Every year, from the time he was in kindergarten up through high school, Paul Scheer's family took a weeklong trip to Disney World.
"I grew up in this environment where I did not understand that a vacation could be taken any other place than Orlando," the actor/comedian/writer remembers, laughing at the incredible consistency in his family's travel itinerary. "My parents would go to Orlando every single year, and not just Orlando — we stayed on property in Disney World. I never really asked why."
Scheer discussed his love for the Disney Parks — and theme parks altogether — with Jordan Zakarin and Emily Gaudette, the hosts of SYFY WIRE's podcast The Fandom Files. During the conversation, Scheer traces his lifelong obsession to his parents' stable, low-maintenance travel preferences.
The 41-year-old, who grew up on Long Island, lovingly calls his parents "simple people with simple desires," and when he begins to parse through the reasons they went to Disney World every year, he finds a pretty solid logic to the repeat visits: "Why travel to France when we could go to Epcot?" Plus, he was a kid, which inevitably meant that he loved Disney World, so there was no real reason to question the annual visit anyway.
"Disney was like this amazing, very much a magical place that you could just do whatever you wanted," he remembers. "I didn't ask myself these tough questions. I was basically like, 'Ooh, cool, I like that ride. Space Mountain, great. I'm in.'"
It wasn't until Scheer went to NYU and was confronted by other potential vacation destinations that the hard questions began. "I had a girlfriend in college be like, 'Why would we go to Orlando?' And I was like, 'Wait, well, where is the theme park in Hawaii? There's no theme park. I don't understand.'"
As you might guess, it didn't work out with that girlfriend. To be clear, Scheer has traveled all over the world in the years since — the guy's a TV and movie star, which makes travel a prerequisite — but he's still got more than a major soft spot for Disney Parks, and theme parks altogether. "Maybe a lesser person would hate it, but now I love it," Scheer says. "I love Disney, and I'm now living in California, so I'm even closer to it. So I can go to Disneyland out here. So yeah, I'm all in."
Scheer is constantly working, with TV shows (he co-created the sketch comedy group Human Giant and the Adult Swim parody NTSF: SD: SVU, and co-starred in The League), movies (he co-stars in the Golden Globe-nominated The Disaster Artist), and podcasts (he's a co-host of How Did This Get Made?). Theme parks have played a role in his career as well — one of the first scripts he ever wrote after moving out to Hollywood was a pilot called EnchantedKingdom.
The script focused on employees of a Disney World-type theme park and was fueled by his fascination with what goes on behind the scenes, where the joyful facade often cracks outside the public eye.
"One of my favorite stories was from a friend who was a grand marshal in one of the Disney parades," Scheer says. "He told me, 'Everything looks amazing. And the minute you go past this door, the door that separates you from the crowd, people are taking off their big Winnie-the-Pooh heads, and they're just puking, or they're just like, 'motherf***er!' or whatever. The illusion is so immediately dropped."
Disneyland is in many ways a series of projections, meant to envelop a visitor in fantasy and nostalgia … not that that's a bad thing. It's part of the fun, really — losing yourself in somewhere magical, whether it's a fictional land or a place located deep in your own memories. For Scheer, visiting Disneyland — he and wife June Diane Raphael are season pass holders now — often brings back memories of those endless childhood trips.
But he's also not a total purist like some Disney fans, who are often aggrieved that a giant corporation would modernize and upgrade a multibillion-dollar facility and incidentally rearrange the site of an old memory.
"I think if you can expand without taking down, it's great. Disneyland has become something that I really love more than Disney World because there's a lot of artifacts of the 1960s Disneyland, especially in the Main Street area," he says. "I don't mind they're adding Star Wars, because they're not taking something down. What really bummed me out at Disney World was, I used to love the magic shop on Main Street, but then they replaced it; the exterior is still a magic shop but the interior is like, selling sweatshirts or something. So if there's a balance between the two, I think that's the best way to hit it. Don't replace the interesting things for the mass-produced things."
There are a few other things he misses at Disney World, including Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, which he astutely describes as "the only ride in Disney where you end up in Hell, which is amazing."
Scheer tracks all the changes at the Disney Parks by following a variety of fan blogs and podcasts, and uses apps to measure out the best time to visit and ride certain attractions. It’s sort of remarkable, considering how much he works, but bringing his three-and-a-half-year-old son to Disneyland, and helping him create his own favorite memories, is a nice incentive.
"He loves Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and he loves the Winnie-the-Pooh ride, and the first roller coaster he ever went on was like the Go Go Gadget roller coaster, and he loves that," Scheer says, almost audibly smiling through the phone. "I think one of the things that's really fun for him, and one of the fun things for me, too, is I get to experience a part of the park that I would never really spend time: Toontown. We go to Toontown, and he's in Donald Duck's boat and Goofy's house. And it's just fun to see him run around."
It’s not only Disney that ignites Scheer’s imagination. He gushes about the immersive quality of Universal Studios' Wizarding World of Harry Potter — he read all the books and saw each of the seven movies, so he has no problem picking up on the little easter eggs embedded throughout the park (which is operated by SYFY's parent company). "I would kill to be an 8-year-old who loves Harry Potter and then can go here and see everything executed in this way, like you're living in a movie," he marvels. "It's amazing."
As Scheer points out, it requires two separate park admission tickets to see all of the Wizarding World in Orlando — "a real questionable move," as he puts it. And that points to an important distinction about his enjoyment of theme parks: He's not unrealistic about their shortcomings, either.
Take Space Mountain, for instance. While it's a beloved ride to many, Scheer doesn't quite view it on the same level.
"Space Mountain is nothing.There's not even a semblance of what a story could be, it's just the roller coaster in the dark,” he says, laughing. "Are you just space pilots, but they're not firing at anything either? That's like the laziest Disney ride, conceptually. Like, it was like, 'We got nothing, we got nothing. We got Mario Lopez giving you a little intro, but that's that.' You got not much, you got not much."
Of course, those are minor quibbles. As Scheer himself says, he's "all in" on theme parks. And if you're in Disneyland the day after Christmas, you might just see him there … along with half of Southern California.