Talking to Paul Scheer About ‘The League’, ‘NTSF’, the Genius of Arsenio Hall, and More
Paul Scheer must be the comedic actor everyone can agree on because as of publication he’s appeared in shows on the following networks: MTV, Fox, Comedy Central, IFC, Adult Swim, NBC, FX, E!, HBO, ABC and Starz.
Sure, some of those are blink-and-you’ll-miss-him bit parts, but there are also plenty of starring roles, including his portrayal of Dr. Andre Nowzick on FX’s The League, as well as Trent Hauser on Adult Swim’s NTSF:SD:SUV, a show he also created.
Like many of today’s TV comedy regulars, Scheer got his start at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York. It’s become the norm for UCB talent to appear in each other’s projects, but no one pops up as frequently as Scheer, who’s literally at the epicenter of the crossover — a testament to both his comedic gifts and likability.
And despite all his TV and film work, Scheer finds time to host a popular podcast, write comics books, perform live regularly, and put out web videos recreating bonkers interviews from The Arsenio Hall Show.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Scheer about The League’s upcoming fifth season, the benefits of being married to a fellow comedian, and the under-appreciated genius of Arsenio Hall.
So, on The League you’re getting married. Congrats. I love the invitation video.
Yeah, very exciting!
When did you do the invitation video? Was that recent?
Yeah. The invitation video is actually part of the show, and we released it online a little bit early just to get it out there. I love the premise that basically, Andre has like, a bar-mitzvah-style wedding. Like, it’s a Top Gun-themed wedding, which was so ridiculous to do. It actually is a little bit balls out, because there are so many details that are so small that I don’t think anyone will see them. At the rehearsal dinner, it’s these two F16 airplanes, and like miniature versions of me jammed inside of them; it’s so dumb. I wanted to keep those props.
That’s hilarious. And this is going to be the first episode? Your wedding?
Yeah, it’s a special two-part episode. So we meet the final member of the league who we have not yet met. Will Forte obviously is one of the guys, and now we meet the next guy, the last guy, which is Adam Brody. He has a kind of awesome twist to his character.
What changes can we expect to see in Andre when he becomes a married man?
I think, just because the virtue of the sitcom, he’s always going to live a little bit similar to how you saw him before, but I can tell you some things coming up for Andre. We explore magic a little bit more this season — Andre gets a mancave, he makes his mancave, and it’s based very much on Neil Patrick Harris’ magic mancave that was shown on Oprah. And also, in an episode that I’m writing this year with Steve Rannazzisi, we go to Andre’s standup class. So we get to see Andre do standup.
Andre is obviously a very specific, easy-to-pick-on character. Is he based on anyone? I look at him like an advertiser’s dream in that he’s very gullible and he’s got a lot of disposable income.
That’s actually a really good way of putting it. And I feel like, for me, and not to get too “actorly” about it, but to me there’s three people in my life that I kind of pick and smush them all together to form Andre. And I don’t know anyone as awful as Andre, and awful may be too harsh of a word, but I know people who have elements of him. And part of it is an element of me too — I think he so much wants to be doing the right thing, and like, what GQ magazine says, what he sees on TV, and he’s always just falling short, he never quite makes it. So I think we all have that instinct. Pretty much everyone is good enough to hide it, and Andre just kind of wears it out on his sleeve in a big way.
Have you met a lot of Andre types throughout Los Angeles?
Yeah, well I think that Los Angeles…I think that if you divide Andre into three parts, the one part is the way he dresses. And I feel like that is something that I see in LA all the time, like, who has to prove these outfits? Just because Justin Timberlake can pull off a fedora and a vest and leather pants, no one else can do that. Kanye can wear an outfit that no one else can wear. And I feel like there are people out there, like, “I’m going to be like Justin Timberlake!” And they just put that on, and you just look like the biggest douche of all time. You go to any of these places in LA that are “hip,” and you’ll see people who are trying so hard to be that way. And just because you see it in a magazine or you see it on TV does not mean that you can do it. Only movie stars and rock stars can pull off certain looks, I think.
I’m really excited for Andre’s standup comedy class. I love how any new fad that comes out, he’s sold.
Well the cool thing about the show is, it is improvised to a certain extent, and we really get to come up with fun stuff, and that fun stuff gets to be explored a little bit more, like last year talking about how I do a podcast about magic and Don Henley, and it was just an improvised line on one take that we did. Jeff and Jackie (Shaffer), the creators and directors of the show, were like, “We like that, we want to do more with that, we want him to have this video podcast from that.” So that’s the really fun thing about the show; you can kind of write stuff on the fly as your character that gets explored. Like, last year again, another thing I just said off the cuff is, “I’m back in my standup class — I failed it the first time.” And then when it came time to write an episode for this season, I was like, “Oh, I want to do that, let’s do that, that’s what I want to see.” So that’s the most fun for me, considering I come from more of a background where I get to create my own stuff, it’s a great way to work with Jeff and Jackie, because we’re allowed to create on our feet, and if they like it, we get to explore that, so we’re not just beholden to what scripts are coming in. We can start to color our own characters and bring that stuff in. Like the Neil Patrick Harris stuff for Andre is all stuff that I’m into, like the little odd things that Andre has are things that I try to inject in there.
I know that you write and shoot in advance, but The League has the feel of a show that’s almost shot in real time, especially when it comes to the football stuff, because all of a sudden they’ll talk about a player’s injury that just happened in real life the week before. I think that’s part of the appeal.
Well, that’s something really cool. Jeff, the co-creator, who worked on Bruno and Borat and Seinfeld, he is literally a football Rain Man. And there has been times we’ve shot stuff in August for an October episode, and he’ll say, “That guy got three touchdowns,” and it happens. It’s crazy. Sometimes he’s able to pull out stuff, I don’t understand it. It’s almost like he got into that car in Back to the Future Part II and got a sports almanac. Like, he is able to get very specific things. And then the rest of the year, it’s basically all of us trying really hard to predict stuff, and then if we can’t predict it, we go in and make ourselves look awesome by ADR-ing lines in a recording studio, and we have shots that kind of obstruct our face a little bit, so you can’t really read our lips, and we can say, “Oh, so-and-so,” to try to keep it up to date. Because I think it’s fun for people who are into fantasy football and are into football. I think for the majority of our audience that doesn’t watch [football], then those references fall by the wayside. But we try really hard to keep it current. We don’t want to be a generic show.
It’s nice to go the extra mile like that.
As a matter of fact, this season is the first year that we’ve ever been on in time with the football season, which is exciting. Normally we start airing in October, so this is the first year where we premiere the week football starts. That’s the first time we’ve ever done that. I’m excited about that. It’ll feel even more topical. Now we just have to make sure people can find the network.
Yeah, I wanted to ask about that. Is there any concern about the switch to FXX?
Yeah, major. I’m sure that there are smarter people making these decisions than me, but I think it’s dumb! I think we’re on FXX, which is a network that doesn’t exist yet. It should start existing very soon. And it’s sort of hard to describe, because you’re like, “Well are all of the FX comedies going there?” And you’re like, “No. Only It’s Always Sunny, and The League, and W. Kamau Bell.” “So you have a network that is only airing an hour of programming every Wednesday night from ten to eleven?” “Yes.” It’s a little tricky. I mean, I hope that our fans follow us, and I hope that people figure out where we’re on, so that we’re not cancelled. And they’ve been doing a very good job of that. I’m sure that there’s some logical reasoning about it. I have not 100% seen it. But we’re the pioneers — we might die from dysentery, or we might discover gold.
I’m sure your fans will find you. They’re diehard, as I don’t think I need to tell you.
We have an app now, which is really smart, where there’s a website you can go to that’s like, GetFXX.com, and you can type in your zip code and they’ll tell you where it is. But everybody that I’ve talked to on Twitter is like, “Fuck you, I don’t get that! I don’t get FXX!” And I’m like, “No one does, don’t worry. It’s not out yet.” “I don’t want to pay extra money to get that channel!” You don’t have to pay extra money. I think basically, Fox is doing this new thing where they’re like, “Fox Sports Channel! And Fox Movie Channel! And FXX!” I think they’re trying to become this bigger entity.
You’re probably going to get a lot of pervs tuning in who think it’s a dirty channel.
Oh yeah, I said that a bunch. I was like, “FXX sounds like we are a dirty network.” The League will be on with full-frontal nudity.
Do you have any good League fan stories? Like, do any bros try to nut-slap you when you’re on the street?
Thank god no one has tried that yet; it’s been the biggest fear of everyone in the show. We don’t want to institute this thing where people might think it’s okay to hit us in the balls. But fans have been good — they don’t hit us in the balls, we appreciate that greatly. The funniest thing is that I get a lot of tweets, and everyone wants us to join their league, or come to their draft party, and I got this email yesterday to my website that was like, “Hello Mr. Scheer, we have an amazing performance opportunity for you in Chicago. This is a once in a lifetime thing.” It was very well written; it did not seem suspect at all. And the email address wasn’t like “joedicks@aol.” It was a real address. So I sent it over to the guy who books me on stuff and I was like, “Check into this, this might be bogus.” And it was just a dude who wanted to pay me two hundred dollars to come out to his draft party in Chicago this weekend.
[Laughs.] Two hundred dollars?
Two hundred bones, man. [Laughs.] Two hundred bones to go to Chicago, hang out with his friends at a party, which was hilarious. And there have been a lot of people wanting me to make videos for their weddings, and like, “My friend is an Andre, and I want Andre to tell my friend that he’s an Andre.” So there’s a lot of, “Why won’t you do this? Come to my house.” People really want us to come to their house. And I also feel like some of our fans start to associate us with the characters that we play. Someone will be like, “Hey man, nice outfit!” And its’ like, “You’re talking about me? Or you’re talking about a fictional character on TV that you saw?” Because they’re two different things. People have a hard time differentiating us between our characters, which I guess is normal, but it always makes me laugh.
That’s really funny. You should have told that guy from Chicago that you don’t roll out of bed for anything less than $250.
[Laughs.] You know, part of me would like to see what that would be. Because I would be at that guy’s house. First of all, it would be a tremendous disappointment. It will be a novelty for about a minute, then it’s like, “What am I doing here?” I don’t know what the Andre experience would be.
I will add an editor’s note to the article saying, “Please do not try to attempt to hit any of the cast members in the crotch.”
[Laughs.] Thank you. I almost feel like people will see it and get the idea that that’s possible.
Moving on to some other areas, I was curious based on you being married to someone else in the industry, how much non-credited writing do you and your wife do on each other’s projects?
That’s an interesting question. I think in general we really support each other a lot, so I’ll always run ideas by her, and she runs her ideas by me, and if we feel like we’re stuck on something…Yeah, we have a very good, collaborative relationship; we’re like a springboard for each other. Even though we do a podcast together and NTSF together, our careers aren’t tied together. We both have our own careers. So it’s nice to be able to have an outside perspective. She’s not directly involved in stuff. But I’ll show her NTSF scripts early on and show her rough cuts a lot of times, like, “What do you think of this?” And she’ll do the same thing for me, like when she was working on Ass Backwards. It’s pretty normal; I wouldn’t say we do so much writing as much as we’re just like another set of eyes. It’s actually a really nice relationship because I also feel like no matter what we do, we are able to separate our work from our relationship. And I think sometimes couples get in that thing where you’re working all the time with the person that you’re in a relationship with, and I don’t think that’s always the best thing.
Do you guys ever get competitive over things? Because you both work in comedy and I know you said you have different careers and everything, but sometimes…
I think the good thing about us not getting competitive is that June and I never go out for the same parts. So if I were married to like, Rob Corddry, I think it would be a very competitive relationship. [Laughs.] So I’m so happy for everything she gets. Yeah, I think we’re just so supportive of each other. I know it’s not the best answer, but I just love when she’s kicking ass and doing great stuff, and I’m so excited to watch her, and I think she feels the same way. We just want each other to feel like we’re doing the best stuff we can do, and we help each other do that. And we both know this world and how competitive it can be and how difficult it is, so it’s nice to have an ally there that understands what you’re going through.
Have you guys ever written anything together? I know she has a writing partner, but have you ever worked on a script together?
We’ve never written anything together. I think that we’re pretty cautious to stay away from that because, as I was saying before, I don’t think we like to mix our paychecks with our personal life; that’s probably the best way to say it. She can go do her thing, I do my thing, and it’s nice, because then when we’re together, we’re together. And if we were hanging out and working together, we’d be forced to talk about ideas. I do a lot of things with Rob Huebel, and we’ll hang out and we’ll have a good time, but then we also have to talk about work stuff too. When I’m with June, there’s no obligation to do any work stuff, which is a really nice way to be.
Is it important to you to set aside time from your hectic TV and other schedules to be able to get on stage and perform a lot?
Yeah, it’s the best. I feel like I said this before, but if I can’t perform at least once a week on stage, it bums me out. I love it, and it’s fun. Huebel and I write bits and we’ll perform around LA. I think sometimes when you’re working on TV and you’re working on these larger projects, it’s nice to get out in front of an audience. Like, we just did a live podcast taping at Largo and they’re always really fun to do, too. It’s fun to be in front of people and get that muscle working. I know a lot of people who used to perform a lot live and then they have busier schedules and stop performing live. I never want to be that. Some people will get too nervous to perform live again, because the pressure of performing live becomes too much. Like, I can still eat shit on stage and it’s not the end-all-be-all. So I don’t feel precious about live performing because I think I do it as much as I’ve always done it.
I want to ask a few questions about Arscheerio. As a man who has obviously studied a lot of Arsenio Hall, what can you tell us about his genius? A skeptic might say, “Wait, how is this guy coming back on air? He hasn’t been on in twenty years, he’s a has-been.” What are they missing? What does Arsenio bring that you find so infatuating?
Well first of all, I’m going to say that I’m a huge Arsenio fan. Arscheerio Paul is done definitely with love. It was a show that I watched when I was a kid all the time, like, I just thought that it was a cool talk show. Y’know, like, “My parents watch Leno, but Arsenio speaks to me!” [Laughs.] I just thought he was amazing. I remember he had Eddie Murphy on, and Eddie Murphy never did interviews, but he would do Arsenio, and I was like, “This is the coolest!” I used to have VHS tapes of the best Arsenio interviews.
But then, y’know, I grew older, I didn’t really think about Arsenio that much, which I think is healthy, and then there was this one interview that I saw on TV Carnage, which is Derrick Beckles project, and it was this interview with Gary Coleman on Arsenio Hall’s show. When people come over to my house, I’m like, “you gotta watch this,” because it’s so fucking crazy. It’s all hearing Gary Coleman talk about how he’s macking on ladies, and he couldn’t mack on ladies at a certain point because AIDS was invented, and AIDS scared people away, and it came out recently that he was a virgin just until a couple of years before his death, and this interview was done decades before that, so I was just always fascinated by that interview, and it’s always something that’s just been there in the back of my head. And there’s another one with Stephen Segal, where Stephen Segal said that the government created AIDS, and just one day I started looking at Arsenio clips, and I just kept watching them online, and each one was more crazy than the next, because I feel like it was a time before blogs were recapping late night appearances, and there was no one writing about it. You would go on a late night talk show and it would disappear. There were no re-runs, really, and you start to watch this stuff, and people would say crazy, crazy shit. Like Halle Berry said, “I came in second in a beauty pageant, but that’s okay, because the person who came in first, she’s divorced now and she’s living in a trailer.” And it’s like, whoa whoa whoa! You’re a movie star! Why are you shitting on this person like you’re happy she’s divorced? You won! Whatever battle that is, you’ve won it, hands down! [Laughs.]
Everything was like that. And I went over to the guys at JASH, and they were like, “You can do anything you want,” and I said, “I want to recreate these Arsenio interviews,” and I think this is the reason — to hit your question right on the head — the thing about Arsenio is, there are two things that are amazing about him: number one, he is the only talk show host that I feel, and whether or not it’s true, was also out with the celebrities that he was interviewing. I feel like it’s been pretty much well documented that Conan and David Letterman and Leno, they’re not out and about. They’re not at movie premieres; they’re not living the Hollywood lifestyle. Or at least that’s what I’ve read about them. But it appears to me that Arsenio was 100 percent in that mold. Like he would say, “You were at the club last night and you said blah blah blah,” and they’re like, “Oh yeah, I did say that.” And it’s like, oh wow, he’s hanging out with these people, and they’re on this show. And you notice that on Arsenio, he never has cards. Every talk show host has cards with questions and stuff like that. Arsenio never had them. So I don’t think even he knows where the interview is going. He’s just going to ask questions he finds interesting. Like, he’s going to ask Tupac Shakur, “Now, is cocaine out? Cocaine is out, right?” He’s just getting into it, and there’s no agenda, and in all the interviews that I’ve seen, nobody’s pushing a movie. He’s having these weird candid and frank conversations, like, there was a time when he had NWA on the show, and Eazy-E was wearing a hockey mask and speaking into someone else’s ear, and that person was answering for Eazy-E. It’s crazy! You would never have that now.
So I think the genius of Arsenio is, I feel like he’s the closest we have to a Johnny Carson. And this is why I’ll say it — he has a rapport, and he knows how to talk to people in a way where the interview is paramount. I mean, that’s my gut, especially watching these things. Because these interviews, they go off the rails all the time, but I think it’s because there’s no agenda, and it reminds me of watching old Carson clips. It’s just kind of this jazz-style interview, and he always manages to hook them into saying crazy stuff. So if he can do that, it will be the best talk show on TV. I don’t know if he can — we’ll see, I mean, I don’t know. He has no agenda besides what’s interesting him in that one moment. I know that’s a very long-winded answer for Arsenio.
I’m really glad I asked that question because that was probably the most thorough analysis of Arsenio anyone’s ever done.
I will say, just so you know — look up the interviews! There’s no way you will not get into a wormhole of Arsenio interviews, you just start watching and you’re like, “What?!”
They’re amazing, yeah.
My dream obviously with Arscheerio is to have Arsenio play Ike Turner, because Ike Turner was the most combative interview that he had. Basically, Ike Turner sat down and Arsenio said something about that book Tina Turner wrote that came out, What’s Love Got to Do with It, like, “So in this book, Tina said a lot of stuff, like that you were beating her — what do you say about that?” And he’s like, “The bitch didn’t like it, she should’ve left.” That’s how it started. That’s how the interview started. Like, “Yeah, I beat my wife, what about it?” Like, that’s a historical interview. That’s why I do the two versions of the interviews, because the beginning of it was like, “Let’s just do exact word-for-word recreations because they are so crazy, and then we’ll do another one which is like, more fun,” but the word-for-word ones are pretty amazing, and the people do not believe that they are exactly the same, but they are.
Yeah, that must be a fun jumping off point to do some improv and just go off the rails. Because you can’t get any weirder than his show, so the sky’s the limit. Have you ever heard from his people about it? Has he seen it or anything?
There is talk of me appearing on the Arsenio Hall show. I don’t know if this is 100 percent true, but people continue to watch these videos. We released all of them in one week, but people keep on watching them, because the same people are typing in “Arsenio,” and I think these videos are pretty popular, so they’re coming up at the same level, so people are finding them for the first time. His talk show obviously has been in the works for over a year, but it’s so funny that we’re a little bit tied together. I wish I could say it was as well thought out as that; it was not, but I’m happy to drag off of his newfound pop culture relevance.
So you shot all of them? Are you going to make any more?
You know, we shot ’em all, and we can easily shoot more. We shot them all in one day, and that was it. I mean, what I’m planning right now is that there’s not too much out there online that I haven’t seen that’s as good as what I pulled. I feel like I got the best — there are a couple that I have that I feel like if we did them again, I would do those, but we have the set, we have the wig, so who knows?
Can’t wait for your appearance. So NTSF, you’re on season three, right?
Yeah, we’re in season three right now.
Can you tell me the origins once more? It was essentially just supposed to be a spoof commercial, and then all of a sudden Adult Swim said, “Hey, you want to make this into a show?”
Well, I had pitched to Nick Weidenfeld, who was running Adult Swim development, a while ago, like, “I want to do a show that’s like 24, but it’s like this,” and he’s like, “I like that idea, but here’s the thing — live action is a little weird right now, we’re going to bring in this show Childrens Hospital,” which I of course knew and I’m friends with everybody on it, so he said, “Let me get that on the air, let’s see how it does, and based on that, let’s keep the doors open.” So in the first season of Childrens I had written an episode, and he really liked it, and he said, “Yeah, y’know what? Let’s do that.” So I was like, “Great!” And he was like, “Let’s do that whole idea — what do you want to do?” And he had this great idea of, there was this ninety-second slot, because in the first season of Childrens Hospital they were airing the webisodes back-to-back, and it wasn’t enough time to fill the entire fifteen-minute slot, so they were like, “We need ninety seconds of filler — why don’t you guys shoot a pretend trailer for this show that doesn’t exist, and we’ll do that.” So we made that pretend trailer, Adult Swim paid us for it, we cut it, and the response to it was really good. In the end, they picked up our first season without even having a pilot. We wrote a pilot script but they picked up twelve episodes, and we got a chance to make those, and that was fun, and then I think we learned a lot from that first season, and then the second season, I think we got more money, and now we’re on the third season.
It’s fun, because I think when the show originally started, it was very much a CSI/NCIS kind of parody show, and I feel like we did that well in the first season, but I felt like we couldn’t really do it again, it would feel stale. So the second season, we invested a lot more into our characters, and as you know in the second season, it’s a lot more like every character has an episode, like every episode is focused on a character. And then our third season, we just kind of continued that, and now we’re kind of breaking out of the form, like we’re just trying to do…we like the idea that this is almost a sitcom with people who are in a CSI world, like last week we did one of my favorite episodes of the season, which is the bar wars episode, where they just take over a bar, like a TGI Fridays, and we’re just trying to see how far we can push things in different directions. So we’re just trying to make it, and I think Childrens has done this before us too, just change the format, and it’s a comedy show at its root. We don’t want the audience to get sick of it, like, “Okay, here’s another bit about some forensics evidence.” I kind of feel like once we’ve done something, we try to move away and do something else. We shot another pilot this year that I’m really excited about called Filthy Sexy Teens, which is a riff on all of those Pretty Little Liars shows.
And you do most of the writing on NTSF, right?
Well, I created the show, but I cannot take all the credit at all, I mean, I’m there from day one until the last day, but we have an amazing team of people, including Nick Wiger and Alex Fernie from Funny or Die, and this season we had Erica Oyama who was on Burning Love, so they were on set all the time, and of course Jon Stern, who’s the producer of Childrens Hospital and our show and Newsreaders, and he produced the Garfunkel and Oates pilot, and pretty much everything in comedy. So we have this four or five person group, we’re kind of in the trenches together, and I feel like it was one of those things, where if a script is good and it has my name on it, it’s everybody’s. I feel like we are all in each other’s work in a very good way. I don’t have sole credit on anything.
The League airs on FXX Wednesdays at 10:30 EST. NTSF:SD:SUV airs on Adult Swim Thursdays at 12:15 EST.
Phil Davidson writes about, performs and produces comedy.