The comic actor, writer, producer and podcaster on his love of games, his oddball console choices and why he doesn't play on his phone any more
Paul Scheer is probably best known as the star of the fantasy football-themed sitcom The League on FX, but the 41-year-old comedian has a vast body of work that dates back to 1995 when he became a member of New York City's longest running Off-Broadway comedy show, Chicago City Limits. In the past 22 years he has been a member of the sketch and improv group the Upright Citizens Brigade alongside Rob Riggle, Rob Huebel, and Jack McBrayer, he worked with Aziz Ansari and Huebel to create the MTV sketch series Human Giant, and he created the Adult Swim police procedural TV show parody NTSF:SD:SUV. He's also starred in episodes of Reno 911!, Childrens Hospital, 30 Rock, Fresh off the Boat, Modern Family and many more. In 2010 he launched the How Did This Get Made? podcast with fellow comedians June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas in which they invite guests – that have included Weird Al Yankovic, Vanilla Ice, Kevin Smith and Amy Schumer – to help them deconstruct and mock truly awful movies in front of a live audience at the Largo theater in Los Angeles.
Since an early age, Scheer has been passionate about video games and the potential they hold for entertainment. We spoke with him about his unique and specific tastes in games, his enthusiasm for virtual reality, his love of the Sega Dreamcast, and why the Nintendo Switch might not be the right system for him.
What's your first memory of playing games?
I think my first memory of loving a video game system was having a Coleco and I had the Smurfs game. I thought it was the best thing, but it was the dumbest game of all time. I think you're just a Smurf running, jumping over a fence, jumping over a fence, jumping over a fence, and then you jump into Gargamel's castle. That and Pigs In Space were my first two video games.
Then I edged into Nintendo and Mike Tyson's Punch Out!! on the NES which I was playing all the time, and then I got into Sega Genesis and was all about Altered Beast. After that I was in a very sad world of always buying the wrong video game system. Like, I got a 3DO, which was terrible.
3DO was were FIFA really took off. Are you a soccer fan?
I probably did. I'm trying to look at the games they did, I'm googling right now like 'what did they even have?' I remember I always had crappy games. I'm looking right now. Oh man. I think I had Street Fighter, that was pretty cool, and some of that other stuff too like Mad Dog McCree, the old west shooting game and stuff like that. Oh man, thinking back I actually I loved that.
So after 3DO did you still have bad systems after that or did you learn your lesson?
So I went from 3DO, then I got an Atari Lynx instead of a Game Boy. I liked the Lynx because you could play California Games on it. It had a color screen, it was longer than the Game Boy obviously, and that just didn't work. I got a Sega CD. I was really into Sega – I was all about Altered Beast and Sonic but everyone was into Super NES at that point. All my friends had Super NES and I had a Genesis. Genesis was not as popular as Super NES.
Then the Dreamcast, I loved the Dreamcast. Dreamcast was my favorite. I'm always picking – not the wrong one – but the one that's a little bit off-center. Then I got the Xbox and then I pretty much stayed Xbox. I just bought a PS4 recently because I really like that Uncharted game and it and it was cheap enough that I was like this is worth $300 or whatever it was.
Tell me about the Dreamcast, because there are a lot of people that feel very similarly about that.
The one thing that really jumped out to me about the Dreamcast was that I loved the fishing game, and you could have a pole that you would go fishing with. I'm looking it up while I'm talking to you because I forget all the games I've owned...
Dreamcast fishing controller
I liked the look of it, I liked the feel of it, I liked the games. The fishing game was super fun, Sonic Adventure was great, Dead Or Alive 2, that was a game I would play all the time. Crazy Taxi is one of my all-time favorites. I loved Crazy Taxi.
So you're a busy guy, how do you fit gaming in these days?
Right now my obsession is VR. I'm all in on VR, I have a Vive, I love it. It's great. I want to get an Oculus because I played some great stuff on Oculus like Bullet Train. I think now with having two kids and stuff I have to make time in different ways. Very rarely am I sitting down now and beating a game or playing a game for hours on end any more. Right now, it's more like a little bit more of a meditation. Like I'm stressed out, let me play a video game for 15 minutes. Let me just veg out. So I'm not getting the intense gaming experience that I used to get where I would sit and play BioShock for an entire weekend, rather I'm using it as a stress relief.
The biggest thing that I want is something portable. I've travelled every now and then with my Xbox, but I want there to be – I don't understand why we're not here yet – I just want to be able to bring my Xbox to every hotel, but it's such a pain in the ass. Unhook your Xbox, get all the cords, bring it to the next location. For me I want to be able to travel a bit more effectively with it because when I'm away there's no kids and no wife, I can actually sit and play a video game and not feel guilty that I'm doing it.
Sounds like the Nintendo Switch would be perfect?
Yeah, that might do it, but it kind of feels like the games on it are going to be lame. I want to be able to play Call of Duty and stuff like that. That's my biggest thing. I like Mario Kart and all that, but they're not the games I'm like, dying to play. I would like to try a Switch, I'm not against it. I'm just not like all on board just yet.
The reason why the Vive is so good is because these they're little, short experiences. I can get in and play Space Pirate Trainer, and it's basically a 15 minute game. Accounting is hands down my favorite virtual reality game, it's fucking great. I love it. It made me laugh and I haven't laughed playing a game since I played that South Park RPG. That's one of the best games ever made in terms of actually being a comedy. I can't wait for the Rick & Morty game. So right now VR is kind of nice because it's all set up so all I have to do is turn on my computer and go.
Why aren't there more funny games? Is it a tough medium?
I do think it's a tough medium. You know, it's funny – I've been writing some comic books lately for Marvel and stuff like that and there are so many brilliant artists and creators and writers in that medium and very rarely do you find a funny book. There are some really funny writers out there in that space but they're not as well-known.
I feel like, to me at least, and please nobody write in the comments section about this, but I do feel like there's a disconnect between a creator and a game. Like, I don't think there are comedy writers writing games. I feel like that's probably the biggest difference. You have people that are writing some really great dramatic stuff or whatever, but I haven't run into too many comedians going 'oh yeah I'm working on a game for whatever company.' So that seems to be the way it goes. Only South Park, which was really written by Matt and Trey and a bunch of friends of theirs. And [Rick & Morty creator] Justin Roiland doing Accounting. You basically have to have somebody putting together a writers room for these games and really addressing it like that, but I just don't think the market sustains that. I think a lot of the games are kind of shit out, y'know? And some of them are shit out quickly when it comes to story.
So how did you end up with a Vive?
Since VR started creeping out, I've been really into it. Like Google Cardboard into it. I've tried a few different things. I went to CES and I got to try the Star Trek game which is one of the best experiences I've had in virtual reality. You're on the bridge of the Enterprise, you play with four people and you can turn and look at them and talk to them and you're on tactical mission and it's so much fun. I loved it. I talked to Justin Roiland and I know he was really into VR, so we got to chatting about it and he told me what I needed. I got to talk to the people over at Vive and I did my research, I did my homework. I bought a $2,000 computer to make sure the thing actually worked and I got it all ready to go.
Did you buy an off the shelf PC or did someone help you build one?
I customized the whole thing, Justin was really helpful with it. Basically it was one of the best things ever because I got it from Origin and so all of a sudden in my office comes this giant wood crate. It almost looked like the Ark Of The Covenant. It was amazing. You have to use multiple tools to get the crate open. Inside was this computer which I snuck into my house because I didn't want my wife June to see that I had bought a computer, because I feel like she would have gotten mad at me. I still don't think she notices that there's a computer in the room where our video game systems are.
Does June play at all?
No, June does not like video games. She's afraid of video games. I tried to get her in virtual reality and she's now finally agreed that she will do it but her whole thing is 'I can barely handle this reality, I don't need to go into another reality' and I'm trying to tell her it's not like Black Mirror, you're not going to be sucked into Lawnmower Man world. It's just a game. So I'm trying to get her to get in there and I'm trying to figure out what the best experience is because I think that's the hardest part about VR for me right now. I am adept at it to a certain degree, so it's like – how can I get people excited about it? What's the thing that's fun? I feel like Google Earth is fun for the first time. Accounting is fun but also I love Tiltbrush, that's amazing. How do you get a neophyte into it? You've got to be able to show them it's easy and it's not so complicated because all of a sudden you forget. There's a little bit of a learning curve and I feel if you get them into the wrong experience they're going to be combative about it. 'Why am I doing this? This sucks.'
Do you play anything on your phone?
I had a terrible addiction to The Simpsons: Tapped Out. I basically had to delete it off my phone. I was like fuck this, no more, but that's a really funny game as well. Obviously written by Simpsons writers, but it was just too much. I tried Super Mario Run, I'm OK with it, the one thing that I've done for myself is I felt like I was doing too much dumb stuff on my phone so what I try to do now – and it makes me feel better about myself – is I do New York Times crosswords on my phone. In my mind I'm like I can't just sit here and play Mario Run or Tapped Out, I've got to something that makes my brain work. So I've been playing Elevate, which is like a brain training game and the crossword. It's at least better time spent for me. I've come into a lot of guilt with playing games, there are other things that I should be doing so I have to temper that with doing something where I'm at least challenging myself. I never used to be able to do the crossword until about six months ago so that's been a real challenge for me.
How old are your children?
A two and a half year old and a six month old.
So they're still a little young for anything game-y?
I do look forward to the ability to be able to play games with them. That's going to be super fun.
What do you think you'll introduce them to first?
I feel like by the time they get old enough to actually play games, I'm sure virtual reality will be a million times better and there'll be 3D holograms around the room. I don't want to be one of those dads who are like 'hey, let's play Pac-Man together.' Whatever I would tell you right now will be so lame by the time that they are old enough. It will look like the equivalent to Pong or something like that. I just want to stay hip and current with whatever they're up to. And I'm just hoping we get out of the Minecraft era before my kids get into video games.
So you're not one of those dads where you feel like you have to introduce your kids to the classics in everything?
No. Look, I think that you want to introduce your kids to cool stuff but you also want to enjoy an experience with your kids. I feel like if I was to show my kids Star Wars I would show them The Force Awakens first. And then we can go backwards and we can look at stuff but I'm not going to try and bore my kids. You have so little time to connect with them and be a fun parent. I don't want to be like 'watch something from the 70s.' Even though it's good. I remember my dad introduced me to the Marx brothers and I'm eternally grateful for it but he was also watching Saturday Night Live with me and Beverly Hills Cop at the point when those things were relevant. You've got to balance it. I've got to assure them that they can trust me first before I can go backwards in time and show them something they might be a little bit more suspect of.
My kids are older and when I try and show them stuff they just get bored.
You've got pick your moments because the other thing is if you mess it up they're not going to trust you again. You've got to play on their level.