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How Paul Scheer is gambling on his own creativity (and winning)

From acting to podcasting to penning comic books, Scheer’s career is just as creative as it is random. Here’s how he juggles it all.

How Paul Scheer is gambling on his own creativity (and winning)
Paul Scheer as Keith in Black Monday. [Photo: Erin Simkin/Showtime]

Listen to the latest episode of Fast Company’s podcast Creative Conversation featuring actor and comedian Paul Scheer on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, RadioPublic, GooglePlay, or Stitcher.

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Paul Scheer’s résumé is a dizzying display of creative output: When he’s not acting in shows like Black Monday, Veep, or Fresh Off the Boat, he’s busy co-hosting two popular podcasts (How Did This Get Made? and Unspooled), writing comic books for Marvel (Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History), and penning a reboot of the 1999 cult classic Galaxy Quest–and those are just the projects he’s been working on recently.

Since his improv days at the Upright Citizens Brigade in the late ’90s, Scheer has worked nonstop. But his steady stream of writing, directing, producing, and acting credits in shows like Human Giant, The League, and NTSF:SD:SUV often overlapped, which was great for someone trying to make a name for himself in such a competitive industry, but less than ideal for the creative process.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’m trying to stay more focused on the things that I’m doing,” Scheer says in the latest episode of Fast Company‘s podcast Creative Conversation. “When I was doing shows, I’d go to my trailer and I’d be working on other shows. Now I make a commitment to myself that when I’m acting in something, I’m just gonna stay focused in that world because I think the human brain can’t take that many distractions. When you’re balancing too many creative things at once, they’ll falter a little bit.”

And that has meant learning to leave some items unchecked on his to-do list.

“When you create things and you are in the business of being your own business, you have to be okay with going to bed knowing that not everything is done,” Scheer says. “And if you can come to terms with that, you kind of feel free.”

In this episode of Creative Conversation, Scheer explains why playing a closeted character in Black Monday was liberating, what he looks for in creative partners, and why you can’t be afraid to blow up your own projects.

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Avoid pigeonholes

“[In Black Monday], it actually has been really fun to do a character that I think has some depth and some stakes to it. I do come from the world of comedy in which those characters just are the archetypes that they are–and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Doing The League for seven years was one of the most fun, freeing experiences. But by virtue of that show, Andre in season one to Andre in season seven, there’s no real growth or change. We’re in a business where whatever you’re good at, people go, ‘That’s it–you’ll only do those things.’ It’s always trying to do something different so you don’t pigeonhole yourself.

Paul Scheer as Keith in Black Monday. [Photo: Erin Simkin/Showtime]
My character [in Black Monday] wears a wig in the show, and that was a conscious [choice] because when we first start talking about how he’s wrestling with his sexuality, I wanted that wig to represent the idea that he’s already hiding. On the base level, it’s like he’s not even comfortable being bald in this world. For me, it’s exciting because I get to make these choices.”

Find creative partners “willing to get their hands dirty”

“For a NTSF, we had a whole Fast and the Furious episode. We were going to get these go-carts and then we’re like, ‘We can’t afford go-carts.’ And we’re like, ‘We’ll get petty cabs.’ But we couldn’t find enough petty cabs. And then we’re like, ‘Just make it virtual reality.’ And every part of that process was people going, ‘Okay, here’s what’s doable. We can’t do that. What’s next?’ And creativity was morphing and morphing. What we finally came to was this cool virtual reality episode that starred Brie Larson and Jake Johnson and Alan Tudyk. Creativity comes out of people who can work under constraints. It’s finding people who don’t throw up their hands, people who are willing to get their hands dirty.”

Paul Scheer [Photo: courtesy of the subject]

Gamble on your own creativity

“[With rebooting Galaxy Quest], you’re in this world where not only are people looking to you to create the next version of it, but everyone else has preconceived notions on how it should be done. I was happy with the script and the outline but I was like, I could do this one thing. If I did this one thing, it’s like pulling a thread–it could unravel everything. And I really sat with it for like a week. I’ve already done all this work, and I’ve already put in all this time and dealing with people’s expectations. And I just said to myself, Screw it. I’m going to do it for me. And I sat down and I pulled that string that was bothering me. No one asked me to do this–it just was from my own creative sense. I was like, I’m doing somebody else’s version of the show, not my version of the show. And I sat down and I wrote the script the way I wanted to write it and then I handed that in and it was received well. And it was this moment of getting off my ass and going like, I’m blowing this up to gamble on myself here.”

Scheer’s most important creative advice

“Don’t judge yourself before you see it through. The hardest thing to do is to give yourself the confidence to move forward on an idea. Just complete the idea because once the idea is complete, then you can go and redraft it. That five-page thing becomes the 30-page thing. And then that 30-page thing becomes the series. But you will never get that five-page thing if you don’t see the idea through.”

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About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.

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