Nerds are taking over the world

TV hit: The cast of The Big Bang Theory
TV hit: The cast of The Big Bang Theory
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Forget Sex And The City and Friends, because geeks are officially the new cool.

And top of the hotlist is The Big Bang Theory, a sitcom about four socially-awkward science-loving nerds, featuring a cast of relatively unknown actors.

Although on paper it hardly sounds like a formula for screen success, The Big Bang Theory has overcome the odds to become one of the most popular sitcoms on TV.

When it launched in 2007 it became a cult hit and has since grown into a runaway success, currently reigning as the No 1 comedy on American cable networks, both first-run and repeats, watched by an average audience of three million 18 to 49-year-olds.

It’s a hit over here, too, with 3.3 million people switching on to watch the opening episode of series six - the biggest audience on a digital channel of 2012 aside of the Olympics.

Those stats are not to be laughed at, and Kunal Nayyar, who plays tongue-tied Indian astrophysicist Raj Koothrappali PhD, reckons it all comes down to the basics.

“It’s the writing. Every show lives and dies with the writing,” he says of the US show, which was created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady (who, between them, have a streak of TV hits including Two And A Half Men, Dharma & Greg and Gilmore Girls).

“The writers have never dumbed down the language, or tried to presume that the audience aren’t smart enough to understand all the science.

“Inherently, this is a show about good people and we like to see good people.

“I love Raj’s innocence,” he says by way of example. “It’s really fun to play a character that views the world in the way these guys do. They don’t know how to lie and they don’t cheat each other.”

The show has turned Nayyar, along with co-stars Johnny Galecki (Leonard), Jim Parsons (Sheldon), Kaley Cuoco (the glamorous neighbour Penny) and Simon Helberg (Howard) into household names.

“Kaley obviously gets the most fan mail. I think guys from jail keep writing to her,” jokes the 31-year-old.

“I don’t know who gets the most fan mail out of the four guys. I get a lot of 13-year-old girls writing to me, which is a little creepy.”

The show has definitely turned Nayyar’s life around. Born in London and raised in New Delhi, he started acting lessons after moving to the States to study for a degree in finance. TV ads and plays in London formed his first experiences of professional acting work, before a guest appearance in NCIS led to him being cast as Raj.

“This is a dream. You can never imagine or predict this,” he says. “We’re living a dream. We’re all very humbled and blessed to be doing this. It’ll end one day and it will be sad, so right now we’re just thankful for every single day.”

Season six sees the ‘bromance’ between Howard and Raj stretched, following the former’s marriage to Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) and his stint in space.

“I think that era might be over, although I was thinking it could get stronger. Howard has always been Raj’s crutch but maybe now Raj becomes Howard’s crutch, because Howard may need an escape from his wife.

“Raj always lived vicariously through Howard, maybe now Howard begins to live vicariously through Raj?” Nayyar teases.

He adds that he’d like his character to have a love interest too, saying: “Now is his time because everyone else has been there. I’d like to tell him that it’s going to be OK, and he doesn’t have to try so hard.”

While he has a soft spot for his alter ego, who finds it difficult to talk to women without the help of alcohol, Nayyar reveals it would be “a stretch” to say that they are similar. “There are very few people in the world like him,” he says.

Unlike Raj, Nayyar has more luck with women and is married to Miss India 2006, Neha Kapur. Still, his inner geek emerges when faced with anything to do with Lord Of The Rings, Star Wars or Game Of Thrones. “I cried when the theme music started for Return Of The King. I know that’s so sad!” he admits.

“Star Wars too. We had a Lego Millennium Falcon on set that Sheldon was building and it was cool to see the people build it in three days. I was trying to play it cool, but secretly I wanted to be them,” he recalls.

“Imagine telling my wife, ‘Sorry sweetie, I can’t come home because I’m building a Millennium Falcon out of Lego’. That’s the dream of any man.”

He adds: “She’ll be like, ‘A Millennium who?’ She tried to watch Star Wars and fell asleep in the first five minutes.”

This year, Nayyar made his big-screen voice debut in Ice Age: Continental Drift, lending his voice to Bengali badger Gupta.

He would have loved to be in The Hobbit but says: “You don’t see any Indian hobbits. I could be the first, but I don’t think the fans would be pleased.”

He’s open to doing more theatre in the future and would like to do something dramatic when The Big Bang Theory ends.

“It’ll be fun to play something serious, like a police officer, lawyer or detective. Or to play a young prince with sword handling skills. I don’t look like an action star but I could train.”

For now, he’s focusing mainly on the show that made him famous. The cast are confirmed for another series, but beyond that it’s all up in the air.

“I definitely think we’ll do seasons eight and nine, and maybe season 10. Who knows?” he says.

l The Big Bang Theory continues on E4 on Thursdays. The Complete Fifth Season is out on Blu-ray and DVD now