How Pauly Shore Got ‘Under America’s Skin’
On this week’s episode of “The Last Laugh” podcast, MTV icon Pauly Shore opens up about his unlikely rise to fame, eventual fall from grace, and latest attempt at a comeback.
Pauly Shore spent his entire life in Los Angeles. It took a global pandemic to make him leave Southern California for good.
“L.A.’s too sensitive for me right now,” the 52-year-old comedian and one-time MTV superstar tells me via Zoom from his new home in Las Vegas on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast. “I’ve been there my whole life and it was just kind of time to try something new.”
Shore likes that the hotels, restaurants and gyms have mostly reopened in Vegas. And he hopes theaters will follow soon so he can get back on stage and perform stand-up comedy for his fans.
“It’s going to be good for me,” Shore says of his new life. “It’s America, I’m America, you know?”
For much of the late ’80s and early ‘90s, Pauly Shore really was America. He had a hit show, Totally Pauly, on MTV and was a permanent fixture at that network’s annual Spring Break extravaganzas, where he once partied alongside Donald Trump and the Hawaiian Tropic girls.
He parlayed that attention into starring roles in a series of mainstream Hollywood comedies, starting with 1992’s Encino Man. The films that followed—Son in Law, In the Army Now, Jury Duty, Bio-Dome—didn’t quite measure up to that initial breakthrough, but they did create a cult fandom that still follows him to this day.
For various reasons that we get into during this conversation, Shore’s career took a nosedive in the late ’90s after a swiftly canceled Fox sitcom made him unhirable in Hollywood. His latest comeback attempt comes in the form of his first leading role in ages in the new straight-to-VOD comedy movie Guest House.
“I’m just fortunate that whatever I did 20 years ago is still somewhat relevant,” Shore says. While he used to play the young misfit clashing with older conservatives, the new movie finds him as the weird old dude coming into conflict with young uptight millennials.
“My style is my style,” he adds. While some have “tried to emulate” that style or “do a version of me,” as he puts it, there is no one quite like Pauly Shore. The director Sam Macaroni originally offered him a small cameo in Guest House. “He called me up and said, ‘I wanted you to play the cop but fuck that, I want you to be the lead,’” the comedian recalls. “And I was like, whoa, that’s pretty cool. So then I had to take 10 steps back, read the script and see if I can make the character, who isn’t really a likable character, and make him likable. And I think we accomplished that.”
There have been many ups and downs in his career over the past three decades. But that unique skill of somehow making the unbearably annoying unexpectedly lovable is something Shore has never lost.
Highlights from our conversation are below and you can listen to the whole thing right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
How he ended up on MTV
“I was hot. I was 19 years old. Everyone was talking about, who is this kid? MTV was the hottest thing. My manager got me an audition. MTV saw me at The Comedy Store and they asked me to come to Spring Break. They flew me to Spring Break. It didn’t go so hot. I was pretty nervous and green. I think I was 19 or 20. And then I just went back to the drawing board and started writing my stand-up and working my act and getting my confidence up. And then we did a show called Comic Strip Live. We sent that to MTV and then they said, he’s ready now. And then it just kind of snowballed into the biggest thing of my career, which was Totally Pauly. I felt like Willy Wonka. I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock. It didn’t seem like a job. It just was fun. I took it seriously and believe it or not, I wasn’t on drugs and I wasn’t drinking during filming MTV. I maybe had a couple of drinks at Spring Break, but other than that, when we were filming, once the camera rolled, it was on, we were doing it. I was in heaven. I was very, very fortunate. Right place, right time, right network, right era.”
On the Fox sitcom that derailed his career
“This was an opportunity that came to us, me and my manager and my agents. And I was like, fuck, they’re offering me my own sitcom on Fox. It's called Pauly. Let’s make it work! Instead of going, wait a minute, maybe I should stop while I’m ahead and not do this and leave them wanting more, I figured I’d make it work in the writers’ room. I’d cast it right. But the problem was, it was just wrong. The concept was wrong, everything was wrong about it. But I didn’t see it at the time because I was blinded by the fact that I was going to try to make it work. So I should have probably passed, but I wanted to work. What it should have been was probably closer to my real life. A mom and a dad and a comedy club and comedians and shit like that. And also I got a little greedy and I started looking at other comedians that were starring in sitcoms. I’m like, fuck, Roseanne’s got a sitcom, I want one! I mean, look at Roseanne, it was called Roseanne, it was the biggest hit in the world.”
On playing Trump adviser Stephen Miller for Funny or Die
“He is a fucking nutbag that guy. Un-fucking-believable. This fucking guy. He’s from Santa Monica and he’s a Jew and he’s fucking working for Trump? It’s so weird. I mean, what a fucking weirdo. But Funny or Die called me and they said, hey, do this. I mean, it’s one of those things, when certain people call you just do it. Then that took off and everyone really liked that. We did a couple of those, but I wish [Miller] would do more things so I can spoof him more. But he hides, it’s weird. He’s so nuts. I voted for Hillary [Clinton] and when [Trump] won, I was like, you know what, fuck it. But then he just went south. He just fucking started doing all this crazy shit. And I was like, why does he have to do all this stuff and say all these things? He’s already got the job! What the fuck is wrong with this guy? He doesn’t need to say and do this stuff. But you know why he won, right? Because of The Apprentice. He was on TV for 10 years. That’s middle America, NBC. ‘Man, that guy’s funny, dude. He’s got a cool helicopter, bro.’ But it’s a shame.”
On constantly getting recognized by fans for his decades-old work
“I look at it as I’m fortunate that people recognize me, which means I actually made it in the entertainment business. Because if you’re in the entertainment business and you’re putting yourself out there and no one’s recognizing you, then I don’t want to say you failed, but you didn’t make an impact. So the fact is that I’ve gotten under America’s skin, starting from MTV. So when I tour America and people approach, yeah sometimes I get tired, there are certain times you don’t want to be approached. But everywhere I go, people know me. And thank god, knock on wood, it’s for something that affected them that I did years ago. There’s a connection.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Star of ‘Brooklyn 99’ and ‘The Comey Rule,’ Joe Lo Truglio.