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Paul Scheer On How He Wrote Human Giant and Created His Unique Brand of Pop-Culture Parody

Paul Scheer Photo: Getty Images

From his podcast about movies, How Did This Get Made?, to comedy projects like NTSF:SD:SUV:: and ArScheerio Paul, Paul Scheer has built a fan base rooted in a shared pop-culture sensibility. His fans, like him, are fans of movies and TV, in spite of the fact and/or because of the fact they find a lot of it absurd. As Scheer explains in this week’s episode of Good One, Vulture’s new podcast about jokes and the people who write them, this sensibility can be traced back to “The Illusionators,” a Criss Angel parody he wrote with Aziz Ansari in 2007 for Human Giant, the mid-’00s sketch show co-created by Scheer, Ansari, Rob Huebel, and Jason Woliner. In conversation, Scheer discusses coming up with “The Illusionators” with Ansari, the unique way they created Human Giant, how it paved way for his career, and if what he’s doing should even be considered parody at all.

Listen to the episode and read an excerpt of our discussion below. Tune in to Good One every Monday on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts.

You met Criss Angel in Las Vegas. Was he aware of these sketches?
He’s aware of sketches, I would imagine, the way that Donald Trump is aware of certain bills. Like, “I’ve heard of that, yeah. I think I know.” Aziz and I were in this club in Vegas because we love that scene. We got a tap on our shoulders from this very big guy whose neck muscle was bigger than my thigh. He was like, “Criss Angel wants to see you guys.” So they took us upstairs to where Criss Angel was above the club, in these little banquettes. And there’s a lot of VIPs up there, bottle service, whatever. We get brought over to him and he looks at us and he’s like [in Angel’s voice], “Nice to meet you guys, imitation is the highest form of flattery.” We’re like, “Cool, cool.” And we left. We were like, “What just happened there? What did we just experience?” Because he didn’t say, “I liked it.” He didn’t say he didn’t like it. He didn’t ask us to stay. It was kind of like, “I see you, you see me, now go.” He was surrounded by, like, three women. We found out later he was getting a divorce at the time. We were like, “Yeah, he didn’t need us to be tagging along.”

How did he even know that you were there?
I have a feeling his security team spotted us. They probably are like, “Hey, you see this thing?” And then, “Yo, Criss. Those are the guys that made fun of you.” And he’s like, “Bring ’em here. I wanna talk to them.” Then we get shoveled up to his little perch where he is, at that point, a Vegas god. Now, I remember I saw his Cirque du Soleil show. It was a little bit lackluster to say the least.

It’s interesting that your interest in him has not waned.
Oh, not at all. I almost went to Vegas with Jason for a charity event that Criss Angel hosted. I was like, “Yeah, I need to see this thing.” Unfortunately, I had a baby about a week before, and I really sat up at night when my wife was asleep and our baby was still up and I was like, How can I say, “Can I go to Vegas for one night?” Maybe I could leave on Wednesday and come back on the same night. Thankfully, I did not say that. I don’t consider myself the best husband or the best father, but I am a better father for not asking for that.

Do you have a favorite street joke?
Oh my gosh, can I tell you this story? So we’re doing Human Giant and we get taken out to a fancy restaurant by the head of MTV and it was very exciting. Pauly Shore sits down with us. Pauly Shore obviously has a history at MTV. We’re having a good time with Pauly Shore. He’s being crazy. Then all of a sudden, who approaches the table, but Russell Crowe. It’s just Human Giant, Pauly Shore, and now Russell Crowe. Russell Crowe’s first move in sitting down is, “Pauly, you remember me?” And Pauly’s like, “No, I don’t remember you.” Which is the craziest thing. Russell Crowe’s a huge celebrity at this point. Russell Crowe does this thing — the nicest guy by the way — he’s like, “Can we take the lights out here?” They bring a waiter over to unscrew the light bulbs above the tables and now we’re in the dark with Russell Crowe.

Then he’s like, “Well, now you guys are gonna hang out with us. Let’s hang out.” So we go over [to his table]. Pauly Shore leaves. Head of MTV leaves. And Russell Crowe is like, “Well, you guys are comedians, tell us jokes.” Aziz, me, Rob and Woliner are like, “Um … what do you mean? What do you mean?” He’s just like, “A street joke. Tell us a street joke.” I don’t know what to say. We are caught with our pants down. He was like, “What? You don’t have jokes?” And we’re like [stammering], “Well, we don’t have them like ready to go …” He’s like, “I’ll tell you a joke. Why do we do the sign of the Father?” Like the cross over the chest. And he goes, “Because …” And it’s this joke about bee and some honey and he’s like, “That’s why.” He’s like, “Cause he’s trying to swat away the bees.” And we’re like, “Okay.” He’s like, “Okay, your turn again.” We’re like, “We didn’t even go the first time!”

You recently did a movie with Nicholas Cage. Do you remember what he smells like?
You know, very good. You would think Nicholas Cage would give off an odor, a perspiration if anything. I will say that, like all great people, he didn’t have an odor that was recognizable. He just was one of the team. He has a crazy beard and a crazy long hairdo at that point. I have to say, for a guy, you know, if you’re rocking a crazy beard and a ponytail, there’s smells that are just coming. Hair holds in something. His smell was, I would say, didn’t bother anybody. It was good.

Paul Scheer’s Insane Russell Crowe and Criss Angel Stories