Paul Scheer on Fatherhood, Marriage, and Watching Shitty Family Movies
Paul Scheer has two kids and countless professional obligations. Think of his life as improv times a thousand.
Paul Scheer is almost certainly the busiest guy in Hollywood not currently pounding protein shakes in a Gold’s Gym. After getting his start on the short-lived MTV sketch series Human Giant, the UCB-alum found fame as perpetually put down plastic surgeon Andre on FX’s The League. He’s worked seemingly non-stop ever since: writing, producing, and acting in such projects as Children’s Hospital, NTFS:SD:SUV, Fresh Off the Boat, Veep, and Black Monday (season two of which premieres on Sunday, March 15th) while also performing wildly popular weekly improv shows. Oh, and he also co-hosts two hit podcasts — “How Did This Get Made?” that he co-hosts with his wife June Diane Raphael and comedian Jason Manzouktis, and “Unspooled”, alongside film critic Amy Nicholson — and writes Marvel comic books. He’s also the father of two kids, Gus, 5, and Sammy, 3.
The man does not sleep. Still, he’s got priorities.
“The thing that keeps me the happiest, the most grounded, and that keeps me up when I’m down is my family — my kids and my wife,” he tells Fatherly. It’s worth noting that Scheer, even though this line feels like a something stolen from a triumphant tight end, really means this. During our 30-minute conversation, it becomes abundantly clear that he loves being a husband and father and genuinely obsesses over what it means to be a good dad, how to truly listen to his kids, and how to best work hand-in-hand with his also-busy-as-hell wife to carve out quality time. Unsurprisingly, he does the work and has fun doing it.
Fatherly spoke to Scheer about time management, why perfect moments are better than perfect days, how he and June co-parent, and the thrill of watching shitty movies with his family.
You host two podcasts. You’re starring in Black Monday. You perform live shows. You have a lot going on and a schedule that takes you all over the place. How do you balance it all?
I love that you asked that question. It’s a question that my wife always feels like she is burdened with. And she always says that no one ever asks dads.
At the end of the day, the first thing I want to say is… I know that no matter how shitty the day might be, I’m going to come home to my wife and kids. And no matter how great my day is, it’s always better to share it with them. Do I sometimes want to get the hell out of the house? Yes. But after a day on the road, all I want to do is get back to them.
That is an overriding principle. When I’m not working, I make sure that I am dropping off at least one of the kids to school every morning, making their lunches, and doing things like that. And I’m home for dinner, bath, bed, and books.
Also, I have to be brutally honest: We have amazing help. And I think that people in our industry don’t talk about that much. But our nanny is our family. She is absolutely amazing and I couldn’t do this without her. Because we have her, I’m able to be a better parent. I just am. I’m a better parent because of her because I’m happy that I get to do what I want to do. And when I’m happy doing my stuff, I can come to my family and be happy with them. It’s a cyclical thing.
When you are home, how do you make sure to be present? What are some things you do to make sure that you are there and active in their lives?
I kind of obsess about this stuff and I want to be a good parent. Recently, I was struggling and guilting myself for maybe not creating perfect days with my kids. And I thought: Why am I trying to create a perfect day? I just need to have perfect moments. If I can hit four or five perfect moments a day with my kids, then I’ve won.
This past Sunday, I was really exhausted and Gus, my five-year-old, really wanted to play basketball. I was feeling too tired at first. I had to convince myself that I have to just do this. Being a parent is just like showing up to work sometimes. But you have to. No matter what. Even though you want to take a nap on the couch right now, you have to go and play basketball for 25 minutes.
Those little victories add up. A lot of parents fall into the trap of the perfect day.
The funniest thing is when you realize kids aren’t going to remember the perfect day. We’ve been to the Grand Canyon. And they were like… when?
I’m a big Clippers fan and my son Gus has gotten into the Clippers, too. I have season tickets and one thing that grants you is the opportunity to go to autograph alley and wait for the players when they’re done practicing so you can have them sign autographs. I gave that perk for Gus. And when I was doing it, I was just like I guarantee you in two years he will forget this thing ever happened.
You’re an improv guy, so you’re well-trained in the “Yes…And” method of always being receptive to someone else’s ideas. I imagine this works well when you’re interacting with your kids.
I do so many dumb bits with my kids. It’s so fun. There’s a good sense of play. I’ve been doing this bit with my youngest. We watched ET for the first time and he loved it and I was getting to dust off my old E.T. impression. And I was talking to him in E.T. voice. ET phone hoooooome. And we were doing that and pretending to do conversations. And now we just do this long bit where instead of saying “phone home” he gets this woman named Joan when he calls. She’s obviously confused. And then we go back and forth from there. It’s such a silly dumb thing, but he loves it and I love it. I love playing with them and hearing what their minds are thinking.
“How Does This Get Made?” focuses on bad movies. What are some just awful kid’s movies you’ve had to watch?
Well here’s the thing: Children’s movies are perfect for How Did This Get Made? because there are so many missed and terrible ideas going on. If you look at “HDTGM” catalog, you will see some of the worst, ill-intentioned movies ever made.
I’ll start right at the top with Garbage Pail Kids. Let’s make these kids lovable! Nope, they’re disgusting. They’re popping zits. We recently did The Adventures of Pinocchio on the podcast. It’s one of the most insane movies I’ve ever seen. But when it comes to kid’s movies spectacularly failing, look no further than Mac and Me, a movie produced by McDonald’s that’s trying to rip off E.T.
Speaking of HDTGM. You host it with your wife June. You’re co-workers. You’re partners. You’re parents. What is the balancing act as husband and wife like?
June and I try to work together in ways that are not defining. I think that it’s important to have space in your life — work life and home life — where I can have different work-related experiences and she can have different work-related experiences. I think one of the joys of working together is that there’s no bigger fan of June than me. I love getting to watch her. When I’m prepping stuff, she’s there with me. We’re in the same house. We can talk. We have shared experience, getting to go on tour together which is amazing.
Of course, when we have to do a show, we have to find a sitter. We have to do a lot of planning. There’s a lot of work involved. And to be a functioning unit, we have to make sure we split up our week and are very aware of each other’s schedules. It’s a lot of calendar work and a lot of communicating. As with everyone else, there are a lot of misses. But we try our best and I think for the most part we’re incredibly functional.
There’s this idea of emotional labor, the invisible work that has to be done to keep a household running. It often falls on the woman because it’s an ingrained societal thing. How do you try to balance that work to make sure it’s evenly divided?
We have these hard conversations. But I never, ever feel like June’s harboring something that she hasn’t told me about. That’s a rule we’ve always had. No matter where our heads are at, no matter how dark it is, no matter how trivial it might be.
From an outside perspective, both you and June both seem to be very forward-thinking people. She co-wrote Represent: The Woman’s Guide to Running for Office and Changing the World. You’re both politically active. What effect has this political moment had on your parenting?
It’s had a massive effect. But, for June and I, we talk to our kids on a level they can understand. I don’t want to burden them with too much information, but I do want to teach them. When I got arrested for Fire Drill Friday and June got arrested as well — we co-parented by doing it on different days — we showed the video to the kids when we got back and told them why we got arrested and what happened and why. It’s about leading by example and explaining things on their level.
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