The Paul Scheer Interview

Hey: My friend Amy Krouse Rosenthal made something and you should see it.

Today I chat with a fellow who should be familiar to you if you watch "Best Week the dark overlord of pagesEver" or "30 Rock," where he serves as a commentator and plays , respectively. He's also a costar on MTV's "Human Giant", will be appearing in the upcoming Harold Ramis film "Year One" and appears in the Upright Citizens Brigade show MYSPACE, which takes audience member's MySpace profiles and interprets them onstage.

With your My Space show, which types of profiles tend to lend themselves to the best performances?

Myspace is unique for an improv show because it's made of 2 parts, the first part being the interview and the second being the improv portion of the show and if the interview goes wrong, it's often a precursor of a less than stellar improv set, simply because the first part directly informs the second. So it's really important to pick the right interviewee. The people who are normally the best are the ones that don't edit themselves and aren't self concious who they are and what they do. The minute they start holding back information, the audience can tell and they immediately turn against them. You can really feel the mood of the room shift when those people are on stage. Hence the creation of the "No Douchebag" rule. Every show we tell the audience, "If you are a 'douchebag' we don't want you up here." Now that doesn't mean that if you listen to Dave Matthews and play hackey sack, you can't come up, that type of douchebag we love, we just don't want people who are too cool and don't share information. You'd be surprised, the a-holes in the audience totally respect that decree, unless they are too drunk, then they have no problem bounding up on stage.

Personally, I always love when someone is telling a story that is completely insane and they don't realize how bizarre or candid it actually is. We've had rehab patients admit to having affairs with their counselors, a high school girl tell a story about how her dad hooked up with her best friend and even more recently we had a pornstar who went into detail about her latest work. Those stories are best because they give us the most information and it also makes both parts of the show fun to watch.

Do comedians see the use of MySpace and Facebook differently or are they both just ways for fans to get in touch?
Personally, I only use these social networking sites to lure underage teens to my house so we can play naked Jenga. So clearly I use mine soley for leisure. Right now, my preference is Facebook even though I still don't understand the concept of "poking", it's so anti-climatic. Tim just poked you. Paul just poked you back. THAT'S IT! Just send a message or SUPERPOKE, I always respond better when someone throws a cow at me.

You've appeared on some of my favorite TV shows: what (on-air) shows do you most enjoy watching?
On air, I love 30 Rock, The Office, Tim and Eric's Awesome Show, Fat Guy Stuck in Internet, and The Mighty Boosh. They all are really funny and each one of them does something wholly unique than what has come before them. On the drama side I'm addicted to Lost, Mad Men, Battlestar Galactica, The Wire, 24 and America's Top Chef. Also if you've never seen Yo Gabba Gabba go download an episode immediately: it will blow your mind!

Are there any particular shows, past or present, that you wish you had been able to perform on?

Hands down, The Muppet Show, but only as a Muppet. As a kid I would have died to be on Silver Spoons! C'mon--I totally would have loved to ride that train, play all those video games and get into slap fights with the late great John Houseman. Currently though, I'd have to say any Joss Whedon show. I think he's awesome.

What does it take to be a good improv teacher?

I think the best part of learning improv is that each teacher's personality totally seeps into what they are teaching. I was really lucky to learn from the original Upright Citizens Brigade four (Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, and Ian Roberts) and each of them were amazing but totally different. There personalities as performers came through as teachers and each one of the imparted something totally unique and different to me. I guess the one thing they all shared was they loved improvising and wanted you to do the best work you could do but they got you there in very different ways. Hopefully when I taught I was an amalgam of those 4 and myself.

When it comes to teaching improv, what does one do with a student like Michael Scott from "the Office," ie a stage hog with bad instincts?
I actually auditioned for that role of the improv teacher in that episode. That was such a funny scene. Normally the people that upset the entire class have no idea that they are doing it, so there never a reason to "reprimand" them, instead, I always would have them answer for their moves and hopefully they'd learn that the choices they were making, might be disruptive and definitely didn't follow the "game" of the scene. But when it got really bad, you'd have to take them aside and talk to them which was always weird, because I was always younger than the people I was talking to, which sometimes wasn't the best situation it was like a student calling the principal into his office. But it made me sympathize with Doogie Howser M.D.

You collaborate with Aziz Ansari, Rob Huebel and Jason Woliner. What about you as a team makes you work well together? Are there any personality traits (either as a comic or just as a worker or person) that are pretty much deal-breakers for you when it comes to collaborators?
Human Giant works really well because we all have different instincts but similar sensibilities. It's a weird mesh, but it works great for us. We work from a place of total respect for each other. To me the people I hate working with are lazy people or people who don't know how to share ideas. Human Giant was a great place to work because we'd always be tossing each other lines and jumping onto each others concepts, there is no sense of ownership in that group, its all about the show. Also I love collaborators who have 2 jet skis. Nothing is better than a jet ski break.

You mentioned that you and your "Human Giant" colleagues made sure to include a lot of extras on your DVD because you're "DVD freaks." What are some DVDs you've seen that went above and beyond with the extras?
The new Blade Runner HD-DVD is insane, it's like 5 DVDS. They basically give you all the footage and then it's up to you to hire a film editor and you can edit it anyway you want. It's intense but the payoff is totally worth it. I also love all the stuff on the Apatow and McKay produced/directed movies--they just load it up with a bunch of great extras. To me the best DVDs are always ones where the features are worth watching, not just lame stuff like "The Anatomy of Building a Court Room Set: A Discussion with the Construction Crew of a Time to Kill" I don't even know why I'm ragging on "A Time to Kill."

A read an interview with you from a few years ago that mentioned an HBO sitcom you were working on: what is it about, and what's its status?
Yeah it's an idea that I really like but I can't get really into specifics, except for the fact it includes people and some of them are nice and others are weird. I am actually working on a slight revamp of it as we speak. I procrastinating right now.

I've also read that you were a big SNL fan growing up: which were some of your favorite eras on the show?
I love SNL, it's the ultimate comedy institution. No one has ever done what they have done consistently for the last 3 decades. They produce 1 and 1/2 hours a week of new comedy--it's mind blowing. Obviously I love original cast, I watched that every night on Nick at Night when I was a kid. Then I guess the Phil Hartman, Sandler, Farley, Carvey era was huge for me as well as the non Lorne produced years with Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest. But actually I'm enjoying the last few seasons of SNL the most.They have an amazing cast right now.

How did you get the part of Donny the head page on "30 Rock"?
Tina asked me to come in and meet with the producers and read for the part. I literally got the script minutes before I went over and I was so nervous, I didn't want to blow it. But I think it really helped that Jack McBrayer and I have a history of performing together. I'm so excited whenever I get the call to go back, it's one of the best shows on TV, the writers are amazing and the cast is brilliant!

How does the taping of the correspondents on "Best Week Ever" come about? Do you have to present your jokes ahead of time and they're filmed or do you get a little more leeway and do some improvising?
Basically every week you get a 15 page document with all the topics they are going to cover that week, you can review it and write jokes or you can come in an improvise with the producer and writers in the room. The perfect mix for me is a little bit of both.

Who on the show makes you laugh the most?

I actually love the entire cast. I'd say that the one secret of that show is that everyone is 10x funnier than they are in the show, so if you like someone on the show you'll love them live or in something they are totally in control of creatively.

Every interview I've read mentions how young you were when you started at Chicago City Limits. What have you learned since you started, and have you enjoyed maturing onstage or do you miss your wunderkind status at all?
Man, I learned so much since I started, it would be impossible to even begin to explain it. CCL was a short form improv place and UCB was long form, so even from moving over to a different arena I've learned so much. Then working and watching all these amazing performers, you always feel challenged by this community to do better. So in a way, I'm glad to have grown up with an amazing group of people, so I wouldn't change it. I guess the one rule that seems the most true is that always work with people you think are better than you and that way you'll never stop learning.

I see you have a little simian friend on your website. Do you have any tips on how to stage an effective photo op with a monkey?

First get your own show. Then meet a monkey. Then write a sketch based on that monkey and have your friend take photos.

I read a cute anecdote you told in a Gothamist interview about getting Harrison Ford's autograph. Who are some people you've worked who've made you starstruck?
This might sound totally lame, but I feel like I'm starstruck everyday. I get to work with some many great and talented people all the time, so. One of my top people has been Harold Ramis, that guy is amazing, totally cool and fun and he's got the best stories ever.

What's something (or a few things) that the entire world seems to find hilarious that you don't?
I guess I haven't gotten the whole EPIC MOVIE, DISASTER MOVIE thing. Who sees these movies? It's not even good parody, it just relies on people looking like the people in the movies that just came out a few weeks earlier. BOO! (However Meet the Spartans--that was great. It was like the Coen Brothers on acid)

How does it feel to be the 218th person interviewed for

I really wanted to be the 1,000th because I heard you were giving away a replica of the Back to the Future Delorean for that one. Damn.