Creating a comedic character can be a tricky process. To a certain extent, every successful standup comic has a comedic persona. Listeners of the Todd Barry podcast may be surprised to find that instead of the glib, sarcastic comic they love will discover a warm and genial host. Likewise, comedians who have an open and friendly demeanor onstage can be complete dicks once the spotlight is turned off. Part of finding that “voice” as a performer is figuring out how best to present the thoughts and subjects one wants to talk about.
However, there are times that persona or character can bite you on the ass. Steve Martin created one of the most indelible comedic characters in history, so much so that “his” popularity compelled Martin to retire as a standup at the very height of his success. Andrew “Dice” Clay has made attempts to recalibrate his persona to become more mainstream, while also remaining the vulgar wordsmith his loyal fan base has come to expect.
Which brings us to Pauly Shore. The progeny of Mitzi Shore, owner of the legendary Comedy Store, and Sammy Shore, a comic from the old guard who opened for acts like Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley (also, can we take a moment to acknowledge how weird it was back in the day to have comics open up for musical acts?), Pauly Shore was born steeped in comedy history. One foot in the world of the explosive vanguard of the comedic experimentation that defined The Comedy Store in the 1970s and 1980s and one foot in the old school cabaret type comedy that defined the 1950s and 1960s.
In many ways, Pauly Shore’s early act reflected this dichotomy of thought. His character was broad enough that he could fit in well with comics from his father’s generation of comedians, yet weird and fresh enough that he captured the attention of kids growing up in the 1990s.
Mentored under none other than Sam Kinison, Shore created a character that was captured what it meant to be white privileged stoner in late 1980s Los Angeles. “The Weasel” faced life on his own terms, even speaking in nonsensical slang terms that mystified adults, but allowed kids to feel they were apart of something their parents just didn’t understand. It is no wonder that MTV snapped Shore up and for five years he hosted Totally Pauly, which found him doing man on the street interviews and introducing music videos.
Hard to believe today, but 1990s kids ate this up. Shore was a silly, perpetually horny, and anti-authoritarian, but in a way that was non-threatening, kind of like an oversexed Archie comics character come to life. However, Shore became a breakout star on MTV and was soon catapulted into the film business, proving to be an unlikely film star in 1992’s Encino Man. To this day, hardly anyone in their mid thirties can walk by a slushie machine without the phrase “Weezing the juice” popping into their heads.
After Encino Man, Pauly Shore was poised to be the big breakout comedy star of the 1990s. His MTV show continued to be a juggernaut and he starred in films continually throughout most of the 1990s, though to diminishing returns. 1993’s Son in Law was a well reviewed and proved that Shore could carry a film on his own, however his follow ups, In the Army Now, Jury Duty, and the notorious Bio-Dome eventually sunk his acting career.
This is why a comedic character can become an albatross. As Shore crept into his thirties, audiences were less inclined to pay money to watch an irresponsible stoner who spoke in quasi surfer lingo do stupid things. In fact this audience who spent their adolescences watching Shore act like a fool while introducing Warrant videos were getting older themselves. They were in college now, listening to indie bands and reading Camus. Shore’s audience had grown up. The next generations of MTV viewers, brought up on grunge and gangsta rap, were left cold by “The Weasel”.
Show business is a notoriously fickle beast. 18 years ago, Pauly Shore was one of the biggest names in comedy and today he is relegated to “where are they now?” status. However, Shore has shown that he has a sense of humor about his place in the show business hierarchy. In 2003, he released a low-budget film called, Pauly Shore is Dead. The plot of the film is simple enough; after being shut out of the movie business, Shore fakes his own death in order to gain back his popularity. Packed with cameos from celebrities like Sean Penn, Ellen Degeneres, and Tom Sizemore, Shore lampoons his image as well as addresses what it is like to go from Hollywood “it” boy to nobody.
While the movie did little to rehabilitate Shore’s image, it proves that Shore is willing to take chances in his career and work on his own projects outside of the studio system. He similarly wrote and produced a mockumentary called Adopted in which he satirizes the celebrity adoptions of African children (although, it must be said that movie is not reviewed on Rotten Tomatoes).
In 2012, he starred in a comedy special taking aim at the Presidential election, of all things, in the Showtime special, Pauly-tics. A mix of standup comedy and interviews with the likes of Michael Steele, Herman Cain, and Larry King, we see a different side of Pauly Shore. While he may not be an astute political commentator, Shore drops much of his “Weasel” act in favor of a Bro-centric look at the political world.
Pauly Shore continues to be an appealing and likeable performer, even when he doesn't quite hit the mark. However, it's admirable that Shore continues to explore and experiment as a comedian. He may never capture the zeitgeist the way he did in his youth, but he's a great reminder to any young comedian that your career isn’t over when you stop getting calls, it's over when you stop pushing yourself creatively. Whether you like what Pauly Shore does or not, it is hard to deny that he is constantly doing just that.