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Literally Flying Toward Better Ideas: The Creative Habits of Paul Scheer

To mark the return of The League, writer, actor, and comedian Paul Scheer discusses where, when, and how he gets inspired to work.

Literally Flying Toward Better Ideas: The Creative Habits of Paul Scheer

When he’s not creating comedy on a moving bus, the rest of Paul Scheer’s creative life is just as funny, unconventional, and fast-paced.

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Paul Scheer

Scheer is a writer, actor, comedian, and podcaster–and if all that doesn’t sound exhausting already, he’s also a new dad. One of the early breakout performers from the original Upright Citizen Brigade Theater, he went from an acclaimed sketch show on MTV to juggling his own Adult Swim series and a role on FX’s The League in just a couple years. Since then, he’s doubled-down on acting, with a regular role on ABC’s new hit sitcom, Fresh Off The Boat, and appearances in movies like the forthcoming Will Ferrell flick, Daddy’s Home–all while assisting in the creation of the Hotwives series for Hulu, and making exceedingly random nostalgia-based comedies for JASH. Clearly, Scheer is made out of fragments of time. How else to account for his ability to seemingly be everywhere at once and also co-parent an infant child. Okay, perhaps he isn’t a chronomancer, but rather a comedic professional with an overactive imagination and a talent for time management.

To get a sense of how he is able to keep so many creative irons in the fire, Co.Create caught up with Scheer before The League’s season premiere on FX tonight, to talk about productivity. Read on to find out how he approaches getting things done, and why he likes working on airplanes.

My Daily Routine

My routine changes almost daily based on call times and whether I’m at home or at work. You’re forced to adjust on a given day. Sometimes I’m acting or producing and on set for 12 hours a day; other times, I’m in an editing bay or writer’s room, having to deal with other pre/post production obligations. Then there are days where I’m totally off or where I’m trying to cram in every meeting I’ve missed because of all the stuff I just described. So I’d say my daily routine is having a constantly shifting to-do list. Each day, I know what I have to get done and then there is the stuff I want to get done–sometimes I get them both done but often times, I’m just pushing the unfinished business into a day where it fits. I will say, barring shooting, my day now ends around 6 p.m. so I can be home with my family and I’m finding that helps make me make the most out of my days because in the past I never had a designated end time.

Jon Lajoie as Taco, Stephen Rannazzisi as Kevin, Katie Aselton as Jenny, Mark Duplass as Pete, Nick Kroll as Ruxin, Paul Scheer as AndrePhoto: Patrick McElhenney, courtesy of FX

When I Feel Most Creative

I’ve recently become a morning person–I had a baby–after being a night person my entire life. I’m still trying to find my creative sweet spot or accept the fact that any time I can get away is now my sweet spot. Ideally I used to love to work late at night, 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., and on the weekends, but that is just not in the cards anymore. I’m probably most productive/creative on airplanes–I love being totally cut off so I try to recreate that whenever I work. Just lock the doors, kill the Internet and turn off my phone. But that can only come after I answer all my emails and clean my desk–I feel like it curbs my anxiety and allows me to get be totally clear and ready. I also do some TM (transcendental meditation) and I feel like that centers me in a good way to be open to new stuff or at least calm the other parts of my mind down.

What’s Inspiring Me

I’m blown away by Mr. Robot, it’s so dark, edgy and funny, I can’t believe it’s on USA. It’s the perfect example of going against the grain. I work in a business where people are always trying to pigeonhole what you do while simultaneously telling you to think outside the box—and then when you do, they immediately put you back into a box. This show is a lesson in not taking the most obvious path creatively, or with the platform. Take a chance, explore a different road. Because this show is on USA, that network is going to become a contender for very cool shows and it’s going to be harder to get your work seen there because the competition will be so high. Sometimes it’s worth sneaking in while nobody’s looking and not making the obvious choice against everyone’s better judgment.

Nick Kroll as Ruxin, Mark Duplass as Pete, Stephen Rannazzisi as Kevin, Tyrann Mathieu, Calais Campbell, Paul Scheer as Andre.Photo: Patrick McElhenney, courtesy of FX

The Keys to Living a Creative Life

I’m a BIG believer in collaboration. I believe you put together a smart/competent team and let them create by your side. I really love making it a team effort because that means there are multiple heads trying to figure out the best way to tackle a situation. When you see something that you fought against succeed wildly you learn that maybe you don’t have all the answers. I don’t think I’ll ever be the smartest or best but I do believe I’ll have the smartest and best team around me to make me look good.

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Where I Work Out My Ideas

I’m all about moleskin graph outlined notebooks, also the Notes App on iPhone, and recently I’ve gone down the GTD wormhole. [Rob Corddry is another avowed fan of the Getting Things Done productivity system too.] I use Omni Focus and Evernote as data dumps for tasks, ideas and to-dos. I love seeing these things in front of me too. A big corkboard or white board are staples in my life, even though I can’t always get them. I need to see my tasks laid out on real paper and on cards. It helps keep things mentally alive.

When I’m brainstorming, I treat it like journaling–write a bunch of ideas by hand and jump between them. I keep coming back to the earlier ideas to see if I can expand on them some more. Then after that whatever idea sticks with me I focus on and move forward to create whatever it is I’m writing. My instinct is to always chase what I’m passionate about in the moment–it will either have legs or flame out. I believe in the idea that you can bring anything to fruition, and the kernel of the idea is never the full idea. So don’t judge yourself too harshly. Just keep moving forward.