Pauly Shore’s Dark, Sad Visit to ‘Hollywood Handbook’

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Paul F. Tompkins has a wonderful standup bit about how a friend of his saw Fabio one day, and like most people in that situation would, freaked out about how surreal it was to encounter a walking punchline like Fabio in the wild. This led Tompkins to contemplate the strange existential plight of Fabio, who has the bifurcated condition of being at once a glib walking punchline and a genuine human being with feelings, hopes and, if we’re being exceedingly generous, possibly even something resembling dignity.

Pauly Shore is one of the few people alive who can feel and understand Fabio’s pain. For a good quarter century, Shore has known what it feels like to be the subject and target of mocking laughter everywhere he goes. Shore may be a human being with a fascinating background (his dad was a standup comic, his mother ran a comedy club and is probably one of the mostly quietly influential figures in comedy in the past forty years) but he very lucratively made himself into a joke on MTV and in movies like Encino Man and Bio-Dome and is cursed to live inside that joke, and inhabit that persona, long after it stopped being lucrative and became achingly sad.

So part of the train wreck fascination of Shore’s fascinatingly bizarre appearance on Earwolf’s Hollywood Handbook lies in the uncertain way Shore and hosts Hayes Davenport and Sean Clements attempt to negotiate the divide between Shore as a human being and Shore as a ridiculous, faded walking punchline.

Though Shore himself has a podcast, he’s one of those out-of-touch figures who only vaguely seem to understand how podcasting and the podcasting universe operate. From the very outset, he cuts a wary, suspicious figure, who suspects, not without reason, that the hosts are less interested in exploring his personality and helping him promote his various projects than in making fun of him.

Shore is apparently of the mindset that the best defense is a good offense. At the first opportunity, Shore throws out that he’s there because he says yes to everything and that he doesn’t really understand the humor of Hollywood Handbook (he says he’s “not in tune with this style of comedy”), or its sensibility, or really anything about it, and that he’s sticking around out of a sense of dogged determination more than anything else.

Shore might have set out to undercut the tension by acknowledging the very different comic sensibilities of himself and the podcast he’s on, but his comments have the opposite effect. The tension is thick, and Shore actively seems to be looking for reasons to be offended and insulted. True, Hayes and Sean are incorrigible smart-asses (that’s kind of their thing) but Shore sees offense where none is intended, and seems deeply insulted by the tone of Hollywood Handbook, the segments of Hollywood Handbook, and even individual questions he clearly considers beneath his dignity, which is pretty surreal considering who he is.

Given the nature of Hollywood Handbook, it’s hard to know how much of Shore’s belligerence is sincere and how much of it is part of it is an act, but Hayes and Sean’s faux-assholery clashes violently and fascinatingly with what appears to be Shore’s genuine anger and raging jerkiness. Shore and the hosts seem to be operating at cross purposes. The arrogance and the deep confusion Shore expresses throughout the interview, the sense that he’s done too much for too long to have to participate in this kind of nonsense, all feel deeply real and organic; it’s the grudging attempts at humor that feel wan and insincere.

After a tone-deaf reference by Shore to not wanting to cause “African-American” riots like the ones in Ferguson (the intensity of which causes Shore to girlishly squeal, “oh my god”) comes the dark heart of the episode. When one of the hosts utters Shore’s catchphrase of “Weas the Jew-Oos” with what Shore decides is an inappropriate, overly feminine inflection that makes him sound, like, in Shore’s immortal words, “a fucking homo, dude,” Shore angrily insists “That’s not how you do it” before illustrating the appropriate, sufficiently masculine way to say “Weas the Juice.”

If it were a bit, it would be a brilliant one, and it’s undoubtedly tongue-in-cheek on some level, but a lot of weird, genuine anger oozes out. Whether he’s discussing the death of Encino Man 2, thinking back on what a great actor his late Son In Law co-star Lane Smith was, contemplating Andy Dick’s personal and professional travails, or talking about how he needs to financially support his houses since he has no children, Shore comes off as a deluded and faintly tragicomic figure.

The Pauly Shore episode of Hollywood Handbook offers a darkly fascinating jaunt through the sad haunted terrain of Pauly Shore’s melancholy brain but it serves another essential purpose as well: Only by listening to this particular podcast will listeners know the appropriately masculine way to utter Sweet Baby Weas’ catchphrase. And you cannot put a price on knowledge like that, Hollywood insider or not.

Nathan Rabin is the former head writer of The A.V. Club and the author of four books, including Weird Al: The Book (with “Weird Al” Yankovic) and, most recently, You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me.

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