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You might know comedian, actor and writer Paul Scheer for his award-winning role on HBO’s series Veep. Or maybe you know him as Dr. Andre Nowzick in FX’s The League, about fantasy football fans.
But as I listen to the New York native’s rapid-fire take on his latest flick, , I can only think about his job co-hosting the podcast , which pays homage to bad movies that are fun to watch.
That’s because it’s easy to imagine Slice, which co-stars Chance The Rapper in his film debut, getting its own episode of HDTGM based on Scheer’s two-minute long recap of the movie plot. I haven’t seen the film yet but can’t stop laughing at the fun and weird plot that even says is the hardest movie ever to describe. (Think Tim Burton meets John Waters, he says.) The film was released on
Long story short, the comedy-horror thriller is about someone or something killing pizza delivery people in a spooky town. Here’s just a taste of how Scheer described Slice during a Live@CNET Q&A at our San Francisco headquarters last month:
“I run this pizza place and my pizza delivery boys and girls are getting killed by what we think is a ghost. But we learn that it might be something more suspect because a werewolf that also lives in this town was also framed for something similar many years ago. He worked for a Chinese food delivery place. And so the werewolf comes back to try and suss out what happened in the past.”
Slice is just one of a few new projects Scheer is working on. He’s also set to star as the father of a teen girl, in , who’s trying to make sense of her grandmother’s dying wisdom. And there’s the reboot of the 1999 sci-fi comedy he’s writing and will star in. Scheer says the Amazon series will spin the story around stars at the height of their popularity in sci-fi and action movies.
“Instead of having down-and-out actors going like, ‘Oh, we’re called to duty,’ what about A-list actors who for the first time actually have to do something?” says Scheer. “They’re on top of the world but they haven’t actually even interacted with each other. I thought it was a fun way to do a converse telling of the same story.”
Scheer also talked about being fired from a movie starring his idol Eddie Murphy, and why he carries detailed instructions on his phone so he can change the contrast and motion blur levels on the TVs when he’s vacationing. And showing what a good sport he is, — and let us shatter some of his memories.
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Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.
What did you want to be when you grew up?Scheer: I wanted to be Eddie Murphy. He seemed so dirty and he was funny and my parents wouldn’t let me watch him. And I would basically — this is going to make me sound so old, I’m not even that old. But we had a cable box and if you would just turn it a little bit, like HBO would be blurred out, but you could see Eddie Murphy perfectly doing Delirious. That’s how I’d spend my nights. Staying up late at night trying to watch blurry Delirious. Little did I know it was a standup special.
You’ve said discovering improv and the changed your life. How?Scheer: When I was in high school, I started trying to figure out what I could do. My dad and I would go into New York City and see Broadway shows. I grew up in New York. This one off-Broadway thing was Chicago City Limits. And just to see the idea of improv — “They’re making it up as they go!” — it blew my mind. I was like, “That’s what I want to do because I don’t have to memorize anything!”
So then I started taking classes in high school and I would lie and tell everyone I was in college. The thing that outed me the most was — I’m a freshman or sophomore in high school — and I’m taking these classes with people who are in their late 20s, early 30s. One person lit a joint after class, and I was like, “Oh, did you see that guy, he lit a joint!”
And they were like, “Yeah.” And I was like, “What’s going on? Is this guy on drugs?”
I was so uncool about some guy lighting a joint. I freaked out. And they’re like, “How old are you?” And I’m like, “21.” Really I’m barely 17.
I kept that charade for a while. So I was doing Chicago City Limits and we’d tour around and we’d have fun. But then when I saw . It was — and I know it’s an overused expression that I hate using — but it was punk rock or something like that. Because they were doing their shows in like the back of a bar on a Sunday night. It was a free online animal porno show and what they were saying and doing was so out of the realm of anything that I’d ever seen. We were doing puns, like every time this bell rings you’ll change your word, or play Jeopardy. The audience gives us the answer, we come up with the question. And UCB were like on one word for 40 minutes [and they’d] just improvise this amazing tableau.
It was Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts and Matt Besser. But they were often joined by Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch and Adam McKay. So the first introduction I had to this world was through some of the funniest performers of all time. And then I got to take classes with them and just kind of find my footing there.
Part of the success of your was because of its distribution on YouTube. Could that happen today, given how the culture’s changed?Scheer: I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve gotten into things before they have really taken off. I got into UCB before they became this gigantic 3,000- to 5,000-student organization. I got into podcasting before it became a thing. And you know, with Human Giant, we were just making these sketches and our whole thing was we wanted to make more cinematic sketches. And now that’s kind of been what sketch comedy has become.
When we were able to launch our stuff on YouTube and on , we were just like one of thousands instead of one of millions. I feel like it has allowed us to kind of get to the front of the line because we had higher production values and we had some recognizable faces at certain points too.
Any favorite sketches?Scheer: I was an actor on a . And I was this alien — I was like this Klingon alien. I had intense facial makeup on and I would go to set before anyone else. And then every day, everyone would leave the set and I would just be in that makeup chair getting it all off. And I was like, “You know what? This show’s going to be super successful. I need to get this grafted onto my actual skin so I don’t have to be in the makeup chair all the time.”
So I do this extensive plastic surgery to redo my entire face. I look like this crazy Klingon. And the first day back, they’re like, “The show is canceled.” And then the whole sketch is me trying to find work as a person who looks like a Klingon. It culminates with me getting this really dramatic part in a movie where they’re layering on human skin, but it’s like dripping off and it’s this terrible thing.
I saw you credited in a movie I like that could make the list of candidates for How Did This Get Made? It’s called Meet Dave, and it stars Eddie Murphy.Scheer: You like that movie. You actually like that movie?
It has some funny moments. Scheer: I’m glad you’re the news editor and not the entertainment editor.
I’m going to own that. But I looked for you in the movie and didn’t see you. Scheer: All right, I will tell you this story. I got fired. One of the most humiliating things in the world is getting fired, right? And I think it’s even more humiliating getting fired on a movie and everyone sees it.
So I get this part in a movie called . Now Meet Dave is a movie with Eddie Murphy where Eddie Murphy plays a spaceship. Literally a spaceship. And then inside Eddie Murphy are little people. Eddie Murphy is the captain of the Eddie Murphy spaceship. And they have come down to Earth to get salt.
I got this part, I auditioned for this part. And I was playing Lieutenant Buttocks. Lieutenant Buttocks worked in the butt. Little guy in the butt. And I had my line, which was, “Sir, we had a gas leak. It was silent, but not deadly.” Classic line. Great line. One of the lines that you probably loved.
So I go to set. I’m so excited. I’m going to be in an Eddie Murphy movie. Eddie Murphy, like I said, someone who I’ve idolized, I love. So I’m so excited to be there. And I get there and they bring me to set. And the set is like a big green screen and a raised platform. And the director brings me over to the platform. And I say to him “So what do I need to know?” Because it’s all green screen, you know. And he goes, “I don’t know man. It’s a ship.” And I go “Oh, oh, cool, cool.” And it’s one of my first parts, so I go, “I’m an idiot. I asked what the CGI is.”
So I get up on this platform. And again it’s a super vulnerable position. I’m by myself, alone on a thing that I can’t get off of. I’m standing there in this room, cameras right on me.
“Sir, we had a gas leak, it was silent but not deadly.” He’s like, “Cut! Ughhhh.” And it’s like, “What? Ugh? It’s one line, I’m not interacting with anyone” And he’s like, “Look at the monitor, man!” I’m like, “What monitor?” He’s goes, “You got a monitor here, you got a monitor here.” They’re not there. It’s what the CGI would be. And I’m like, “Oh, got it, got it.”
So action! “Sir, we had a gas leak. It was silent but not deadly.”
“Cut. Ughhhhh. More military.”[Deepens his voices] “Sir, we had a gas leak. It was silent but not deadly.”
“Ugh, quicker.” [Talks faster] “Sir, we had a gas leak. It was silent but not deadly.”
“More military and quick. Like you really are upset about it.”[Talks faster and with a deeper voice] “Sir we had a gas leak…”
I don’t know what to do. And then the director just like leaves. Just walks away. And I’m on this platform that’s like six feet off the ground, and I know it’s not right. I know something has gone wrong. But it’s one line. How could I mess up one line?
I’m up there and I’m waiting. No one’s talking to me. And then this guy comes over, “Uh, we need you to come down from the platform. We’re having some camera issues.”
I know it’s all bull. I know it’s not true. And they bring me back to my trailer. And it’s a small part so the trailer they give you is basically like an extended Port-a-Potty. There’s a toilet at one end and then there’s a door at the other. It always smells terrible and it’s Hollywood. So I’m standing in there and then knock, knock, knock at the door.
Door opens and it’s this producer. “Can I talk to you for a second?” I’m like, “Sure.” He walks me back but the room is so small I’m like straddling a toilet. And I’m like, “Alright, what’s up?” He’s like, “So, this is the toughest part of the job, but we’re going to have to let you go.” And I’m like, “What?”
“Yeah, the director just had some problems with your performance.” And I’m like, “Oh, OK.” And he’s like, “We’re going to need your costume back.” And he literally takes the costume off my back. I’m in the trailer and I’m like, “Here it is. Here’s my smock with the buttocks on it.” And then he leaves. I felt like my whole career was over. My first big movie and I’m fired from it, from one line.
And I’m walking out, backpack over my shoulder like a sad Incredible Hulk or something, like my life will never been the same. And this other guy comes up to me like, “Hey, hey, where you going man?”
“I was fired.”
“Ah, you weren’t fired man. You were rehired as Lieutenant Kneecaps.” I’m like, “What?” He’s like, “We’re writing your part right now. It’s going to be great. Don’t worry about it.”
“But why did I get fired?”
“Here’s the deal man. You got fired because the director’s really superstitious and he wanted to put the guy who does sound in his movie. And he realized when he saw you, that he didn’t put the guy who did sound in the movie.”
So I was replaced by the sound guy.
And then he goes, “He also thought you were way fatter then what you were.” And I was like, “What?”
“Yeah on your tape you looked fatter.” I’ve always looked roughly about like this [gesturing to his trim frame].