Tonight, Paul Scheer is back as shoot first, ask questions never Trent Hauser in NTSF:SD:SUV, which enters its second season on Adult Swim. Scheer created the show and also writes and produces it in between gigs working with fellow Human Giant star Rob Huebel, along with his regular part as the put-upon Andre in FX’s The League.
We spoke to Scheer recently about heading into the second season, dream-casting for the show, and giving his co-stars more room to shine in the new episodes.
MTV Geek: First things first, who’s a bigger jerk, your character Trent in NTSF or Andre from The League?
Paul Scheer: Oh wow, that’s a tough question. I would say Trent is the bigger jerk by far. Andre, I don’t think he knows that he’s a jerk.
I don’t think Andre is a jerk so much as he’s the butt of a lot of jokes. He’s a jerk in a different way. Trent Hauser’s a jerk in a “Ha, that guy’s a jerk” sort of way. Andre’s more of a jerk in a [uses a sad inflection] “Man, that guy’s a jerk.”
It’s really just the inflection you use to say “jerk.”
Geek: So what’s the key to writing a jerk like Trent while keeping him fun and someone that viewers want to stick with each week?
Scheer: Kiefer Sutherland is a crazy jerk on 24, but you love him because he gets the job done. And I think that that goes for a lot of action stars, I mean Steven Segal is a jerk but you want to watch him because eventually, he’s a jerk who can beat up bad people. So I think that as long as a jerk is beating up bad people in the end, you’ll get behind him.
For me, the fun thing with Trent when you write him is making him so out of touch. I think this season we’ll reveal that he’s never seen a movie and he hates books. It’s just sort of fun to kind of push this guy in different directions who doesn’t do anything but work.
Geek: Between acting, producing, and writing NTSF, it seems like all you do is work. How is it maintaining that balance of responsibilities on the show?
Scheer: You know, I love working on these Adult Swim shows because it’s intense, but it’s like going to work on their shows is one of the most fun things that I’ve done. And the same goes for when I worked on Human Giant because you are at every level involved and there’s always something to be done.
Right before I got on the phone with you, I was looking at music cues for an upcoming episode, and I just got off the phone before that doing ADR, then we’re writing an informercial that’s going to come out later.*
I think when you’re able to create something from start to finish, it’s like having a kid, for lack of a better example. It gets overwhelming at points, but what we try to do is get all of the writing done first, and then we’re shooting, and then we do post. So you’re working for a long time but the focus of it keeps on switching and it doesn’t get boring.
Geek: After doing this for a season, do you feel like you guys have the process down pat or are you still figuring it out?
Scheer: Second seasons are always way better and more fun–at least for the writing process what we wanted to do. For the first season, we had a full series and we didn’t even have a pilot to base anything on. So we were kind of finding it in the writing.
The benefit of this show is that we write our 12 or 13 episodes and then we shoot them all together. So it’s not like we spend one week on one episode or one week on the next–in a given day, we’ll be shooting pieces of three or four episodes.
I think the second season was good because we knew the characters and we definitely knew how we wanted to approach the second season. For us, the first season was just based in solid procedural parody. In this season we want to break it out a little bit more. We want to enjoy the characters a little bit more because we didn’t want to get into a rut. So that was kind of fun, to find new things in the characters.
And you get a system in place. It gets easier and easier with time.
Geek: What kind of guidance or feedback did you receive from Adult Swim between seasons? Speaking to other show creators in the past, I understand that they’re very hands-on with trying to tweak the formula for a series to get just the right balance.
Scheer: Mike Lazzo, who’s the head of Adult Swim, is very hands-on in a great way. He gives notes on all our scripts and we had a talk about the beginning of the season about what he wants to see more of and it lined up exactly with what we wanted to do, which was really just [exploring] this ensemble.
Because we have so many great people–Rebecca (Romijn), Martin (Starr), June (Raphael), Brandon (Johnson)–what we did this year was each character has an episode, at least one. Brandon goes to Alaska to kind of make amends with his father, there’s an episode where Martin’s character Sam is in the Trent role and Trent’s in the Sam role, Rebecca’s character goes undercover, June’s character get married. [It] switches focus from being Trent-centric, and I like it in a way. It really gives everyone a lot to do.
Geek: And I have to imagine it’s liberating to pass some of this along to the other actors and let them find their characters’ voices in the show.
Scheer: Yeah, exactly.
I would say that the show is created in three different vacuums, almost: when you’re writing the show, you’re learning about it; when you’re shooting the show, you’re learning even more about it; and then when you’re editing the show, you’re really learning about it. [And] you’re always writing and redeveloping.
After we finished the first season, we had learned so much about what we think works with each one of the characters. So it was really great to find the things that we liked in the first season and go “More of that, more of that, more of that.”
Geek: Did you catch that Patton Oswalt speech that made the rounds [the comedian’s keynote at Montreal’s Just For Laughs fest]? It made me think of the Adult Swim stuff where those shows are packaged as regular cable network stuff but kind of find their lives online and through YouTube.
Do you feel like that’s been the case for NTSF at all?
Scheer: Yeah. I definitely think that people pass things around that they like and it always helps. Like we just had a piece that we released this week or last week where people are getting punched in the face. And it’s a 15-second piece and it’s fun because you think “Oh, this will just be on the Internet.”
It’s funny to think of Dave Chappelle’s show and how popular it was and he was before YouTube. I would imagine Chappelle’s Show would be even more giant if there was a chance to put his stuff online and pass it around. Human Giant definitely benefited, making sketches on Funny or Die before they were on air.
And with NTSF, sometimes we cut things specifically for the Internet.
And the cool thing about Adult Swim is that they’re very conscious of that culture and the Internet and they embrace it–most networks don’t embrace that stuff. And what [Adult Swim] will do is take some of that stuff and put it on air that wasn’t intended to be on air. A good example is that I was involved in this Breaking Bad “Breaking Gifs”, and they liked that so much that they put some of the .gifs on air. They’re into just very much breaking the structure of what is good television content. And if it’s good for 15 seconds, then let’s just put it on.
You know, our trailer, was just a 90-second trailer which they gave us money to shoot and go do and then they put it on-air [and this lead to NTSF getting picked up]. They’re very open to small things, everything.
Geek: Besides your NTSF work, are you writing anything for Children’s Hospital this year?
Scheer: I didn’t write anything for Children’s this year, however I did write for News Readers which is a spinoff of Children’s Hospital which is shooting right now. I wrote an episode for that.
I think a lot of the time, with Rob (Huebel, Human Giant alum and Children’s Hospital writer and star), obviously we share a very fun group of friends and obviously it’s very hard to get the people that you want to write for your show in. And I think I kind of gracefully stepped out of the mix for that because we both feel like “If I give you one, and you take one of ours, that’s one less we can give to someone who might not have the opportunity to be writing at all.”
I think we’re just trying to spread the wealth as much as we can.
Geek: Finally, if you could get any actor to be on the show, who would it be?
Scheer: Ideally, Kiefer Sutherland. Keifer is definitely the number one person that we want on the show. We’ve never approached him and I know that he has seen the show and he had, at first, a very negative response that turned into a positive response. I think he just had to process it for a second, and now he’s just really on board with it.
We didn’t approach him because we didn’t feel we had anything that was 100% right for him. And the problem with these shows sometimes is that if you write to a certain person, then you get kind of caught in a corner. So what we try to do is write these parts and think of who could play [them].
A perfect example this year was, we just had this guy who thinks he’s like Jason Bourne, he’s a mail room clerk, who was hit in the head and forgot like a year of his life and thinks that he’s a secret agent. And we said jokingly, “Yeah, Ray Liotta should do that.”
And then we go Ray Liotta.
And we went out and got him, and we shot for an hour and he was hilarious.
So casting this show has been amazing–this season, in particular. The guest stars we got are just awesome, so I try to keep myself open because whenever I think about who I want, we never think about the people that we actually get on the show and they’re great.
*We detailed the NTSF Home Security System informercial a bit in our post about the 2012 Adult Swim lineup.
NTSF:SD:SUV returns for a second season on Adult Swim tonight at 12:15 ET.