Creative Commons Logo


You are free to republish this article both online and in print. We ask that you follow some simple guidelines.

Please do not edit the piece, ensure that you attribute the author, their institute, and mention that the article was originally published on the ShowMax Blog.

By copying the HTML below, you will be adhering to all our guidelines.

Copy this HTML into your CMS. Press ⌘-C to copy


“You look like Leonard but you talk like Sheldon.”

So many people had said that to me but, until I finally watched The Big Bang Theory in 2008, I didn’t get it.

In this hilarious TV show, two geeky physicists live across the hall from a hot blonde waitress, and the half-hour episodes highlight the cultural and intellectual clashes between the two opposing stereotypes. To hilarious effect. Truly hilarious effect.

Unlike House, which features one enigmatic genius with a fearsome wit and a rare aptitude for problem-solving (played to perfection by Hugh Laurie), Big Bang features four geniuses with no social skills and appalling dress sense. It has dazzlingly well-written lines of supreme humour.

I have to limit how many episodes I watch in one go or risk rupturing an internal organ. I can’t remember the last time my funny bone was tickled like this – perhaps the opening half-hour of The Man Who Sued God, with Billy Connolly on his usual belter.

TV, like so much else, has become the centre of our cultural experience and has replaced theatre, art and pretty much everything as our reference point for existence.

How fitting, then, that there is a smash-hit show about geeks. We make mocking programmes about geeks like Leonard and Sheldon, but a fair proportion of the world’s population is people who wish they could be theoretical physicists.

Geeks are the new cool and have been for a while. Eighties B-grade rom-coms, such as Revenge of the Nerds, made it popular to be the geeky underdog, and a bespectacled Bill Gates showed that a nerd could become the richest man in the world.

Geeks have taken over the world – or, at the very least, present a new kind of zero-to-hero plot line. Build a great iPhone or Android app and you could be the next Jerry Yang or Sergei Brin or Mark Zuckerberg – the co-founders (respectively) of Yahoo, Google and Facebook. Or perhaps your big idea might be the next Digg or Twitter or Google Wave. Geekdom presents the last big chance for the little guy to strike it rich.

Forget the meek, the Geeks have inherited the earth. We live in an age where intellect and mental achievement are (almost) able to rival physical achievement. Sure, Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps will always be the most admired super-sportsmen, but Steve Jobs and Mark Shuttleworth are also venerated. They are (athletically) ordinary men with great minds who made it big. Very big.

There are a lot more people who aspired to emulate Gates, Jobs, Shuttleworth and Zuckerberg than Victor Matfield, Bryan Habana or Roger Federer. Half of the golf-playing corporate world wish they had the awesome talent of Tiger Woods and much of South Africa wish they were as heroically inspirational as Wayde van Niekerk or as hard as Bakkies Botha.

With more and more people spending their time online, we’re all a lot more geeky than many of us imagined we’d be. Our words are less about the real world and more about witty text messages, status updates and blog posts.

After I watched The Big Bang Theory, I was flattered to be compared to Sheldon, whose mercurial, dry sense of humour is everything I want to be when I grow up – after Gregory House, that is.

As Sheldon says so aptly: “Oh, you think you’re so clever, well let me just tell you, while I do not currently have a scathing retort, you check your e-mail periodically for a doozey.”

Alternative Text

About the author

Toby Shapshak

Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff and a contributor to Forbes. His TED talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,4-million views. Follow him on Twitter: @shapshak | More about Toby Shapshak

Republish this post
Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence