Pauly Shore sits behind a desk in his office at The Comedy Store waiting to take a call. At 4 o'clock, he'll get on the phone with a buyer at Netflix and attempt to convince them to make his new Showtime special Vegas Is My Oyster, along with most of his other movies, available for streaming. “I think they only do Adopted,” he tells me.
A large framed photo of his mother, Mitzi Shore, hangs across from him, directly in his eye line at all times. She's been running The Comedy Store since 1973.
On the phone, Pauly's very charming, complimenting Netflix on how well they're doing. “Do you have Encino Man? People really like that one,” he says. There's something in his voice that indicates he's not so concerned with how much money he'll make from this, as much as it's really important to him that fans who want to see his movies are able to do so.
If Pauly is one thing these days, it's grateful — for his fans, and for any and all work he's able to do. At 43, Pauly's able to boast a decently large body of work both as an actor and a standup comedian, but it's been years since he was considered “hot” or the “the it thing.”
Pauly's star shined brightest as an MTV VJ, as position he held from 1989 to 1994. Despite appearing in dozens of films and TV specials over the years since, he's still most famous simply for being himself. Everyone knew him as “the Weasel,” a goofball surfer dude-type with big hair who talked funny and made weird noises. Jokes aside, just that character made a lot of people laugh, though it was never really clear if we were laughing with him or at him. Still, Pauly had a following, not necessarily for his comedic talent, but just for being who he was.
“I think the thing that separated me from all the other MTV VJs is that I had a connection with the audience,” he says. “When I go outside and drive down the street and I've got construction workers going, 'Hey Pauly!' That's from MTV. It's not from anything else.”
When asked if he feels stuck in that MTV Pauly Shore identity, he says no, explaining, “You've got to look at what you have as opposed to what you don't have. The fact is that people know me, and I landed.
“I had a heart and a connection and a buddy thing with people. The hair and the jeans and all that stuff, there was something in there. I think that's where I'm at now.”
This is a shining example of the growth Pauly seems to have made, not just as a comedian but as a person. He has a glass-half-full (his words) mentality that he says stems from being driven by the work, and not by money or fame.
“Comedy, you don't choose it, it chooses you,” he says. “It's one of those things. I travel all over America all the time and I'm never saying to myself, 'I can't wait to hop on a plane. I can't wait to go stay in some shitty hotel,' But what I say is, 'I can't wait to get on that stage.' It's almost like a surfer dropping into a wave. It's a feeling that I get.
I'm not motivated because my mom owns The Comedy Store. I'm motivated because it's in my blood.”
But Pauly didn't always have such clarity. Post-MTV, he found himself in a slump. “I'd put myself and my career in a place that was very uncomfortable,” he says. “I didn't know how to deal with not being hot anymore. It got very emotional. A lot of people, you know, turn to drugs, a lot of people get really depressed. I mean, I got depressed. I lost my smile. Instead of looking at my life the way I do now, glass half full, I looked at it, back then, half empty. I was really focused on that.”
Out of that downturn came the movie Pauly says he's most proud of, a film called Pauly Shore Is Dead in which Pauly plays himself, and fakes his own death in an attempt to become famous again.
“I wrote it, directed it, produced it, and starred in it and paid for it. I just willed it,” he says. To me, it was the hardest and best thing I've ever done because, well, people say to me, 'When did you grow up?' That's when I grew up.”
Pauly displays this more grown-up version of himself in his latest piece, a Showtime special called Vegas Is My Oyster. In the Curb Your Enthusiasm vein, Pauly once again plays himself as he puts together a standup comedy show at The Palms. Some may watch the special purely out of morbid curiosity: it features loose cannons such as Andy Dick and Tom Green, plus Ron Jeremy and a handful of other porn stars, as well as some relative comedy newcomers like Maz Jobrani and Charlyne Yi. Surprisingly, Pauly plays the straight man. He does no standup, instead focusing on sketch comedy versions of some very real-world issues any producer may encounter.
Putting together the special was a major challenge for Pauly. “Imagine me just trying to get fucking Andy Dick to Vegas. It was a nightmare.” Apparently, Andy almost didn't get on the plane. “He was drunk!” Pauly yells, as if that should go without saying. “My job as a producer is to promise Showtime A, B and C and D. Andy Dick, Tom Green, they don't give a fuck how I get them there.”
Some talent, particularly the porn stars, passed on appearing. But as Pauly explains, “The thing that I learned is that no is a yes. Do you understand? When you produce, and someone says no, that means it's a yes. Meaning, that person, it wasn't supposed to happen with.”
Like Pauly Shore Is Dead, Pauly wrote and produced Oyster, and says he had little budget to hire any real help. He talked about doing the lion's share of the work himself, right down to such minute details as figuring out which theater curtain to use that would look best on TV. At the beginning of the special, you hear Pauly make reference to the $600 curtain behind him, as if it's the bane of his existence.
“I look at everything as a learning experience,” he says. “Do I want to be doing this? Not really. It's challenging, which I like. And at the end of the day I'm learning a lot, and that's really what life's about.”
Vegas Is My Oyster premieres on Showtime on Friday, August 5 at 10 p.m.