Paul Scheer Talks Channelling ‘Fox & Friends’ in ‘Long Shot’ and Going Deep on ‘Black Monday’
During an interview at SXSW, the comedian also discusses the ‘who the f*ck knows’ state of his Galaxy Quest reboot.
AUSTIN, Texas—Paul Scheer is seemingly everywhere at South by Southwest this year.
On the red carpet with his wife June Diane Raphael at the premiere of the hilarious new comedy Long Shot, in which they both appear. Enjoying some La Barbecue at the after-party for his friend—and former co-star on The League—Nick Kroll’s new film Olympic Dreams. And hanging at the Showtime House to promote Black Monday, on which he stars as Keith, a closeted stock trader struggling to keep his true self secret from his family and co-workers.
Scheer has been a near omnipresence in the comedy world ever since he created the MTV sketch show Human Giant with Rob Huebel and Aziz Ansari more than a decade ago. After seven seasons on FX’s The League, a largely improvised show about fantasy football bros, he was ready for a bigger challenge. “For me, as an actor, it’s always about showing people you can do more than they think you can do,” he tells me.
His chance came along in the form of Black Monday, co-created by David Caspe (formerly of Happy Endings) and Jordan Cahan. The rare laugh-out-loud premium cable comedy stars Don Cheadle, Regina Hall and Andrew Rannells as rag-tag group of Wall Street traders barreling their way toward the inevitable 1987 market crash. On a show that is jam-packed with jokes, Scheer’s performance is surprisingly nuanced, revealing the reality of a man who cannot be his true self in this culturally repressed era.
Of course, Scheer always has numerous projects in the ether, including the Seth Rogen-Charlize Theron rom-com Long Shot, in which he pops up periodically as an ever dumber version of Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade alongside comedian Kurt Braunohler’s thinly veiled Steve Doocy and Claudia O’Doherty’s perpetually baffled female co-host.
Then there is his long-awaited reboot of the 1999 film Galaxy Quest, which was supposed to land as a series at Amazon, but has now been shelved—potentially for good. “Galaxy Quest is in a state of who the fuck knows,” he says, frankly, calling it “one of the most fun projects I’ve ever gotten the chance to work on.”
I know we’re here to talk about Black Monday but I have to get in some questions about Long Shot as well, because I thought the whole Fox & Friends parody was very funny. Did they just come to you and say we want you to play Brian Kilmeade or how did that work?
So my wife is like, one of the bigger parts in the film—
Yeah, she’s really great in it as well.
And we kind of transported our family up to Montreal. So when I was up there I was talking to [director Jonathan] Levine and he was like, “I want to put you in the movie, we should figure out something to do.” So once they knew it was going to be Kurt [Braunohler], Claudia [O'Doherty] and I, then they just started writing stuff. In the original script, I think it was just like one little interaction and then we basically went up into this little room and did like 10 outfit changes in two hours and just commented on every possible scenario that could have been in the movie.
I would say whatever movie Seth Rogen’s involved in, it’s kind of a beautiful mix of both. They basically say, “Go at it” and we just had fun. Our thing was always undercutting the real news, which I thought was funny.
Did you spend any time watching Fox & Friends to prepare?
I did. And I’m obsessed with that type of news program. I will watch those shows non-stop. I’m actually developing a show right now in that world. My go-to is Morning Joe. There’s an energy to it I just love. It’s like this merging of entertainment and news, so there’s like this kind of callousness that you would never knock Ellen [DeGeneres] or [Jimmy] Fallon for doing, but it’s a funny, weird juxtaposition. They are kind of celebrities but they’re also kind of news anchors. And they just have to keep the ball in the air.
And in the case of Fox & Friends, they’re really talking to Trump.
Oh, absolutely. Fox & Friends is like a direct speaker [to the president]. And I think Scarborough does it too. Because he hate-watches Scarborough, so you can see Scarborough needle him. The thing that I thought was so funny watching Fox & Friends—because I was just trying to make sure I got the right tone—the thing I was amazed at was the way that they sit. They’re not behind desks, they’re on these couches with the low tables. If you watch them for too long, they’re not comfortable. They’re on the edge of their seats, it looks uncomfortable in every way. And there’s so much to camera, right down the barrel, it’s really funny.
Black Monday has been really fun to watch as well. What was your initial reaction when you first got that script?
Well, I knew David [Caspe] because David is married to Casey Wilson, who is my wife June Diane Raphael’s writing partner. So I’ve known David since they started dating and I was on Happy Endings. Early on when I met David, he told me, “You know, I’ve got this Wall Street show and I think you’d be great in this show. Would you ever do it?” And I was like, yeah, but I’m doing The League right now. And it just kind of went away and then last year he and [co-creator] Jordan Cahan called me up were like, “So we originally thought you would be good for the role of Lehman brothers [played by Ken Marino as twins], but we wrote this character. He’s a 60-year-old man. Do you think you could maybe look at that and see if you like it? And I read that role and I just loved it.
In the pilot, it was revealed that he was in closet. So we sat down and spoke about the role and I was like, “Oh my god, this is amazing,” because I don’t usually get to do this mix of comedy and drama stuff. Those guys are so good at jokes, there are just so many jokes in the show. So I auditioned as a 60-year-old man and then met with Don [Cheadle] and it was great. I think the character kind of morphed from the beginning. When Seth [Rogen] and Evan [Goldberg] came in to direct the pilot, I think they did a really job of grounding it. There are a ton of jokes but they feel real in the world. It’s a fine line. On one side, there are Anchorman and Step Brothers, movies that I love, and then there is this other version where you really believe these characters are saying these things.
Yeah, the reviews seemed to highlight the fact that this was a comedy that’s actually laugh-out-loud funny.
I think when the show first came out, there was this weird mix. Because people expect a half-hour cable show to be these dramedies. We’ve forgotten that half-hours should be comedies.
That’s what makes it so refreshing.
Yeah, and it’s like Showtime is “prestige.” Anytime Showtime does a half-hour it’s more drama. It’s like Edie Falco and she’s great but it’s dark comedy. What I really love that they were able to do is say, it’s a comedy show, but it also has elements of all these other things you love. There was that great article that The Ringer wrote.
Yeah, basically saying, “I didn’t know it was supposed to be funny until I was laughing at every line.”
And then there were people who didn’t like the show in the beginning who were like, “It’s too funny!” And it’s like, no, no, no, that’s the point!
It seems like really a perfect show for you because it so funny but then you also get to do these deeper layers of this character, which as you said, you haven’t really been able to do before. So what’s that been like for you?
For me, as an actor, it’s always about showing people you can do more than they think you can do. I think no matter who you are, you’re just trying to be like, what can I do that’s not repeating myself? I think coming off of The League, which was such a fun experience, but you do that character for seven years and there’s no stakes, there’s no consequences. And while I loved doing that show, you can get bored because there’s no growth to it. But this show, with every episode, what happened last week affects this week. And I’ve never gotten to do that. That’s what’s so exciting about good TV. I mean, I love that in Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad and all the classic dramas the characters are affected. So to be able to do that in comedy and still also do funny scenes, it’s been an amazingly fun challenge. And I worked my fucking ass off because Don Cheadle brings a gravitas. He is a serious, smart guy and it’s like, I don’t want to fuck up in front of Don! He sets the tone.
Yeah, I mean he’s better known as a dramatic actor but is so funny on the show as well. Did you know that he had that in him?
To me, growing up I knew Don Cheadle from Boogie Nights, Traffic, Devil in a Blue Dress, I loved Out of Sight. He was always the supporting character who was the best part [of the movie], but he was funny in those things. I like Don as a funny guy but I didn’t know what to expect of Don. Because he’s also the guy from Hotel Rwanda. So I didn’t know what his personality would be like, but what I like about him is that he is this complex guy. I mean, he played Miles Davis and I feel like his mentality is kind of like that. He’s like a jazz musician. He’s very thoughtful, he’s very focused. I’m used to working with comedians who are like, “Yeah, fuck it, let’s do it.” And with him it’s very much like, is this my character? So I think that laid down the gauntlet for all of us.
The fact that he can kind of use the same skills that he uses in drama and apply them to comedy—
Because he’s looking at it in a different way. He’s worked with Soderbergh and P.T. Anderson and all these great directors. And he’s a fucking tremendously trained actor who’s been doing drama and everything for years. My background is comedy, I’m coming from a different thing. That’s what I love about this cast. We have Don, who’s this veteran Academy Award-nominated actor. We have Regina, who fluctuates between like Scary Movie and The Hate U Give. She’s just this powerhouse. And then we have Rannells, who is on stage, so everyone’s coming from a different way of approaching stuff. And I’m just lucky and happy to be surrounded by them.
This show seems so much more scripted than The League, which was fully improvised, right?
Yes, on The League we’d have this outline and then we’d hone, but yes, it was improvised. And this is very written. And what I love about this show is, there’s an improvisation in the character work. We are all very committed to these characters and making them real, like last week with the whole “Karma Chameleon” thing, trying to figure out the right tone that makes it feel real. I mean, basically I’m putting on my wife’s clothes. So how do we do that in a way that doesn’t feel overly goofy but earnest and earned? They’re very much into taking what’s on the page and making it feel better and feel right, so that’s been really fun.
You do definitely get into some tricky territory since your character is closeted, so I’m curious since you’re playing a gay character and Andrew Rannells is playing a straight character, did you guys have any conversations about that in terms of how to avoid stereotypes?
We have not had a full-on conversation about it, but I think where we both are kind of coming from is playing the truth of these people. For me, the character is really based in fear. The sexuality is where the fear is coming from. He’s wearing a wig. He’s already hiding something about himself that he doesn’t like. And he’s in a world that’s conspiring against him. In 1987, he couldn’t be open, he couldn’t be out. I think there’s a version of this show that could play into stereotypes. And one of the things that we were very concerned about—and especially for myself—I’m not a gay man, so I really wanted to bring a truthfulness. And it was something I really thought about and spoke to other friends about and really wanted to make sure that I avoided the tropes and stereotypes of that, yet played into the tropes of someone who is afraid. It’s a hard balance. All good characters are not exactly black and white and that’s when get the worst performances, when you’re doing a caricature.
So the only other thing I wanted to ask about, because I’m not sure what the status of it is, is what’s going on with Galaxy Quest?
Galaxy Quest is in a state of who the fuck knows? It was one of the most fun projects I’ve ever gotten the chance to work on.
How far into it did you get?
There are two versions of a full, fleshed-out script and a complete first season bible for the show. So I feel like I really know this character and this world. The problem that we kind of got into: It’s a high-budget comedy. That is something that is a very hard thing to push up a hill. Because networks will spend a lot of money to do a high-budget drama, because you can travel with it internationally. If you think about high-budget comedies, there’s not many of them. And the way that I was addressing the show was, where the movie was kind of focused on the Star Trek from the ‘70s, I wanted us to be the Guardians of the Galaxy version of it. I wanted to acknowledge what sci-fi is now. When I saw Galaxy Quest when I was 18 or whatever I was, I loved Star Trek, I understood that world. But now, to get that same age group, I wanted to make the show feel relevant. My big way into was, sci-fi in the ‘90s was kind of like ha ha ha, now sci-fi in 2019 is the biggest fucking thing. My whole thing was, what if you took people on a sci-fi show who are successful, like The Rock or Vin Diesel, that kind of thing, and they had to go up. Now you have these A-list actors who also have been catered to. I really treated the TV series like a sequel to the movie but also a brand new thing. There was a plot line running with the original cast and a plot line running with our new cast and I wanted to make sure that people watching were getting both perspectives. I love it so much, I want to make it so much.
And Amazon was maybe going to do it?
Amazon was going to do it and then everyone that we worked with at Amazon got fired. Once that happens, it’s kind of like a death knell. And then added to my death knell was, after everyone at Amazon got fired, my executive at Paramount got fired and that was the person who was pushing it there. So I lost the two champions for the thing. Then whenever this stuff happens you get this fucking thing where, when the house is cleared, it’s like, well I don’t want that other person’s project, that reeks of them. So I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes back around, if somebody else makes it, or it just sits back on a shelf. The one thing I learned about working on Galaxy Quest, that I was surprised by, is that when you’re working with I.P., the way people identify with that I.P. People have thoughts about what they want Galaxy Quest to be. It’s not what I want it to be, so you’re constantly in this battle of what people want vs. what you want to make. So that was a real challenge. It’s almost better to get properties like Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain Marvel where it’s like, I don’t know what that is. Whereas Galaxy Quest, people really feel connected to it and want certain things.
Maybe you can do a live-read of the script sometime, worst case scenario.
I was thinking about that. I wonder if I can do that and not get in trouble, it would be really fun.
This interview has been edited and condensed.