Join us as Wil Wheaton, who had leading roles in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “The Big Bang Theory,” discusses revisiting his 2004 memoir “Just a Geek,” which he recently re-released as “Still Just a Geek.”
Every page is filled with footnotes and parenthetical comments talking to his younger self, and in many cases decrying his previous racism, homophobia, and misogyny. How did he manage to confront his younger self without dying of shame? Listen now to find out.
Wil Wheaton, celebrated actor from Stand By Me, Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Big Bang Theory, and more has come out with STILL JUST A GEEK, an updated memoir with all new material as he reexamines his upbringing in Hollywood, and opens up about his life, falling in love, coming to grips with his past work, choices, childhood trauma and family, and finding fulfillment in the new phases of his career. This isn’t your typical celebrity memoir – instead, Wil is in conversation with his past self, engaging with his 2004 memoir through updated annotations. The result is fascinating as present-day Wil gets to confront his past toxic thoughts, hold himself accountable for his problematic behavior, and show what mental illness looks like as well as the path to healing. See more at WilWheaton.net.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.
To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hey, everyone, I’m your host Gabe Howard and calling into the show today we have Wil Wheaton. Wil is a celebrated actor from Stand by Me, Star Trek and The Big Bang Theory, just to name a few. And his new book, “Still Just a Geek,” was recently updated with all new material as he examines his upbringing in Hollywood and opens up about his life. Wil, welcome to the show.
Wil Wheaton: Hi. Thanks for having me.
Gabe Howard: Now, any true fan of Wil Wheaton knows about your history with mental health issues, but can we recap real quick for any listener who may not be familiar or just need a reminder? What’s the CliffsNotes version of your personal mental health story?
Wil Wheaton: Sure. I am a survivor of childhood narcissistic abuse and childhood exploitation. As a consequence, I have PTSD. I live with a generalized anxiety disorder and chronic major depressive disorder, I believe, is the official diagnosis. I suffered for decades because mental health was taboo in the family that raised me. Mental health and mental illness were viewed as weakness and were covered up with a blanket of shame. As a consequence of that, I suffered for so long when I could have been just helped by therapy and medication.
Gabe Howard: Wil, I think of my teenage self or my 25-year-old self and I cringe. I just cringe at everything 25-year-old Gabe said. Now your book, “Just a Geek,” came out in 2004 and your new book, “Still Just a Geek,” is revisiting and reexamining some of those moments from an older and more experienced perspective. But how were you able to go back and revisit those moments without just wanting to, like, crawl under a bed? Because I didn’t write a book, but Thanksgiving is an embarrassing place for Gabe because people are telling stories and I’m like, I do recall that happening, but God, please shut up. What’s that like? Reading your thoughts from 15 years ago?
Wil Wheaton: It’s real challenging because there are moments, and I address this in the book, where I am mortified by something that I said or believed or did not think was problematic. When I was first going through this and looking at these things for the first time in 20 years, my attitude as a nearly 50-year-old was real impatient and annoyed with who I was as an almost 30-year-old. I was like, What is wrong with you, dude? And I eventually recognized I need to have compassion and empathy for myself. The person who wrote “Just a Geek” in 2004 was really struggling and really hurting a lot and really doing the very best that he was capable of doing. One of my fundamental rules for life is to always do your best and acknowledge and accept that your best is going to be different from moment to moment, from day-to-day.
Wil Wheaton: And as long as you do what your best is at that moment, you can feel good about it regardless of what the result is, because all you can do is your best. The person I was then was doing his best. It is nowhere close to what my best is now, which is awesome. If my best when I was 28 was still my best when I’m 49, I would not have grown at all. I think we have this impulse to look back on things that are embarrassing or regretful or gross and to hang on ourselves the responsibility to be literally the only person in all of human existence to never have done something that they regretted. And when that happens, we end up feeling like, Well, I just want to forget about this and delete it from the Internet or whatever. I did not have that privilege. It was out there. These are my words. These are my thoughts and beliefs.
Gabe Howard: You know, Wil, the most common theme of your book, even though it’s your book, I’m going to explain it to you now. Just, you know, because I’m cool like that. But you really talk about misogyny, homophobia and how regretful you are that you put that forth all the way back in 2004. What led you to have this change of heart? What did you learn over the ensuing 18 years that made you realize that 2004 Wil wasn’t handling this well?
Wil Wheaton: I just grew up. I think there was a real particular kind of comedy that my generation was exposed to, and there was this belief inside of me that if I said things that were offensive, but I didn’t mean them, it didn’t matter. Because I was like, kind of being ironic or kind of making fun or kind of saying something and that, none of that is true. It was, it was just lazy. It was lazy and easy and super, super regretful. I was just like, Nah, man, I’m going to be irreverent and I’m going to be like, Nobody’s going to tell me what to do. That was just kind of the attitude I had, and it was real kind of adolescent and embarrassing to see that. I think maybe one of one of the biggest things that changed in me was the election of 2016 and the fascism that followed it. I became aware for the very first time in my life, and this is embarrassing to admit it happened to be very late in life. I was made aware of just how myopic and privileged I was. And since then, I have discovered the perspective and found it and realized that these times where I thought I was being funny, I was being hurtful, I didn’t mean to be. And I would have argued strenuously at the time that that is absolutely not what’s going on.
Gabe Howard: It’s very difficult to admit that you’ve done something wrong. And I know that you have fame and celebrity and you’ve been in the public eye for a long time. But it’s hard, period, right? Because if you admit that you did something wrong, there might be consequences for it. And people are worried about those consequences. And they might have to admit that they were wrong or bad or that they owe somebody an apology. Now, I’m speaking, you know, on my level. You know, I’m just a guy in Ohio. If I have to apologize, the maximum number of people that I could apologize to is like, I don’t know, four? Maybe 10? But the stakes are so much higher for you. You’ve now admitted in front of literally the country that what you said back in 2004 was wrong. Has this opened up a Pandora’s box for you or are you getting phone calls from every corner of the galaxy to apologize, make amends, donate work?
Wil Wheaton: [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: This seems like a much bigger deal for you than it is for me.
Wil Wheaton: I appreciate that very much, but I’m just not that important. There are individual people who I felt I was insensitive toward, and at every opportunity, I’ve reached out to them directly. As far as all of the sort of public missteps and like very public regrets, I’m real happy to use myself as an example. I’m really happy to stand up and just say, when you don’t know, you will make mistakes. You will do regretful things. But then when you know, now you don’t get that pass anymore, you have to make choices. How are you going to atone for the things you did wrong? What are you going to do going forward? How are things going to be different? I think that it is very important that people are allowed to make mistakes, learn and grow from them. I think that’s extremely important. We seem to be in a moment where if a single mistake is made, that is the end of a person.
Wil Wheaton: And I believe that that is a reaction to systemic patriarchy that has consistently excused people’s terrible behavior and allowed them to skate by with meaningless, empty apologies. I absolutely get where an entire generation is coming from that’s like, you know what? You’re just another piece of shit. And I have no time for you. I have no patience for you. Get out. I completely understand where that comes from. I think that ultimately that is harmful. I think ultimately it prevents people from having the willingness to make a mistake and apologize for it. If we grow up, if we live feeling like we can never do something wrong and that no apology will be good enough, we end up either just not caring at all because what’s the point that apologizing if it’s never going to change anything? That’s one path people take and then another path is to just never try to do anything because you’re constantly afraid that you’re going to do the wrong thing.
Gabe Howard: I think there’s a lot of power in being vulnerable about our mistakes because young people take on the message that they cannot be X, Y, Z unless they’re perfect. For me, I really look up to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and I have forever. And one day somebody finally asked me, Gabe, why? Why, Dr. King? Of all the available options, why Dr. King? And I said, because he had an affair. And they said, What? And I said, Yeah, he cheated on his wife. No, no, Gabe, this can’t be the reason. This can’t. And I said, yes, it can, because he was a great man. He was a great man who did great things. But he was deeply flawed, which meant the two could coexist. You could make a mistake and you could be a good person. And I thought of myself as deeply flawed. You know, I was untreated bipolar disorder back then, so I couldn’t find a lot of really role models who were portrayed as flawed because they’re all portrayed as perfect. You alluded to earlier, this is the we’re tired of apologies. We’ve had enough as systemic issues have been going on for decades, and this is the overcorrection. How do we get away from that overcorrection? Because I think you’re right, I do think this is the overcorrection.
Wil Wheaton: You know, I honestly, I don’t know. And I think that you and I, as white men in our forties, really need to take a seat and let someone else answer that question. I think we need to particularly listen to young women of color who seem to take the absolute worst of everything from absolutely everyone and really just listen and then work real hard to implement whatever change we are being guided toward making. As I enter middle age, I turn 50 in July, and I’ve really made a commitment. I made a promise to myself that I will spend as much of the rest of my life as I can working to empower young people to change their world the way I wanted to change mine at a time when I felt very unsupported in trying to make those changes. So I don’t think that that answer is for us to give because quite frankly, I don’t think we are capable of seeing the entire picture objectively because we’re right in the middle of it.
Gabe Howard: Wil, every now and again as a podcast host, my guests, they they really set me up for what I consider a very cool moment. And I swear, this is a very cool moment. I’m not lying. I have a list of questions that I always prepare. And I’m going to read this question exactly. The question as written is, “I respect and appreciate your sharing with the public the importance of being an ally, but there’s a thin line between being an ally and taking over a cause that is not your own. And not all famous people are able to walk that line as successfully as you are. The expression The road to hell is paved with good intentions exists for a reason. What advice do you have for people who want to help or who want to be an ally to be that ally but not be in the way?”
Wil Wheaton: It’s not about you. You’re not there to collect prizes. You’re not there to be given pats on the back for how great and supportive you are. When we’re being allies, we are saying through our actions that this is where I am at this moment in my life. I am drowning in privilege. I’m privileged in absolutely every possible way. Everything is working out extremely well for me because the world is set up to make my life as easy as it possibly can, and I have the celebrity cheat enabled. Okay, so that makes me really overpowered and it gives me just tons of extra resources. I’m going to use those resources in an effort to support people who are unsupported. Maybe the most important thing we can do is use our voices, right? We have to say to other people who look like us, and I’m specifically calling out cis-het white men, we have to say to each other, Dude, that is not okay. I don’t know why you think that’s cool, but you can’t do that.
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Gabe Howard: I want to talk about Wesley Crusher for a moment.
Wil Wheaton: Okay.
Gabe Howard: Your first big break, your first big role. And I want to tell you
Wil Wheaton: I’d actually disagree with that. I’d say my first big break was probably in Stand by Me.
Gabe Howard: Oh, Stand by Me. How did I forget Stand by Me?
Wil Wheaton: Just, if I could just gently push back. Wesley Crusher, an enormous part of my life. I adore him. I am insanely proud of being him. But I just read it where it is due to Rob Reiner for kickstarting my career and giving me the unbelievable privilege to be part of Stand by Me. I’m sorry to interrupt you.
Gabe Howard: I forgot that you were in that. No, I’m glad that you did. I’m going to leave this in. Like I could rerecord this later and just hide this mistake, but you have taught me that it’s okay to own your mistakes. You know, I became aware of you. How about that?
Wil Wheaton: I love that.
Gabe Howard: Your first big break, as far as Gabe Howard is concerned, was Wesley Crusher.
Wil Wheaton: Okay.
Gabe Howard: And again, I’m not a huge Star Trek fan. Now, my family is. I’m more of a Star Wars guy.
Wil Wheaton: Okay.
Gabe Howard: But the reason I bring all that up sincerely is because even I, at 15, 20, 25 years old, saw the abuse that you took for playing Wesley Crusher. Now, you were a teenager when you played Wesley Crusher. Of course, you’re an actor, you don’t write any of this. And adults, adults in the media, when online became a thing in the late nineties, early aughts. All these people are just taking every single possible shot that they can at you. Now, considering your background, how did you? Even I saw it as just an amount of abuse that I didn’t think that a reasonable person could withstand. How did you handle that? Were you able to find any support? What did that do to you? I just I hate to say I’m thinking about now 15 year old Wil Wheaton, and I just want to hug him.
Wil Wheaton: Yeah,I didn’t have any support at all. I think the closest I got to feeling supported, at home anyway, would probably have been my mom kind of like trying in her way to tell me that what these people said didn’t matter. But the thing is, it did matter. And the reason it mattered is because these people were saying things to me about Wesley that my dad had been saying to me about me for my whole life. And that, that hurt a lot. That was really, really, really hard to deal with. I loved Star Trek. I still love Star Trek. I loved it before I was on it. I loved it while I was on it. Allowing for the reality that it was my job and I was a teenager and I was in all kinds of levels of struggling at the time. And there were times where I was like, Oh my God, f**k all of this, I don’t want to be here. I still loved it. I love and adore my Star Trek family. They became the parents that I never had. They willingly and enthusiastically stepped in to fill that gap in my life when I told them that gap existed. So during that time, it was awful. And, I sort of felt like, I felt very much in relation to Star Trek the way that I kind of felt at home, at least as far as fans were concerned. Like I didn’t have anything to do with this stuff. They were yelling at me about the same way I didn’t have anything to do with the stuff my dad decided he didn’t like me about.
Wil Wheaton: You know, it’s like, Oh, you exist? Well, here’s all the reasons we hate you for that. I think it was unacceptable that fandom or a portion of fandom at that time treated a child the way they did. I think it is never okay when a child’s parents have put them in the public eye and the kid does a kid thing that’s cringe worthy that that kid just gets slammed all over the place. In the last five or ten years, I’m really, really aware of people my age, men and women my age coming to me at cons and telling me, you know, it was really surprising to me to find out that people didn’t like Wesley because I loved him. The number of neurodivergent people I have heard from who have told me, I saw so much of myself in him. He’s too smart, doesn’t know how to talk to people. He’s weird. He’s awkward. He oversteps without meaning to. Yeah, that’s me. All of that was going on, and I didn’t know any of it. It took a really, really, really long time for me to get to a point where I can very sincerely, with 100% of my heart and soul, just put on my best Lebowski cardigan and say, Well, that’s like just your opinion, man. And I really, honestly do not care.
Gabe Howard: Wil, once again, thank you so much for being here. I have one last question, and it’s a question that my wife wrote. Now, I want you to know my wife never writes questions for my podcast.
Wil Wheaton: Okay.
Gabe Howard: I think she’s like, she’s like low level ashamed. So it’s probably not even going to make it into the episode. But she asked me, she said, and I quote, If he’s cool, ask him this. I’ve decided that you’re cool.
Wil Wheaton: Okay.
Gabe Howard: How close is the Wil Wheaton on Big Bang Theory to the real Wil Wheaton?
Wil Wheaton: By the last episode, we’re very similar. In the beginning, the first four or five times I got to work on the show, I played a stylized, evil version of myself. Really, really, really fun and silly and creatively satisfying and by all accounts, really entertaining to audiences. And there was a moment where my friends who write the show felt that Wil Wheaton being Sheldon’s nemesis had been done. What would it be like if Wil Wheaton was Sheldon’s friend? And boy, did that change my life. And boy, did that change the trajectory of my on camera career, and it changed the way that I feel about myself. And it just did a ton for me.
Gabe Howard: Well,I am super happy to hear that. Art imitates life, right?
Wil Wheaton: It was very difficult for me for a very long time to see myself the way The Big Bang Theory saw me. The Big Bang Theory sort of sees me like kind of cool and in some ways kind of like, successful, and I just never really felt that way. But by the time the show was over, I felt like I deserved to be there. I felt like I had earned it. I felt like I understood it, and I felt like I could go ahead and be this version of me that they wanted me to be. I would like to think that the thing I learned from Wil Wheaton on The Big Bang Theory, which I have applied to my own life and really embraced it as part of my philosophy, is in the Star Wars episode. So the line Live Long and Suck It is maybe my favorite line I’ve ever gotten to say on television. It kills me every time I see it, it’s so funny. There’s a bit at the end of that where the guys are asking me like, What are you going to do if it’s terrible? And I say something like, I’m going to go on with my life because it’s a movie. It’s just not that big a deal, it’s entertainment. That perspective, I had never really thought about. I had never deliberately made the time to intentionally like sit down and say, I choose not to get worked up about stuff that doesn’t matter. And when I learned that from the from the version of myself that I played on The Big Bang Theory, I got happier, my stress dropped, I felt better about who I was, and I guess from that point forward, I felt very, very, very close to that character. He has a more interesting D&D game than I currently have, and he’s a better bowler than I am. But, you know, I’ve spent some time thinking about him. I do my best to be the version of me The Big Bang Theory thinks exists in the world.
Gabe Howard: Well, I appreciate that and I love it, and of course, I loved the Wil Wheaton version on the show, both the evil version and the friend version. It was a lot of fun to watch, and for what it’s worth,
Wil Wheaton: Thank you.
Gabe Howard: You looked like you were having a great time, so that’s awesome.
Wil Wheaton: It was always fun. Every day was the best day. Every day was fun. Every day was a gift. It was just such an unbelievable gift, the consistent joy that I felt every day. I went to work on The Big Bang Theory.
Gabe Howard: Wil, you’ve done a lot of stuff. We’ve talked about the big things, The Big Bang Theory, Stand by Me, you know, obviously all the movie and TV credits, but you have nerd stuff, you have a blog, you have a podcast, you have all kinds of stuff. Tell people about that because that’s the stuff that usually doesn’t end up on the news. And I bet many people don’t realize that you have a blog and you’ve had one for like 22 years.
Wil Wheaton: If anyone is interested in spending more time with my brain, there’s a lot to be discovered at my blog. It’s at WilWheaton.net, and it has been there since 2000. I also maintain a Facebook page and an Instagram account, the names in both instances are ItsWilWheaton. I am very fortunate to have not a gigantic audience, but a diverse, interesting audience that wants to hang out and share ideas and get excited about stuff and nerd out on things together. And as a consequence of that, I kind of have a little online community of my own, just filled with real interesting people. Come check us out.
Gabe Howard: Wil, thank you so much for this time. I really, really appreciate it.
Wil Wheaton: It’s been a real pleasure, I’ve enjoyed speaking with you very much. Please thank your wife for her question.
Gabe Howard: Absolutely.
Wil Wheaton: And I really appreciate you taking a look at my book. That means a lot to me. I hope you get out of it what I hope, what I hope I put into it.
Gabe Howard: It’s a great book and I hope all of my listeners check it out as well. It is called “Still Just a Geek.” It’s available on Amazon because everything is available on Amazon or wherever fine books are sold. All right, everybody, thank you so much for being here. My name is Gabe Howard and of course, I’m the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations.” I’m also an award-winning public speaker who may be available for your next event. My book is on Amazon, you know, just like Wil Wheaton’s
Wil Wheaton: [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: Or you can grab a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me over at gabehoward.com. Wherever you download this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show, it is absolutely free. And do me a favor, recommend the show to a friend, family member, colleague, text it, word of mouth, do whatever you can to refer the show, it is how we grow. And I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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