The Sound of Young America: Paul Scheer, Comedian, Actor and Creator of Adult Swim’s NTSF:SD:SUV

Episode 58

26th August 2011

Paul Scheer, an actor and comedian behind shows like Adult Swim’s NTSF:SD:SUV:: and MTV’s Human Giant, talks to us about low budgets, when parody comes from a place of love, and more.

Episode notes

Our guest host this week is MaxFun’s very own Jordan Morris! He’s a host and producer on FuelTV’s The Daily Habit and of course, co-hosts our own podcast Jordan, Jesse, Go! You can also see him performing comedy at numerous venues throughout Los Angeles.

He’ll talk to Paul Scheer, who last was on our show with the members of his MTV sketch comedy series, Human Giant. Paul is the creator and star of a new Adult Swim series, NTSF:SD:SUV::, a send up of police procedural shows like CSI. Paul explains that the show does not exist merely in parody, but comes from a place of love. He’ll also talk about why having a giant budget can be a death knell for a project, fashion choices from his character Andre on FX’s The League, and more.

You can see NTSF:SD:SUV:: Thursdays at 12:15am on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, catch Paul on The League on Thursdays at 10:30pm on FX.


JORDAN MORRIS: This is The Sound of Young America, my name is Jordan Morris. Our guest today is the actor and writer Paul Scheer. He’s been seen on TV in shows like 30 Rock, The League, and the cult classic sketch show Human Giant. He’s been seen in movies like Piranha 3-D and its forthcoming sequel Piranha 3-DD. He’s the star and creator of the new Adult Swim series NTSF:SD:SUV::, which airs on that network Thursdays at 12:15am. Paul, welcome to the program.

PAUL SCHEER: Thank you so much for having me.

JORDAN MORRIS: The last time you were on this show you were promoting your sketch show Human Giant.

PAUL SCHEER: Yes. Oh, wow, that was a long time ago.

JORDAN MORRIS: Human Giant had modest beginnings. You were doing it out of the UCB Theater in New York, which is a well-respected but small comedy theater; you were kind of making internet videos, and then you made this show that was kind of a cult and critical favorite. What was life like for Paul Scheer, working actor, after that show ended?

PAUL SCHEER: It’s interesting, because that show really caught on with a lot of different people, but there was no life changing moment, really. One of the common misconceptions about the show is that we pulled the plug on it. We were offered a third season, and Aziz at the same time was offered a part on Parks & Recreation. We were kind of weighing the options of rushing through a season, because it would take us so long to do a season of sketches; we shot 90 sketches in our second season. We discarded, like, 30 sketches. I think the biggest change was having a lot of free time after the show was over, and then finding the show actually got a lot of love; people saw the show. That was a really fun thing.

JORDAN MORRIS: Was that something that you weren’t aware of until the show went off the air?

PAUL SCHEER: I felt like we knew in the East Village and in certain sections of Hollywood that people liked the show.

JORDAN MORRIS: At certain micro-breweries they loved the show.

PAUL SCHEER: Where people were making their own beers, people really liked the show.

JORDAN MORRIS: Places where urban bee-keeping is a hobby.

PAUL SCHEER: I think one of the coolest things that we were finding was when we’d be at a party and someone would be like, oh, you know Vince Gilligan, the guy who created Breaking Bad, he loves Human Giant! He plays Lunartics for all his new writers. We’re like ,what? That’s amazing. Meeting up with people we really admired and thought were great and funny and interacting with them, I think that was a really fulfilling thing.

JORDAN MORRIS: I’m a big watcher of The League, and it’s really interesting that it was the thing you did after Human Giant, because Human Giant is really big and silly and absurd and is kind of this filter for pop culture, and The League is kind of a small show about characters and mannerisms. I mean it is pretty outrageous at times, but it’s a show about the real world. Did it seem really different to you going into this?

PAUL SCHEER: You know, I come from an improv background. I started with the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in New York, like you said, and I’d do shows out here in LA, so the improv part of it was really familiar to me. The show is improvised the same way Curb Your Enthusiasm is. There’s about a 12 page outline, it’s really heavily filled with jokes and ideas, and then we get to the seen and it becomes whatever you want, so we work with a really cool cast.

Mark Duplass who is kind of very big in the independent film world, he did a film called The Puffy Chair and Cyrus, and we had Steve Rannazzisi who’s more of a standup, John Lejoie who’s this guitar playing comedian from Canada who was a former soap opera star, then Nick Kroll who has the same kind of background as I do, Katie Aselton who also comes from the independent film world. We all mixed together in a really interesting way. We all had very different backgrounds when we came together, it worked, and it was more fun. To me, I love doing big broad sketch comedy stuff, but I think there’s something really more fulfilling when it’s real.

JORDAN MORRIS: Your character on The League, Andre, I would say his defining characteristic is a sounding board for all modern bad fashion. Anything that Andre is wearing, you can imagine douche bags around the country also wearing it.

PAUL SCHEER: I have the worst wardrobe in history. I have flat brimmed caps that say “Royalty” on it. Tie-dyed cut off shorts, Ed Hardy sneakers, a fur covered vest. The thing about this character is he was a guy who was picked on his whole life, and now he is technically successful, but still the nerd that he always was. I think it’s funny justifying himself with being cool, you know, you’ll never be cool even though you can dress like cool.

JORDAN MORRIS: When you were starting the show, did those flat brimmed caps and tech vests help you find the character.

PAUL SCHEER: Yeah, it was very collaborative early on. I sat down with Jeff and Jackie and we talked about the character and what he would do, and it has grown. This season when I was putting on all the new wardrobe, I just went in for a costume fitting a couple of weeks ago, and I was like, oh no, I need to wear these jean shorts. These are great. Now I feel like I have a very clear idea, whereas before, it was bad. They would always describe it like, he went into a store, saw a mannequin, and bought whatever was on that mannequin.

JORDAN MORRIS: Sure, and just wears the outfit.

PAUL SCHEER: In my mind I’m like, I’ve seen someone on TV and I’m copying it. If Andre saw Terrence Howard, he’s like, I’m gonna dress like that. Knowing that that would never cross over in the right way.

JORDAN MORRIS: Now you are doing NTSF:SD:SUV::. For the duration of this interview, is there another way I can refer to this show?

PAUL SCHEER: You can just call it NTSF; but, if you refer to it in the full NTSF:SD:SUV::, just so the audience at home listening would know that we have not only the most acronyms of police procedural on TV, but we also have the most colons.

JORDAN MORRIS: Congratulations.

PAUL SCHEER: It’s a very important distinction for us to make. There’s a lot of shows out there – – CSI:Miami, one colon. NCIS:LA, one colon. We have four colons.

JORDAN MORRIS: Is there a colon count Emmy?

PAUL SCHEER: I’m hoping. I’m really hoping. I’d take a full page ad out in Variety to announce that we had the most colons in cable.

JORDAN MORRIS: I guess I should say that this stands for National Terrorism Strike Force: San Diego: Sport Utility Vehicle. So this show is a parody of procedurals; CSI, NCIS, Law and Order: SVU. Were you into these shows before you decided to parody them?

PAUL SCHEER: I am. I’m a huge action movie junkie, I love 24, I love Hawaii Five-O. Hawaii Five-O to me is the best – –

JORDAN MORRIS: This is the reboot you’re talking about?

PAUL SCHEER: Yes, not the Jack Lord one, this is one with one of the Caans, Scott Caan, and the guy from Lost, Daniel Dae Kim . This show is amazing, because they’ll have a scene where the character is surfing, and then in the next scene they shoot somebody, run over to them, and then put their own fingers in that bad guys’ bullet holes, like, tell me information! You were just boogie boarding five seconds ago! I love it, I love how immediately dark these shows get. Jack Bauer would do the same thing, stabbing someone in the gut to pull out microfilm.

As I kind of got going down the rabbit hole of all these procedurals I was like, wow, this world is crazy. I just saw the season premier of CSI, the new one coming up in September, starts off, and this is totally true, I’m not making this up, a man falls into vat of chocolate and becomes a chocolate man.

JORDAN MORRIS: What?! No! Are you sure that’s just not an old Scooby Doo episode?

PAUL SCHEER: There’s a CSI:Miami where David Caruso goes to outer space to solve a murder. Here’s the premise, a Richard Branson-esque character murders someone on a space ship, and then David Caruso needs to get on his space ship to go out and check.

JORDAN MORRIS: Why did he have a space ship?

PAUL SCHEER: I think he borrowed it. It’s Miami. A lot of space ships going around.

JORDAN MORRIS: Sexy space ships.

PAUL SCHEER: They go up and he has to check bullet trajectory in Zero G gravity. When I started to see that I was like, oh my god, how has no one parodied these shows? Of course there were amazing shows back in the day like Sledgehammer or Police Squad, but no one is doing this kind of sexy show. All these shows have way too many lights in their offices, blue lights, red lights, so in the end we’re just having a lot of fun mimicking those shows.

JORDAN MORRIS: Something I noticed from an episode I was watching, a character, played by the very funny LA comedian Brandon Johnson is making a phone call, a call that is of import to the plot, and he is holding his cell phone at a weird 70 degree angle. The ear end of his cell phone is touching his earlobe and he’s holding the mouth end ridiculously far away from his mouth, and he has a conversation with his cell phone in a weird way, and then without saying goodbye he hangs up on the person that’s giving him the information. You cut to the person on the other line being offended. I haven’t watched these shows that much, but that struck me as just a dead on parody of something that would happen in one of those shows.

PAUL SCHEER: What we try to do is address it from a point of parody. So it’s like, okay, I understand the world that this takes place in. And then for people who aren’t familiar with those shows, we’re just trying to make those characters exist in their own world. It’s just an action show, it’s a 15 minute comedy action show. We’ll throw in moments of parody, but we’ve found very early on that we can’t just exist purely in parody.

We didn’t wanna – – we felt it would be limiting and found the example of Children’s Hospital, which proceeds us on Adult Swim, it’s just like, let’s take this genre and have fun with it. We also have amazing guest stars. We had Ed Helms on the show and J.K. Simmons, who does a procedural himself.

JORDAN MORRIS: Yeah, it is interesting that you kind of – – the casting of this show is really really cool in that it’s two things. It’s a rogue’s gallery of alternative comedians. Brandon Johnson, Kerry Kenny, June Diane Raphael, all very very funny. But then you also have these kind of heavy, serious actors. How are they – – and also Lorenzo Lamas, is also there. How do these people who don’t come from that comedy/improv/sketch background, how do they take to the tone?

PAUL SCHEER: The prime example of that is Kate Mulgrew, who is – – she was the captain on Star Trek: Voyager, the first female Star Trek captain, and you know she has a very distinctive voice and she talks very serious. She’s an Obie Award winning theater actress. We’re trying to figure out who can play the captain of NTSF, we needed her to be tough and cool.

Curtis Gwinn is one of the producers on the show, and he was like, Kate Mulgrew, I was like, oh my god, great idea! Will she ever do it? She’s wearing an eye-patch, she’s smoking pipes, and she’s having random sex with young men throughout the series. We sent her the scripts, and she was like, I’m in. I’ll do it. She got it, she just really got into it. She approached it like she’s doing an hourlong show. The same thing for J.K. Simmons, you watch J.K. Simmons, he’s not doing anything dinner than you would see him on The Closer, and we’re trying very hard not to do it the same way, we’re trying to not wink at the camera and play it as straight as we can, but it’s been really fun.

One of my highlights was getting Jeff Goldblum to come on the show and play this German villain, and basically his greatest accomplishment is he’s always able to commit a crime right on the border of wherever he’s at. So he can commit it and then walk across the border like, ah, can’t arrest me. I am on the other side of the line.

It’s been great to work with these people. I find a lot of these dramatic actors want to do comedy, so that was really cool.

JORDAN MORRIS: NTSF comes out of this love of schlocky television.


JORDAN MORRIS: You have a podcast called How Did This Get Made that is based on a love of schlocky movies. In this podcast you and the aforementioned June Diane Raphael.

PAUL SCHEER: Who is my wife, just for, I don’t know. Not clarity, but just to be on the level.

JORDAN MORRIS: Full disclosure. And Jason Mantzoukas from The League, and a who’s who of celebrity guests.

PAUL SCHEER: Yeah, we have a lot of people come in. I think – – you said schlocky, and I will say, I actually do have a genuine love for all these things. So in a sense, yes, I know 24’s ridiculous, I know Hawaii Five-O is out there, but I do appreciate them and like them. How Did This Get Made is the same idea, I love watching a good bad movie, case in point, Old Dogs with Robin Williams and John Travolta about two dads who have to babysit their twin kids that they had on a one night stand…it’s amazing. So we just kind of get around and revel in talking about these – – yeah, they’re “bad movies”, but we don’t come at it from this aggressive like, that was dumb. This script was bad. We try to at least embrace – – I don’t know, embrace the fun of it a little bit more than being ultra-critical.

JORDAN MORRIS: I think you probably have an eternal pass having appeared in Piranha 3-D, which is an amazingly fun bad movie.

PAUL SCHEER: Thank you, exactly. Piranha 3-D is a perfect example of a movie that’s like, what?! How did you? No! What is happening?

JORDAN MORRIS: Some things that happen in Piranha 3-D, there is a nude underwater ballet – –

PAUL SCHEER: That lasts for a very long time, and it’s full nudity between a porn star and a British busty model.

JORDAN MORRIS: A Page 3 girl.

PAUL SCHEER: Yes, a Page 3 girl. There are numerous piranha evisceration that go beyond gore. There’s one scene where a guy is driving a motorboat to escape a piranha attack, and just running over dozens of – –


PAUL SCHEER: Yeah, children. Just bashing their heads open. It is a crazy, crazy movie. I love it. Adam Scott and I just did a commentary track out here in LA, a live commentary track of it, and it’s sort of like – – I love that kind of stuff. I think there should be more of those kinds of movies, ya know?

JORDAN MORRIS: Is there anything that you’re saving for a special time? Are there any terrible movies that you haven’t discussed yet that maybe seem like too high a mountain to climb just now?

PAUL SCHEER: To me, there’s a common one that everyone’s like, you gotta do The Room, or you gotta do Troll 2, and I don’t find those as interesting as movies that are supposed to be like a four quadrant movie, which is a Hollywood term for a movie that appeals to older people, younger people, men, women, because there’s so much money behind those movies, so I really like a nice failed attempt with a studio behind it. A studio was really like, we’re trying.

JORDAN MORRIS: You mentioned this concept of the “four quadrant” movie, the movie that is supposed to be a blockbuster because everybody goes, do you think it’s that kind of thinking that leads to these spectacular train wrecks?

PAUL SCHEER: I have a feeling, just because my direction in “the business” or whatever.

JORDAN MORRIS: I will say for the listener at home, Paul did air quotes.

PAUL SCHEER: I did indeed. You can tell how these movies get messed up. Everyone wants to put their fingerprints on something big. They want to put a poster on their wall and be like, I made that one. I think that when you have all these people giving notes and adding things and taking away things and giving you a lot of money, I think the worst thing you can have sometimes is a giant budget. Speaking as someone who’s never had a giant budget. But when I watch a movie like Attack the Block I’m like, wow, it’s an amazing alien movies, it’s kind of like Goonies, it’s kind of like what you want every summer movie to be but they never are.

I think sometimes the bigger things are the more diluted they get, and that to me is what makes it so, like, wait, whoa, why is he now in an old timey horse carriage? What’s going on? Why is time travel involved?

JORDAN MORRIS: Paul Scheer, thank you so much for being on The Sound of Young America.

PAUL SCHEER: Thank you so much for having me.

JORDAN MORRIS: Your television program NTSF:SD:SUV::, National Terrorism Strike Force: San Diego: Sports Utility Vehicle::, four colons in there, airs Thursday nights at 12:15 on the Adult Swim television network. Your television program The League season 1 is out on DVD.

PAUL SCHEER: But they’re both available on Hulu and on Netflix.

JORDAN MORRIS: And season three is forthcoming.

PAUL SCHEER: Yes, October 6th at 10:30 with special guest Seth Rogan, playing the part of Dirty Randy, a character that was only mentioned once in an episode, but fan reaction to it on Facebook was so overwhelming that we needed to introduce him into the show.

JORDAN MORRIS: Paul, it’s been a damn pleasure talking to you.

PAUL SCHEER: It was really great, thank you!

Our transcripts are provided by Sean Sampson. If you’re interested in contacting him for transcription work, email him here.

In this episode...

Senior Producer
Maximum Fun Producer
Maximum Fun Production Fellow


  • Paul Scheer

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