Paul Scheer says his new movie, Slice, is the hardest to describe
The comedian talks about his new flick with Chance The Rapper, the reboot of Galaxy Quest and why he recalibrates TV screens every time he travels.
Connie GuglielmoSeptember 10, 2018 5:00 AM PDT
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, Slice, I can only think about his job co-hosting the podcast How Did This Get Made?, 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, 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 -- it's being released this week -- but can't stop laughing at the fun and weird plot that even Scheer says is the hardest movie ever to describe. (Think Tim Burton meets John Waters, he says.)
Long story short, the comedy-horror thriller is about someone or something killing pizza delivery people. 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 Summer '03, who's trying to make sense of her grandmother's dying wisdom. And there's the reboot of the 1999 sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest 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 when vacationing.
Now playing: Slice is 'ridiculously hard' to describe
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 Upright Citizens Brigade 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 Upright Citizens Brigade. 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 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.
Slice, featuring Scheer and Chance The Rapper, "is so weird I don't think you've seen anything like it," says Scheer. The movie is being released this week.
Chance The Rapper
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 Human Giant comedy sketch series 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 Funny or Die, 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 show that was like Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek. 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 Meet Dave. 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.
Both of my movies defy literal logical definitions.
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? Ughh? 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?"
"Whenever I go on a vacation to an Airbnb, I have to reset the televisions in there because they're not calibrated correctly," says Scheer. "It's nerdiest thing I do."
"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].
So then I'm Lieutenant Kneecaps. Now I'm in a giant shoe that's going back to Eddie Murphy's home planet. I have a giant hotdog on my leg. And then at one point I'm supposed to turn the hotdog away and say, "Sure beats protein squares." And I'm like, "Well, at least that will be in the movie." A week goes by, I get a phone call. My friend, he's on set. He's like, "Hey man, are you here for the reshoots?"
"We're reshooting that last scene." I was not called. And so I am not in the movie. And that's it.
You've done an ongoing sketch about Facebook, where you read people's Facebook profiles. Tell us about that.
Scheer: I've been improvising with this same group for a long time. It's people like Rob Riggle and Rob Huebel. What we do is we take people from the audience and we look at their Facebook profiles on stage and then we improvise scenes based on that, which is amazing because you're onstage with somebody and then their, kind of, entire soul is laid bare.
People would admit crazy stuff. We met a guy who fell in love with one of his patients at a drug rehab hospital and would write her weekend furloughs for her parents, but he was just taking her back to his house, which is very unethical. Like, "Who's that?" "Oh that's my patient, but we actually dated." "Wait what?"
And then we would get into these stories.
Because Facebook, you post these pictures and then when you're forced to kind of recount the story of it, it becomes insane. "Oh that's a picture of me right before I went to prison." "Wait, hold on, why? Why did you go to prison?"
So we've met all these crazy people. We've met preachers and porn stars and people who like horses. We've met a whole gamut of people. My favorite one was this woman from New York City, she worked at Tavern on the Green. She found a bag with $20,000 inside of it when she was on her lunch break. Took the bag, went into Tavern on the Green, quit her job. And then spent the next month not working and just taking cabs everywhere. And spent $20,000 in one month on cabs. So I thought that was just insane -- like, "I got $20,000, I'm cabbing it!" And just for a month. It was real short-sighted. Like quitting your job. She didn't win the lotto. But I love that idea -- "I'm out." We get great stories like that.
Any chance you might rethink that? Facebook's been in a little bit of hot water.
Scheer: The show used to be MySpace, and we transitioned to Facebook. And part of the show, which has been really fun, is not only do we improvise, but we also help sway elections, so it's a twofold purpose.
Let's talk about your podcast How Did This Get Made? I love that it's about movies that people hate or don't see any cinematic value in but you still can't stop watching for a number of reasons. You've said it's not about awful movies. What's your philosophy?
Scheer: I think for us, How Did This Get Made? is a bad movie podcast. That would be the best way to explain it. We watch movies that you ask the question "How did this get made?" Who finances it, who thought this was a good idea? And we talk about those movies because we love movies.
We've all been caught in those situations where you get so excited go see something and you're like, "Whoa, what's going on in this movie?" And I remember the whole reason the podcast started is we saw Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, which was a sequel no one was asking for. That had really weird mixed messages about what the moral was because Gordon Gekko is good now -- but whatever. So I was sitting down talking to Jason [Mantzoukas} about it and I was with June [his wife, June Diane Raphael], we both had seen it. We started joking about this movie, about how bad it was and that could be a fun podcast.
I'm getting to see some of the best of the worst of cinema.
We're writers, we're producers, we're actors, we're directors. So we get it. We get that it's hard to do it. But we also love these movies. We don't go, "Oh, I would have been so much better, what were they thinking?" I guess we do do that. But it's with love, you know? We don't want to be dicks about it. We really enjoy a lot of the movies that we watch. We just watched this movie [Never Too Young to Die] with John Stamos, Gene Simmons and Vanity, where John Stamos plays James Bond's son and Gene Simmons is the villain It's amazing. We watched Pavarotti in his first romantic comedy.
I'm getting to see some of the best of the worst of cinema.
We don't analyze it much because all we try to do is say, "What would be fun to watch?" And we hopefully give you something that's enjoyable to watch and not like you want to scoop out your eyeballs like that M. Night Shyamalan movie, The Last Airbender.
There should be something in it that is more. It's not like it's bad, it has to be like, "Whoa, did you see that part where they were all on roller skates and they went to heaven?"
Is there a bad movie you love to watch over and over again?
Scheer: I will say that John Stamos one is now coming up high on the list. The movie I recommend to everybody -- obviously everybody knows The Room. I did The Disaster Artist that was based on The Room. The Room is amazing.
But no offense to The Room, I think I found a movie that tops it. It's a movie called Miami Connection. It was made by a kung fu teacher in Orlando, who was like, "I have a dream. I want to make this movie." He financed it. He didn't know how to write. He didn't know how to direct. But he made this movie. It came out for one weekend, just like The Room and then disappeared forever.
Someone found an old reel of it on eBay. They gave it to the Alamo Drafthouse and the Alamo Drafthouse has brought it back to life. This movie is amazing. It has ninjas that are in a band that are stopping the cocaine traffic in Miami -- I'm sorry -- in Orlando, even though the movie's called Miami Connection. All these ninjas live in a house and one of these ninjas is trying to find his dad. That's a great story line. I can't describe it more than that. The music is awesome and the acting is great in every way you'd expect it to be. So it's a quality movie.
<span><img src="https://cnet4.cbsistatic.com/img/LxLXm3rxi3TcK-2gnRhbQi5_dTE=/570x0/2018/09/10/c829526a-16c1-4cae-af83-72c595f4d8ef/hdtgm.jpg" class="" alt="hdtgm" height="0" width="570"></span>
Scheer co-hosts his podcast with his wife, June Diane Raphael, and comedian Jason Mantzoukas. "It has to be like, "Whoa, did you see that part where they were all on roller skates and they went to heaven?"
You're about to star in two movies, including Slice with Chance The Rapper.
Scheer: Chance The Rapper, in a movie that is the hardest movie to describe of all time.
Go for it.
Scheer: I'll try to explain it to you. It takes place in a city like yours where there are two parts of town. There is the regular part of town, like you all see, and then there's a part of town where they let ghosts live. So there was an accident that happened where a lot of people died in this town back in the '40s and the ghosts live in that side of town -- people live there too, but primarily ghosts. This is a lot of backstory to tell you what the plot of the movie is. There has been, like, an agreement. Ghosts can't kill or interact in negative ways with living people. But if a ghost came into your store, they can buy something. Weird.
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.
So far it's a simple movie. It's pretty easy. [Laughs.] All I'll say is it's so inventive and fun. It's directed by this guy Austin Vesely, who directed a lot of Chance's music videos. It feels to me like Tim Burton meets John Waters. It's '80s infused. Chance is a werewolf in it. Zazie Beetz from [the TV series] Atlanta is in it. Chris Parnell is in it. I'm in it.
It's so weird and I don't think think you've seen anything like it. Oh, Joe Keery from Stranger Things too. It's fun. It's weird and I can't describe it and every time I try I fall into this trap of like, "Well, but then the ghost, and there's a corrupt mayor, and the mayor in it and the witches" -- there are witches. There's a lot going on. It makes sense when you're watching it. You're not confused when you're watching it. I don't think. I hope.
Tell us about the other movie, Summer '03.
Scheer: Summer '03 is a little bit more straight down the middle. Summer '03 is written and directed by this amazing new filmmaker. Her name is Becca Gleason. It stars Joey King, who is in this movie The Kissing Booth, which is apparently the most-watched movie of all time on Netflix.
It's about a young girl, whose grandmother is dying, and on her deathbed the grandmother says, "I'm going to teach you one thing. The most important lesson that you need to know in life is how to give a proper blow job." And then she dies.
It sounds like the plot of a real ill-conceived porno. It's not. It's really well done and it actually happened to our director when her grandmother died. That's what her grandmother told her. Her grandmother like literally sabotaged every member of the family. The opening scene of the movie is the grandma bringing in each member of the family . We all get told something very destructive to the way that we live our lives. So hers is, in many ways, the nicest. A priest is involved. An old Nazi is involved. You'll hear all about it.
It's crazy. It's an interesting movie.
Both of my movies defy literal logical definitions. I wish I could be like, it's about some crazy people who find a time machine. Or, we played nerf guns for the last 20 years and this is the big match. But they're both really good and I feel like this is a very autobiographical tale -- not for me but for the director.
2018 sci-fi, fantasy and geek movies to get excited about
The next project you're working on is a reboot of one of my personal sci-fi favorites, Galaxy Quest, for Amazon. Explain to us what you're going for.
Scheer: It's like this. The original Galaxy Quest is at a time -- I used to go to sci-fi conventions with my dad and it was so much fun. And the guy who played Scotty on the original Star Trek once gave me a sip of his beer, which now that I think back on it is unsanitary and illegal. But there was a point of access there that you don't have now. Now there's lines of security. There's limos, there's cars. And I just think sci-fi was a niche. Here's a show with these failed actors that were popular at one point, like the cast of Star Trek. At a certain point -- William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly -- these people weren't working and they weren't popping up in movies.
But now we're on the other side of that, which is like Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana. They are A-list movie stars. So I thought wouldn't it be fun if Galaxy Quest -- my version of it -- starts with a JJ Abrams-esque character, who I would be playing, introducing the reboot of Galaxy Quest. So 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? Cause they're kind of so insulated in their success and their popularity that 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.
I want to treat it similarly to the way I think Stars Wars: The Force Awakens kind of led the way. Or even Blade Runner. Blade Runner's probably a better example. It plays off what we know about the first movie, continues that story, but then it also tells a brand-new story with new characters.
Look, if you're tackling anything that's a reboot or a remake, you're doomed. I mean ultimately you're going to get eaten alive on some level. But I feel like, I love this franchise so much and I want to have fun with it. I just want to make a fun, comedic sci-fi that I think can parody and be meta about current modern day sci-fi without it just having to be about making a sequel that really doesn't need a sequel. Galaxy Quest is a pretty perfect movie that ends up really nicely. So how can we continue that story so it's fulfilling and not just a retread.
How big a tech person are you?
Scheer: I often find myself at the wrong side of technology when there's two things that come out. Like I'm all about HD-DVD. Then Blu-ray took off. That's my thing. "But the quality is better. You know. "Beta over VHS." That's me. My whole thing when I was a kid, again this is an older reference, but there's a thing called 3DO. It was like a video game system -- again no one knows it. And I was like, "I want that, not the Sega."
I try to find the best things. I'm very much reading reviews about stuff. Now that I'm a dad, there's a lot of tech things you can get from baby monitors and Nest cameras. So at least my wife will let me buy more of that stuff because it's for taking care of our family, whereas I'm like, "I want a hoverboard."
And I'm very happy with my iPhone plan. I do that thing where I rent an iPhone for a year and they give you a new one every year. That feels really exciting to me.
I'm not into tech going like "What's up with the latest wind turbines?" But like home gadget stuff? 100 percent.
So you don't really geek out out on a lot of tech?
Scheer: This is the nerdiest thing I think I do. Whenever I go on a vacation to an Airbnb, I have to reset the televisions in there because they're not calibrated correctly. Like they're calibrated in that weird way that makes everything look like a video. On my phone, I have saved a few different cheat sheets of how to fix people's contrast and motion blur so the TV will be better.