Paul Scheer on ‘The Hotwives of Orlando’ and All the Other Stuff He’s Working On
Paul Scheer is crazy busy. Now that the full first season of his most recent show, The Hotwives of Orlando, is available on Hulu, Scheer is moving full steam ahead with tons of other projects, from developing a cartoon with Adult Swim to an anthology series with HBO. He’ll also be starring in season six of The League on FXX, which is set to debut this fall, and releasing a comedy special with Rob Huebel based on their live UCB show Crash Test. Scheer talks about always wanting to keep things fresh, whether through the podcast, How Did This Get Made?, which he hosts with Jason Mantzoukas and his wife June Diane Raphael, or through writing a Marvel comic book, something he did for fun earlier this year.
The creator and star of Adult Swim’s NTSF:SD:SUV and an alum of Childrens Hospital, Human Giant and Burning Love, Scheer is no stranger to parodies, but he hopes that The Hotwives of Orlando goes beyond parody with its own fully fleshed-out characters. Scheer executive produced the show and actually plays the executive producer, Matty Green, who plugs his fake Hotwives Cooldown after-show at the end of each episode.
I got to talk to Scheer about Hotwives, the future of NTSF, and his desire to always stay busy.
Hotwives of Orlando started as a live show at UCB, right? How did that first come about?
It didn’t exactly start as a live show as much as the cast were doing staged readings of actual transcripts from The Real Housewives [for a show called The Realest Real Housewives]. They were taking their favorite scenes from the actual show and doing it on stage. And then I had this idea to do a parody show of that with some of that cast. I reached out to Danielle Schneider and Dannah Phirman to write it and come up with this idea for it. Then they did, just wrote the entire thing, created all the characters and everything like that.
Was it always set in Orlando? How did you choose that?
That was actually a big discussion between us. I think I was the real proponent for Orlando because it felt like a city that was major but — no offense to the people of Orlando — it didn’t seem like it was a cultural mecca and it seemed like we could have more fun in a weird place like that. I have to be careful with my anti-Orlando stuff, I’m a fan of Orlando, I’ve been there multiple times. Actually, our first thought was, “Where would the richest people be that don’t get recognized a lot?” We thought they’d be part of the Disney World empire, they would be part of the hotel chains in Orlando, like the biggest tourist attractions. Then we slowly learned we couldn’t reference Disney, we couldn’t reference SeaWorld, we couldn’t reference anything we started from. So it started with that, but we really like Orlando.
What was it like working with Hulu? How did you decide to take it to there?
Jon Stern [was] my partner on this. We produced this together with Dannah and Danielle. Jon was a producer of Burning Love. So we did a series with them. I did [the TV special version of] Crash Test, my show that I do at UCB with Rob Huebel, with them and they were just really into getting behind these cool comedy projects. So we pitched them the idea, and they gave us a little bit of money to go out and shoot a little sizzle reel. So we shot like a four-minute sizzle reel. Then we shopped that reel around to a bunch of different places, and Hulu was the company that was most excited about it so we went with them.
You mentioned that some of the actors had done the live show, but did you have friends in mind for other specific roles? What was the casting process?
To me, getting the cast together was one of the most fun things ever. Everyone in this cast I’m a huge fan of. I think they’re some of the funniest comedians working today, and it was great to get them all together. One of the reasons we got them all together is because it was only a seven-day shoot. They’re in TV shows, they’re in movies, doing their own thing, but we got them to commit seven days, and we literally were shooting 25 pages a day. We had a long list of people that we want to be housewives and hopefully we’ll get more people in the show, but right now these are our top favorites.
So you were basically shooting an episode a day?
Yeah, exactly. The only episode that we shot relatively quickly was the reunion special, the last episode, which we shot in half a day. It was a pretty intense thing. It was done really cheaply. It was like summer camp meets a student film. That was the kind of budget we had. It was really fun because everyone was crammed into one trailer, people had to bring their own wardrobe. Everything was just happening and it was an exhausting seven days, but we got seven half-hour episodes out of it.
The main reason why all of that happened is because of Alex Fernie, who is an amazing director and also an amazing writer and performer as well at UCB. We brought him into NTSF, and we knew that he could handle the sheer amount. It’s a terrifying thing as a director to shoot 25 pages a day. I think the show looks really amazing, and he’s the one person that isn’t getting enough credit for the sheer amount of work and style he’s been able to put into that show. My hat’s off to that guy.
Wow. So unlike NTSF, Hotwives has 22 minutes episodes. How did that affect your approach? Is it more of a fun or frustrating challenge when you’re working with 15-minute shows?
15 minutes is always a trick. With the Adult Swim model, you have to just go in, hit jokes, and get out of there. And really by the time all of the commercials are put into it, it’s only 11 minutes and 12 seconds or something like that. So it’s really a challenge. We always felt like, “We can’t cut that joke” or “We can’t cut that scene,” and in the end, it was a really strong and tight episode. We did something very different with NTSF, and we always tried to build a story that had a beginning, middle, and end to it, but you couldn’t really exist in a scene for more than a page.
But with Hotwives, it’s really interesting because I think they created a fully fleshed-out show with A, B and C storylines. They weave throughout the entire season and it actually gives every character a chance to shine. A lot of people have been like, “Oh, is it a parody show?” It is and it isn’t. It’s a parody show because it’s using this thing that’s becoming big from Basketball Wives to Real Housewives. Everyone has a reality show about their lives and what they’re doing in their semi-rich lives. But what I think Dannah and Danielle have done is they kind of transcended the parody thing. In a half an hour, you have to make these characters three-dimensional and you have to have storylines that are fulfilling or there’s no reason to watch.
I think a lot of things you’ve worked on are genre parodies but at the same time they’re kind of absurdist, they’re hilarious so you almost forget they’re parodies. What attracts you to that?
Oh, thanks. That’s interesting. You know, originally it just felt like a fun way to explore something. NTSF was a chance for me to live out something I would never be cast in. I would never be cast as the main action hero in anything. So it was really fun to tackle that and take an absurd thing, like a reality show, these action procedurals, and kind of blow it out. Always the starting off point is: “What am I interested in and how can we chase that and make it our own?” I think with everything I’ve tried to do is break out of it just being a parody. With Airplane! or something like that, those movies actually work as a movie. But something like Epic Movie or Date Movie, they don’t really work because they’re just a bunch of references strung together; there’s no character. I just want to kind of exist in that world. That was the jumping off point, but then trying to ground it and treat it like it’s an actual show and not just a parody.
What are you most excited about with Hotwives?
I’m just excited about the cast I just think it’s a really fun show. I’m probably biased because I’ve seen it a million times, but the cast across the board is amazing. The six leads in the show are just awesome, but besides them there’s an amazing roster of people who show up every week, people from Weird Al Yankovic to Joey McIntyre to Stephen Tobolowsky, Matt Besser, Jerry Minor, Horatio Sanz. Every episode has someone that you recognize who is so funny. Jeff Hiller plays one of my favorite characters in the entire thing. He plays the party planner who comes back a couple of times. For me, the most exciting part is kind of over, which was just getting the chance to work with that amazing cast. They’re just really fantastic.
Now’s the part where I have to ask you about all the projects you’re working on and you probably have to just repeat the little you can say about each, so I’m sorry for that.
I will do my best to be coy about everything [Laughs].
What can you tell me about the docu-comedy you’re working on for HBO?
That one is yeah, we’re in development with HBO, and it’s not a parody of anything. It’s an original idea that has an anthology quality to it, which would mean that the cast would switch out after every year. We just handed in our first draft over there so hopefully they continue liking what we’re doing. That’s something I’m really excited about.
And you’re also developing a cartoon for Adult Swim?
Yeah, I’m doing a cartoon with Adult Swim [based on] all those action cartoons I watched when I was young, like G. I. Joe and He-Man and all that stuff, but more specifically, what are G. I. Joe and the Cobra villains doing now that there are real terrorist threats going on? They’re basically unemployed. It’s using that concept of ’80s action cartoons and what are they like now in the real world? Again, not really a parody but taking these archetype, typical characters and placing them in the modern world and fooling around with them.
Would you plan to do voice work for that then?
Yeah, 100%. We just got drawings back, and I think it would be really fun. We’re going to make a pilot of it and see if it gets picked up.
The comedy special based on your live show Crash Test with Rob Huebel shot in November, when can we expect that to be released?
Any day now, we should have an announcement about that. It took us a little bit longer to edit it than we thought it would. Now we’ve finally got it all put together. I know I keep saying I’m excited about everything, but that’s been really fun because Crash Test is a show that Rob and I have been doing for years. We got this glass bus and got to do a show that’s a mix of standup and variety stuff. That, or at least an announcement of that, will be coming out really soon.
And have you started working on season six of The League yet?
Yeah, I actually started this week. We are back for season six. I just got a bunch of the scripts and am in the middle reading them now. We’ll be back, I think, in September, and maybe I’m giving the exclusive, but I think we’re going to be at 10 o’clock this year so it’s the first time we’re leading off the hour, so that’s exciting. We won’t be at 10:30 this year.
You decided to put NTSF on hold after three seasons, do you see yourself returning to it? Could you talk a little bit about that decision?
I feel like there’s a great opportunity right now to make a bunch of shows in this cable landscape or if it’s with Hulu or whatever, there’s people out there who want to make shows. As much fun as I had on NTSF, I felt like we did those 38 episodes, it was so fulfilling and it was really a great chance to work with so many amazing people from Kate Mulgrew to Karen Gillan and Rebecca Romijn and all these people I haven’t really worked with. We went to London parodying what 24 would be in London and then 24, a couple months later, does 24 in London with some of the cast from our episode. Now the thing that we were parodying actually parodied us.
We did 38 episodes, and I just don’t want to be caught doing one thing forever. I’d rather just keep on trying to create stuff and do different things because I feel like it keeps everything fresh. We might come back to do NTSF. As a matter of fact there’s going to be an NTSF announcement in a month or two according to what I understand. So we might come back to it, but if I did NTSF this year, I wouldn’t have been able to devote as much time to Hotwives or the HBO show or even the cartoon. So it gave me a chance to get a little more well-rounded. I wrote a pilot for ABC that didn’t end up going, but it just gave me a chance to try different stuff. I wrote a comic book for Marvel, which was really fun. I’m a big proponent of “get out while people still like it,” not “get out after it starts becoming stale.”
You talk about wanting to keep things fresh. You’re nearing the 90th episode of your podcast How Did This Get Made. How do you plan on keeping that show fresh?
Oh yeah, wow. I guess it’s funny, we’ve definitely talked the three of us, June, Jason and I, about how we don’t want to do it when it feels like we’ve done it for too long. But we only do two episodes a month and it doesn’t feel like work. It’s really fun. I love podcasting. I have an idea for a new show to do that wouldn’t replace How Did This Get Made?. But I love working with my wife and I love working with Jason. It’s the lowest stakes work-wise, we just watch a bad movie and talk to fun people about it. It doesn’t feel like work and I feel like because it changes every week it feels fresh, I hope. I don’t think we’ll go on and do like 200 episodes of it. We’ll do our time and then kind of figure out the next thing. I think a lot of times we’ve talked about trying to do what they call a hostful episode where the host is sitting around talking, bullshitting, and we’re going to try to do that a little bit just to try different stuff.
Oh nice. So you’re incredibly busy with all these projects. I can’t imagine someone with a different job doing so many things at once. If you weren’t in comedy what do you think you’d be doing to satisfy that desire to do so much at once?
Oh man, that’s a good question. I feel like the one thing I learned from UCB was that they taught us really early on when you’re taking classes and doing shows, you’ve got to make your own flyer and do your own show. It’s not enough to have one improv team, you’ve got to get on another team, do a sketch show. They really empowered us to do multiple things. UCB opened my mind to I always have to be working, coming up with new things and getting behind them. All the jobs I had were a mess growing up. I worked as an accountant, and I didn’t know how to do accounting. I’m terrible at math. I got paid like $25 an hour, and I didn’t even know what to do, so much so they took away my desk at one point because I clearly had no work skills. I think I would be a lazy worker. I would be amazing at surfing the internet and procrastinating. I would be so bored by a desk job. I don’t know, no offense to people with desk jobs.
So starting out at UCB, when you were meeting people in New York or later in LA, did you ever picture working on multiple TV shows with those friends in the future? What do you think has made you and all these other comedians you’ve kind of come up with successful and able to work together so much over the years?
I feel like, again, UCB really established this mentality of teamwork. It all kind of jumps off of that idea of “yes and,” which is an improv tenant. Whatever your partner says, you say yes and add to it. I feel like we’ve been working together forever, since before 2000 we’ve all been working together: Rob Riggle, me and Huebel and everybody. We’ve all been around each other, and we’ve all done each other’s stuff. The only difference is that now people get paid to do stuff.
Like I got to sit in on Kroll Show and help pitch ideas in the writers’ room just because I was like, “I want to go hang out there, it’s an amazing writer’s room and I want to do that.” People came over to NTSF and Human Giant. I want to cast the best people I can and, a lot of times, I’m the biggest fans of people that are my friends. Similarly with Hotwives, 90% of the time we do anything we’re never casting. We’re just saying, “Who do we want to work with? I know this person would kill it.” When we do audition, it’s for a very older person or a young child. I don’t have my fingers in those two pots. We know what everyone else can do. It’s the most fun. It makes it almost like we graduated UCB and now we’re doing it professionally, so it’s really fun.
Looking to the future, what’s the dream goal for you? Or have you already achieved it with your own TV series?
I just want to continue to do good stuff and not get caught in the trap of doing the same thing over and over again. I don’t want to be one of those people. I feel like you see a lot of comedians or people who have been in comedy and were really successful at one point but then they stop seeing what’s out there and interacting in comedy. That would be my biggest fear. I don’t want to become like that. I hopefully will stay as relevant and keep creating with the people I love working with and just doing a lot of different stuff, whether it’s something that’s very unexpected and very different. I try to do all these formats just to challenge it, like writing that comic book or doing an animated show, or now I’m doing a lot more producing stuff. It’s all about keeping myself as well-rounded as I can and continuing to work with great people.
The full seven-episode first season of The Hotwives of Orlando is now available on Hulu.
Emma Soren is a writer from Chicago living in Philadelphia.