In a world of faux geeks, it's time we recognize the real thing.
Chuck Klosterman once opined that "we all owe our lives to Woody Allen. If Woody Allen had never been born, I'm sure I would be doomed to a life of celibacy." By "we," Klosterman meant the skinny, stammering nerds of the world who we now, post-Allen, find sexy. By conventional wisdom, today's audiences swoon over neuroses, not muscles. Sexy geeks make it in Hollywood. But this is a contentious topic; most "sexy geeks" are decidedly ungeeky. Which is why I hesitate to crown British actor/filmmaker/comic Richard Ayoade the sexiest sexy geek of them all, even though I am fantasizing about him right now.
Richard Ayoade never makes "Top Ten Sexiest Geeks!"-type listicles, at least not in the States — though now that he's stumbling into American consciousness, co-starring with Ben Stiller in The Watch, I wonder if that will change. While he's certainly a geek, and certainly sexy, he's far from the standard American sexy geek model (essentially a Hollister model in glasses). His gawky charm comes down to two things: he's profoundly talented, and he's awfully bashful about it.
Every project Ayoade's taken on as both an actor and a director has been impressive and cool. People usually recognize him as the socially inept Maurice Moss from The IT Crowd ("He's cooler than I am," he says of the character, who orders milk at bars), but he also directed the coming-of-age romantic dramedy Submarine. Stylized and idiosyncratic, but also refreshingly self-aware, Ayoade's first film received pretty incredible reviews from critics. (It's on Netflix — go watch it.) His other directorial credits include the brilliant Community episode "Critical Film Studies," as well as music videos for the Arctic Monkeys and Vampire Weekend. Even his bit acting parts — appearances on cultishly adored BBC comedies like The Mighty Boosh and Snuff Box — are nerd gold.
Yet for all his achievements, he's without a hint of cockiness. He dresses like a '70s math teacher (his words), though it does little to undercut his handsomeness. "I wouldn't dignify what I do by calling it acting," he has insisted. He can't look an interviewer in the eye for more than four seconds. "Even my gaze at the moment is pretty much at your knee," he says in one video. "That's the kind of social level I'm at, really. I might manage to make eye contact just before you go to a break." He apologizes for giving bad interviews, in the middle of said interviews (though they are never less than entertaining). He accepts compliments with a slight nod and a grimace, as if it physically hurts to revel in his accomplishments even for a second. That kind of modesty can come off as self-aggrandizing, but with Ayoade, you get the sense it's sincere. (All you feel is a vague urge to grab him by the shoulders and shake him.)
But the greatest people are always unaware of their own greatness. So Richard, in case you ever stumble upon this American fangirl's tribute to you: you are profoundly talented, even if you're awfully bashful about it. Your English accent is neither pompous nor abrasive, and I just want to fall asleep to the gentle hum of your neurotic mumbling. And to the rest of you geek-lovers, you may actually have a reason to see The Watch.