ATX Television Festival panelist Paul Scheer talks about plastic surgeons, police procedurals, and the rise of Adult Swim.
Austin Chronicle: You’re conquering the media. You’re on television, you’re podcasting, and you have a movie coming out, Piranha 3DD.
Paul Scheer: It’s just a cameo.
Austin Chronicle: Okay. I’m not a big football person, but I’m hooked on The League. I’ve been recommending it to other nonfootball people.
Paul Scheer: That’s awesome. When the show first started, we were lumped in as "just another guy show about football." But as the show has gone on, and we’re going into season four this fall, I’ve talked to more and more people who aren’t football fans who are fans of the show. It’s cool because when we started doing it we were like, “It’s not really about football.”
Austin Chronicle: How scripted is it?
Paul Scheer: The show is improvised kind of like Curb Your Enthusiasm. So we just have a very solid and funny outline. Nick Kroll and I have written some episodes. It’s actually a hard outline to write because you have to put in enough story, enough plot and enough jokes that you could shoot what you have, but at the same time enough flexibility that all the actors coming into the scene could bring to it whatever they want.
Austin Chronicle: I understand that the creator, Jeff Schaffer, was involved with both Seinfeld and Curb.
Paul Scheer: He was a writer on Brüno and The Dictator also. His wife Jackie Marcus Schaffer [co-creator of The League] came from more of the development side with Ivan Reitman’s company for a long time. They both have interesting comedy backgrounds.
Austin Chronicle: One thing that reminds me of Seinfeld is that there are all these great phrases being coined, like “deep Googler.”
Paul Scheer: “Deep Googler” is one of my favorites. My wife’s sister came up with that. She’d gone on this blind date and this guy had Googled her, and he knew all this stuff. You had to go very deep to find out any of this information. And she’s like “This guy did some deep Googling.” When she said that I laughed so hard and I was intent on using that. Nick [Kroll] and I wrote that episode.
That sensibility travels with Jeff. The good thing about him and Jackie is, they’re always challenging us to find these things. Put a term to something that is prevalent, that happens a lot but is yet uncoined. Like “regifter” on Seinfeld.
Austin Chronicle: About your character, Andre, to what extent did you develop him?
Paul Scheer: With every character in the show, there was a great jumping off point, and the characters have evolved. With the exception of making Andre cool, I can make choices for the character through improv.
Austin Chronicle: My favorite Andre scene is when he’s testifying in court as an expert witness.
Paul Scheer: Nick Kroll and I wrote that episode.
Austin Chronicle: It typifies the Andre character. When he enters the scene, he’s so excited, he’s doing air quotes and gun hands, and then the guys start teasing him and he just deflates like a balloon.
Paul Scheer: He comes in not realizing how ridiculous he actually is, and then he’s always kind of shocked by the reality of the situation. But he’s a punching bag. He can come right back to it, like, “That didn’t work over there, but I think this’ll work over here.” It’s kind of like Wile E. Coyote in the Warner Bros. cartoon. “This Acme thing will work.”
Austin Chronicle: He’s also a plastic surgeon, but not like plastic surgeons you usually see on TV.
Paul Scheer: Yeah, Andre definitely has douchey qualities, but he’s not like the blond, overly tan 90210 doctors. He’s a plastic surgeon who does not look at all affected by it. He obviously hasn’t done any plastic surgery on himself. But he’s still ridiculous, and he still dresses like an idiot and has terrible taste, so I guess in that way he’s similar.
Austin Chronicle: Moving on to NTSF:SD:SVU, I heard you say in a podcast that you had some reservations bout doing the show. What was your role as the creator?
Paul Scheer: I was a big fan of Childrens Hospital and everybody on the show. I’d done some episodes with those guys, and I thought, “This is the best thing, to be able to do a 15-minute show on Adult Swim.” In the back of my head I always had this idea to do a 24-type show. Nobody’s ever going to cast me as Jack Bauer, so it has to be a comedy action show. I wanted to make sure my show and Childrens Hosptial would be companions, not duplicates. Like brother and sister shows.
Also, it’s a big responsibility! I hadn’t done a show since Human Giant so I was a little reluctant to put all my eggs in one basket. You’re writing it, you’re casting it, you’re editing it, you’re in it. It’s daunting.
Austin Chronicle: Even though you’re not doing a Law & Order: SVU type show, you do have “SUV” in the title, and even though it stands for “sport utility vehicle” it still evokes that SVU depravity. That show is like nothing but strippers getting killed with their own shoes.
Paul Scheer: Yeah. Our show is like a combination of 24 and CSI and a little bit of Law & Order. Those shows are super violent and ridiculous. There’s a glut of police procedurals and so much to parody. People on those shows are so desensitized to violence. Every week David Caruso looks at a dead body and makes a one-liner, like, “I guess she was late to the pool party.” It’s like,“No! That person is dead! She has been drowned to death! Go solve the mystery, don’t crack a joke!”
Literally, on CSI: Miami, somebody gets killed in outer space and somebody has to go up in space and solve the murder. That’s like a premise on our show! We have to constantly top ourselves. It’s hard to compete with them on the violence level and the crazy level. We had an episode last season where somebody drinks a drink called “cabeza de menthe,” which is like four Loko, and their bodies just explode. I feel like that could be on CSI: Miami. Just like one degree of separation.
Austin Chronicle: The show does a good job of mimicking the visual style, like the 360-degree pan that just keeps going around and around and around.
Paul Scheer: We do a scene in our second season where we walk around in a circle, like one of those West Wing walks, but we’re just walking in a circle nonstop. We’re always trying to play with that form. No one ever sits down at their desk. They sit on the side of the desk, or they’re actively running around.
Austin Chronicle: What’s going on with TV right now? Where’s it going?
Paul Scheer: I think we’re right in the middle of an entertainment shift. Nobody knows how to deal with it. I don’t think network TV is in a good place right now, but all the cable outlets are in a cool place. People are flocking to shows on AMC, FX, and HBO, because they’re different, they’re interesting.
I’ve never worked full-time on a network show, but when you’re in the network system it’s exactly that – a system. You have to do 22 episodes in a season, and you’re going to get burned out. You don’t have a chance to do quality control, refresh yourself, and take breaks. I think the reason all these police procedurals get so crazy is that they’re doing so many of them. People loved the British Office and they only did 13 episodes.
Cable fosters a sense of letting the creators do the show they way they want to. [Network] scripts have to be approved by a million different people. At FX, I only have to answer to two [sets of] people – the show creators and the head of the network. At Adult Swim, I only answer to the head of the network. It allows you to get a much more unfiltered voice out there.
They just announced at our upfronts that Adult Swim is the #1 cable network for 18-34 year old males. They dominate that space and have huge ad revenues, while the networks’ ratings are falling. They don’t have those big paydays. On cable, people are working for cheaper and are happier for it. Shorter orders and not super huge payouts. But I think it’s all evening out now.
Austin Chronicle: How did you get involved in the Austin Television Festival?
Paul Scheer: I did the Nerdist Writers Panel podcast. Ben Blacker is in charge of that, and he told me about the festival. It seemed like a cool thing, plus I love Austin, so any chance to get down there. We’re going to do a sneak preview of NTSF Season 2, and we’re going to do a marathon of Childrens Hospital, and Nick Kroll and I are actually going to screen that “Expert Witness” episode you talked about. It’ll be exciting to be in Austin in such amazing company. I hope it will take off and be a yearly thing.
The first-ever ATX Television Fest takes place June 1-3. Badges are available now for the fest; additionally, a rush line for single seats at special events at the Alamo Drafthouse and Stateside Theater will be available day of.
Check out the Chronicle's interview with ATX founders Caitlin McFarland and Emily Gipson in Thursday's issue.
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