Comedian Paul Scheer wants to help you survive the coronavirus lockdown, which is why he’s offering up his digits. Text him (917-877-0657) and you’ll get daily lists of everything he’s watching, reading, and listening to. So far Scheer has watched Home Alone 2 seemingly every day (25 times since Christmas, baby!), but he’s also been making time for film classics like 12 Angry Men and absurdist comedy like Adult Swim’s Three Busy Debras. The point is, if anyone is going to get you through our next One Hundred Years of Solitude, it’ll be the guy who hosts the world’s funniest podcast about bad movies.
Scheer is a comedy veteran, having appeared on 30 Rock, Veep, The Good Place, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Big Mouth, and a bunch of other shows you’ve probably binged. Right now he plays a gay banker on Showtime’s Black Monday, a riotous send-up of ’80s Wall Street culture that is just the right amount of goofy to jolt you out of whatever funk you might have found yourself in after devouring your last morsel of quarantine fridge cheese. The second season premiered a few weeks ago, which is also when we chatted over the phone about Scheer’s childhood, L.A., and the specific type of method acting required to play a trader in the ’80s.https://www.instagram.com/p/B-Ck1jvh7k8/
What was your early education in TV like?
I think anyone who listens to How Did This Get Made [the podcast Scheer cohosts with his wife, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas] knows that I had a very distressing childhood. I was a latchkey kid. I didn’t have any brothers or sisters, at least for a long period of time, and the three times my family moved we were on blocks where there were no other kids. So it was me literally running around on the front lawn, you know, reenacting TV shows. I didn’t realize how much unsupervised TV I had been watching until recently when I discovered a VHS collection that consisted of every Cosby Show episode without commercials. I also had a tape of every single Eddie Murphy TV appearance including talk shows.
What’s the weirdest gig you’ve done in L.A.?
There are two that I remember very distinctly. I once did a show that was taking place in someone’s living room. It was the craziest thing—I was there with Andy Dick, and we were both waiting to go on stage in the hallway where people would normally drop off their mail. We performed inside the living room, and they had a cameraman taping us and a live feed so that people in the kitchen could watch. It was very much like that scene in [Netflix’s Dolemite Is My Name] when he was doing his own stand-up show.
When we were doing Crash Test [a comedy special Scheer cohosted with Rob Huebel], we also packed a whole audience into a giant-ass double-decker bus and toured L.A., pulling up to comedians’ houses to watch them perform from the street. I always love bringing the audience along—getting them out of the theater and walking down the street. In L.A. I think people want that.
What was your level of acquaintance with coked-up bankers before signing on to Black Monday?
I grew up on Long Island around people who worked in the city and then came home to their families, and there’s an energy and a smell and a look to those guys that’s become ingrained in my body. My parents were not [part of Wall Street]—my dad’s a pharmacist, and my mom’s a nurse. But it all felt familiar to me.
I also started watching these great, weird documentaries about stockbrokers. Not like the sexy docs you find on Netflix but ones where a guy is just holding a camera and filming ‘em. I started picking up all these weird details.
The big joke I had with [series cocreators Jordan Cahan and David Caspe] was that I wanted to be drinking Minute Maid orange juice all the time because they were drinking it in every documentary I saw. I realized, “Oh, this is just sugar.” These guys are on coke, and they can’t [always] do it at work, and fresh-squeezed orange juice is this big thing so they’re just pounding it. It’s healthy, you know? I loved this idea of smoking a cigar and drinking orange juice.
The first season is also shrouded in smoke. I read that you were getting sick from all the cigarettes.
It was terrible. If you watch our show from pilot to the last episode, you will notice a marked difference in smoking. We are really going for it in the pilot. It was so intense. I remember coming home from the pilot and smelling my own breath in my pillow—it was so disgusting that I literally went to the doctor to make sure I wasn’t going to get cancer. My character does not smoke at all this season.
We also filmed our characters shooting lines so you’re, you know, putting powdered nuts up your nose. That stuff is just the worst—they can tell you that it doesn’t affect you, but it’s going somewhere. It’s rough.
And your character also vomits on a child. How did you pull that off?
Leslye Headland, cocreator of Russian Doll, directed that episode, and it’s my favorite. [My character is] trying to see my boyfriend perform on Broadway, and I have to get out of a family trip. So, naturally, I poison myself and puke and shit all over my family. They wired me up and tested this rig that was shooting out soup. I was like, “Guys, I think it’ll be fine if we just use CGI because, at a certain point, it’s not going to look so real.” There’s tubes coming out of my head; I’m wearing a CGI outfit; and I smell like Trader Joe’s vegetarian chili. I will never forget that smell.
So we did this amazing scene, the kid was a great sport—and then they ended up using like 90 percent CGI. That’s all CGI vomit. All the hard work of that day was just washed away. But I’ve never felt more gross than when I was peeling off my clothes just smothered in Trader Joe’s vegetarian chili.
You play a closeted stockbroker who has been leading a double life. How did you initially envision your character, Keith Shankar?
Keith is hiding behind this stereotype of a broker, and I loved that I could play him as this broad stereotype—like something you’d see in Wolf of Wall Street—and then crack him open. Even with the toupée, it’s like he’s trying so hard to be something he’s not. I wanted to portray that feeling of never being comfortable with yourself. And what’s been kind of fun about season two is that [season one] ends in this grand way, and Don Cheadle’s character goes on the run. I betray him and use that betrayal to escape my life in New York.
Now Keith is living his best life in Miami and enjoying whatever that is for him. That slowly starts to unravel, and he gets pulled back to New York. The compromises are ten times worse because he’s paid for his freedom and now has to play a different game. The show is extreme—I lost 30 pounds this year because I felt like if my character is living in Miami and living his best life, I need to look like it. I also learned how to Rollerblade. What was most important to me was just showing Keith living a normal life, having that freedom, and carrying himself in a dignified way. What I love about the show is that I can play a character that continually evolves and has all these different edges.