'Revenge of the Nerds' Writer on Popularity and Success

Photograph by 20th Century Fox Film Corp./Everett Collection

Popular kids in high school may have higher incomes later in life, according to a study released on Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private research organization in Cambridge, Mass. News of the report has taken the web by storm.

In response to this development in the eternal popular-kid vs. nerd struggle, Bloomberg Businessweek caught up with Steve Zacharias, writer of the 1984 classic film Revenge of the Nerds and now a teacher at Columbia College Chicago and DePaul University.

Steve, how does this study make you feel?

Well, I think it’s true. I think the reason it’s true is [popular people] know how to socialize. People like to be around them and they are able to turn that into all kinds of different businesses.

The nerds are smarter and can come up with more amazing super wealth, and it’s possible a nerd can be popular. It’s not an oxymoron. Woody Allen said all success is based on networking. You have to say the popular kids are better at networking, and that’s why they are successful. If you’re not networking, you can only make it on your talent.

Can you relate to this personally?

Is it offensive? A popular kid could be a good kid and nice to the nerds. I would say I was like that. I was a jock and a popular kid. I noticed in high school that there was this persecuted group of nerd kids who weren’t popular. But they were very talented, very smart, very nice, very sexual, and that was the basis for Revenge of the Nerds. A lot of the jocks were popular, but they were bullies. It would anger me if a popular person got a job over a nerd who was more talented. Popular people are very likable and they are usually pretty nice and funny and considerate. But I would say nerds can be more successful—Bill Gates is a nerd, Steve Jobs [was] a nerd.

You teach now. Can you spot the popular kids?

A lot of it has to do with shyness. I was shy, too, and I was forced to become not-shy. The popular kids kind of run the class. They run the room because they are the ones talking. After class they have the parties and the entourage of people doing stuff.

Sounds like the shy kids need to speak up.

There’s a book, The Success Principles, and one of the chapters is called “Ask! Ask! Ask!” To ask for things is a power in life. A shy person might not keep asking. It prohibits a lot from happening.

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