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This famous real-life nerd just made a secret cameo on ‘The Big Bang Theory’

Ben Bernanke and his wife, Anna, on the set of the Big Bang Theory. (Photo courtesy Ben Bernanke.)

The Big Bang Theory became one of the most popular sitcoms in America by making the awkward, antisocial world of two physicists appealing even to people (re: most of us) who can’t understand Sheldon’s white board. But the show seems to have a special resonance with real-life nerds.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has reportedly been moved to tears by the geeky roommates’ relationship woes and appeared on the show in 2010. Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has been featured in two episodes. Tesla and SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk was on this fall joking about travel to Mars.

Now, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke is the latest celebrity nerd to get a cameo on the show.

To be sure, his appearance is brief. The moment came in this season’s episode 16, “Positive Negative Reaction.” (Warning: Spoiler alert!) In it, Howard learns his wife is pregnant and is overwhelmed by the news. So he and the guys head to a tiki bar for fruity drinks with tiny umbrellas. Sheldon slurps down a few too many, then stumbles off toward the bathroom -- and along the way waves to a woman and a nondescript man with a beard. Except it’s that beard. Bernanke’s beard.

Former Fed chair Ben Bernanke and his wife had a brief cameo on CBS's "The Big Bang Theory." (Video: Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)

Bernanke was a latecomer to the series, first watching it on an airplane before binging on the initial seasons until he and his wife, Anna, were caught up. Though he's not a scientist, he has ample nerd cred: a doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, former head of Princeton University’s economics department, and leader of  the nation’s central bank during the 2008 financial crisis -- the worst since the Great Depression.

Life after the Fed has been a little more leisurely, and Bernanke said he jokingly told his agent, who handles his speaking engagements, that other nerds have appeared on The Big Bang Theory. Why not him?

“And, by George, they said they’d be delighted to have me and my wife, Anna, out there,” Bernanke said.

The season’s scripts had already been written, so the writers weren’t able to incorporate Bernanke into the plot, as they have with other celebrity nerds. Bernanke does not have any lines -- which may be best considering how jumpy global financial markets have been lately -- but he does smile widely during his seconds on screen.

Bernanke and his wife did get a dressing room, however, and were able to watch the taping of the entire episode. He chatted with  the show’s co-creator Chuck Lorre and ate pizza with the cast after the filming was over. Actor Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon, was the most familiar with Bernanke’s oeuvre.

“I’m a big news junkie. I’ve probably seen you more than you’ve seen me,” Bernanke recalled Parsons telling him. “ I said, ‘I’m not so sure about that.’”

Bernanke was required to join the Screen Actors Guild for his brief appearance on the show. For their labors, he and his wife each received a check of $69. But Bernanke said he hasn’t cashed it yet. The check has “The Big Bang Theory” written on it, and to him, that makes it worth far more than the face value.

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