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Features

From Sketch Comedy To Crime Scenes

How Long Islander Paul Scheer became a fantasy football cult figure

If Woody Allen’s fictional Leonard Zelig had a comedic counterpart, it might be Paul Scheer. With his bald pate and trademark gap between his teeth, Scheer has a unique look that’s made him easy to pick out of the various projects he’s worked on since he made his first televised appearance as a character named Toad & Elephant Man in an episode of the defunct Comedy Central sketch comedy series Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB). Younger pop culture fans might know him from his two-season run alongside Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreation) and Paul Huebel (Childrens Hospital) on MTV’s Human Giant. Or if you watch Nick Jr.’s Yo Gabba Gabba! with your little ones, you’ll see Scheer appearing alongside 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer in the regular segment, “Knock-Knock Joke of the Day.” He was also a regular talking head on VH-1’s weekly pop culture overview Best Week Ever. But currently, Scheer’s highest profile gigs are as nerdy Dr. Andre Nowzick on the FX, fantasy-football driven sitcom The League, and as tough guy lead Trent Hauser, on Adult Swim’s police procedure parody NTSF: SD: SUV::. But given how huge fantasy football has gotten, it is the Nowzick role that has catapulted Scheer and also got the lifelong Jets fan hooked on a sports phenomenon that shows no signs of abating.

“I never knew anything about fantasy football but when I got involved with the show, it was great. I definitely have nerdy things about my own personality, so it’s kind of like playing fantasy Dungeons and Dragons, so it’s great,” he explained with a laugh.

Currently airing on Thursday nights on FX, The League is about a group of Chicago-area friends in a fantasy football league and the lengths they go to in their quest to win. Created by former Seinfeld/Curb Your Enthusiasm writer Jeff Schaffer and his film developer wife Jackie Marcus Schaffer, the show uses a script outline with many scenes using improv in a manner not unlike Curb, which allows for a far fresher brand of humor. And for Scheer, whose roots were honed working in the sketch comedy troupe that spawned and gave its name to the aforementioned UCB, it’s in his creative wheelhouse.

“It’s a dream job in many respects. I think a lot of shows use improv, but Jeff and Jackie are really astute at using it,” explained the Huntington native. “I think that comes from working on Curb, which is not improvising and hoping we get something good. It’s a constant process of crafting and refining so that by the time we’re at the end of doing a scene, we have a really solid scene that might have started an hour ago and made it much more loose and improvised, making it really nice and tight.”

A lifelong Long Islander, Scheer grew up in Huntington but at various points called Hauppauge, Central Islip and Northport home. But it was while he was attending St. Anthony’s High School when he decided comedy was in his future, following a trip into Manhattan with his father to catch a performance of improvisational theater company Chicago City Limits.

“Growing up, I was a big fan of Saturday Night Live and The Ben Stiller Show. I loved that but I never understood that was an attainable [goal]. I had never seen improv [and when I saw CCL was when] I decided it was what I wanted to do. So my dad enrolled me in a class [at CCL] and I was lying to everyone in my class telling them that I was a sophomore in college when in reality I was a freshman at St. Anthony’s High School out in Huntington,” Scheer recalled. “I was totally new to going to the city and taking this class and my eyes were totally opened. I eventually got into that company and was touring around when I was at NYU. I was actually touring around the country on the weekends and then coming back for classes.”

It was during this time when Scheer discovered Upright Citizens Brigade, where he started out taking classes before eventually getting brought aboard as an instructor. Along with helping him hone his craft, UCB was also a place where he met numerous future comedy greats—Amy Poehler, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, McBrayer—many of whom he would work with later in his career. The D.I.Y. ethos that was at the crux of being a part of UCB also fueled Scheer’s drive and while The League has been responsible for breaking him to the general public, it is NTSF: SD: SUV::, the 15-minute Adult Swim parody that he created, produces, writes and stars in that allows him the most creativity. Starring fictional tough guy Agent Ken Hauser, the show mocks shows ranging from the CSI franchise to Hawaii 5-0 and 24. NTSF is also an outlet that also allows Scheer to work with some of his favorite people.

“With NTSF, I’ve been able to cast who I want. I actually directed Ray Liotta in an episode,” he said in amazement. “Even Michael Gross, the dad from Family Ties, I got to cast him in something. Everybody that I’ve ever been a fan of and that I’m a fan of now in my current life, I’m able to cast in the show. It’s the best thing in the world.”

With a number of projects in the docket—a podcast, writing a comic book, working on a film adaptation of Human Giant with Ben Stiller—the veteran sketch comedian’s television facetime is even more ubiquitous. The League and NTSF: SD: SUV both air on Thursday night, essentially making this day of the week Paul Scheer must-see-TV, a notion he gets a kick out of.  

“The funny thing is that the characters that I play on both shows are so worlds apart,” he explained “Andre is this nerdy tool and Ken Hauser is kind of like if Jack Bauer and David Caruso had a baby—tough guy, gravelly voice, a take no kind of crap kind of guy. It’s fun when within the space of an hour, you can be a whole different person.”