless and bullied.

“I mean, they threw rocks and dirt clods at me to make me stop hanging around them. Like I was a weird stray dog with a milky eye and a near-constant erection...” he writes.

Worst years

Freshman and sophomore years were “the worst two years of my life,” he says. He recalls one incident where bullies, led by a “popular rich kid,” set him up. They had grabbed the shoes of a slow kid with a speech impediment and thrown them on the roof.

An empathetic Posehn climbed up and retrieved them, only to be forced by the bullies to throw them back up, framing him for the cruel prank. The slow kid wound up attacking him at the bus stop with his “Space: 1999” lunch box. Posehn took the rap with his mom for the crime.

No one signed his freshman yearbook, he said.

“It was a tough two years and my mom didn’t know how to help me. At a certain point I stopped trying,” he remembers. What got him through it were his obsessions: comedy like “Saturday Night Live” and heavy metal.

Things turned around when he was a junior, thanks in part to the friendship of one of the most popular kids in school, a wrestler named Joel Myers.

“Kids started to give me a break. He told people to leave me alone. A guy who had beaten me up he told to leave me alone and it stuck. Maybe because of him, I got more confident. Junior and senior year people started figuring out who I was. I was funny and I was interesting.”

By graduation in 1984 he had found his tribe, geeks with similar interests. He started writing.

“I didn’t ever think at Sonoma High that it was an option to become a comedian, although I had a teacher who shared (that) she had written jokes for a famous comedian. I remember filing that away.”

It was while attending junior college in Sacramento that he tested the waters at a comedy club open mike night. Bingo.

“The first time I completely annihilated it. Every joke hit and I loved it.”

The next week he returned and fell flat, having run through his best material. But he decided he wanted to give standup a shot.

Nerd advantages

Posehn said his own son now is nerdy like he is, but it’s different now. In some ways, a lot of childhood passions that were ridiculed when he was a kid are cool now, like all the superhero movies spun off the comics he consumed as a kid.

A lot of those former geeky kids are now at the top of the economic heap in the tech world.

“It’s acceptable. It’s everywhere and so much a part of the mainstream,” Posehn said. “In fact, everyone in the world knows what Comicon is and tries to go to it. If you’re into nerd culture,” he said, “it’s like a full-time thing now.”

He enrolled his own son in a private school with a zero tolerance policy for bullying.

Now Posehn, the awkward freshman who was shanked, is in the Sonoma Valley High Hall of Fame.

“I felt embarrassed,” he confesses. “I was there, for doing fart jokes. with someone who had been a doctor and in the military for 20 or 30 years — people way more respectable that what I wound up doing. But there was nobody else that got to be on TV.”

Posehn’s story in fact has a happy ending, something that may give hope to other young misfits who find his book or tune in to his comedy.

“I don’t want to be morose. I am a grown man. Sure it’s sad stuff. But I grew through it. I made it through.”

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5204.

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