‘The Floodgates Opened’: How Paul Scheer Confronted Childhood Trauma in His New Memoir

If it’s true that comedy equals tragedy plus time, Paul Scheer has a serious advantage. While audiences may recognize him as the earnestly delusional Andre from The League or as the satirical action star of NTSF:SD:SUV::, Scheer’s past isn’t as funny as his work — as evidenced by his new memoir, Joyful Recollections of Trauma. In the book, the actor, comedian, podcaster, and writer/director uncovers a layer of darkness he’s previously only hinted at, reflecting on his childhood, including abuse from his stepfather, and his longtime obsession with Hollywood. It’s as surprising as it is self-aware and thoughtful, and it showcases what’s behind Scheer’s uncanny ability to balance absurdist characters with a sense of grounded humanity.

The memoir ultimately shies away from going behind the scenes of his onscreen work, which has also recently included canceled Showtime series Black Monday, and Scheer approached it with a sense of reflection rather than anger. He is honest, especially about his parents, but also was careful to not to overly reveal his present home life with his wife June Diane Raphael and their kids. 

“This isn’t a burn book, in any way,” Scheer tells Rolling Stone. “I didn’t want to be settling grudges. This book isn’t about who has wronged me. It’s me sharing this journey. And there was an understanding that a part of my life is still closed off to the public and I want it to remain that way. It’s an interesting balance we fall into culturally right now, too. How do you be authentic without being completely transparent?”

Scheer wrote the memoir over the course of about two years, and wanted to ensure he was looking back at everything with a sense of resolution. Although some of the stories are challenging, he wanted to write from a place of understanding, rather than upset. And don’t worry: Despite the heavy moments, he’s OK.

“I’m not 100 percent,” Scheer says. “It’s not like, ‘I’m better. I did it.’ But the reason I wanted to write about these things is because I felt I could reflect on them in an honest way without anger and, honestly, some love and empathy. Where it’s more emotional is when I talk to people who have read the book who have experienced something similarly traumatic. When they get emotional, I get emotional listening to them. But it’s also beautiful.”

The audiobook features bonus clips from Scheer’s longtime podcast How Did This Get Made?, which he’s recorded weekly with Raphael and collaborator Jason Mantzoukas for over a decade. (He is also the co-host of Unspooled with Amy Nicholson.) It was there Scheer began spilling some of the stories in the book, which he calls the “locked in amber” versions of his childhood tales. Here Scheer discusses being honest about his life and mental health, meeting celebrities, and why he’s always looking for something new in his career.

Why did you feel ready to write a memoir?
For the last 14 years doing How Did This Get Made? I’ve told these funny little stories about my childhood, whether it’s a weird story about my grandma or a weird teacher or a car accident — whatever it is. These little things I thought were normal that often get the most horrified look from my two co-hosts. A lot of people would be like, “You have to write a book! Paul Scheer’s most harrowing stories!” There are YouTube mash-up clips of my most fucked-up childhood stories. But I always put off writing a book because I didn’t know how to make these anecdotes into a book. Because an anecdote is a very social thing.

But after my first kid I started to talk about my life differently. As I became a parent I started to look at how I was raised and to look back on the work I had done on myself. I started writing from that place. Somebody said to me really eloquently, “You couldn’t write this a moment too soon.” It just hit me one day and I was like, “Oh, I’m writing this thing.” And I feel like it came out intentionally, but the sum total of its parts was a little bit different than I intended. I uncovered so much more. It started with “I’ll share a little bit of my life.” But then the floodgates opened.

It’s an extremely honest book. How did you get to that place?
I wanted to treat this book not like therapy, but like a reflection of therapy and a reflection of the work I’ve done. It feels like everything in this book is something I’m very open to talk about because it’s something that I feel comfortable about where I’m at with it. When I read a memoir or a biography, sometimes you’ll read something that feels so on the surface that you’re like, “Wow this feels like an US Weekly article.” And then sometimes it goes the other way where they’re just dumping stuff that has not been dealt with at all, which is when I get uncomfortable as a reader or as a listener. So I wanted to be aware of those two sides.

I don’t want to make a book that was my funny celebrity experiences because I’m still young-ish and if I ever wanted to do that I’ve got plenty of time. And Barbra Streisand has got that covered. I wanted to write something that felt a little bit more universal. I’ve learned so much from people who’ve shared their stories, whether it is going to an insane boarding school or being treated for schizophrenia. It doesn’t have to be something that I actually went through, but it’s something that I can identify with and that might help me in some way. Those were the books I most wanted to emulate. To make sure I’m giving of myself so that somebody is spending time with me actually I think walks away with something more than just anecdotes.

You do tell a few celebrity stories, though, including an incredible one about meeting Christopher Walken when you were a child, and he gave you life advice. Have you encountered him since then?
No and I don’t want to! That Christopher Walken story lives so perfectly in my head that I feel like any interaction with him afterwards would just fall to pieces. I’ve been in the vicinity of a lot of people who I really, really like and I don’t ever want to meet them. But the best celebrity interaction I’ve had in my later life was at the Super Bowl. I was watching a concert the night before the Super Bowl — I think it was Justin Timberlake — and standing next to me was Paul McCartney and his sons. I was like, “Oh, my God, Paul McCartney. Oh, shit, that’s a Beatle.” And his sons wanted to meet me, but they were too embarrassed. So they made him talk to me. Paul McCartney came over and introduced himself to me. That was, to me, the best way to meet anybody.

Listeners of How Did This Get Made? are familiar with some of your childhood. But a lot of readers will be surprised by what you’ve been through.
I know my friends are! I just did a reading in Los Angeles and I think everyone was like, “Whoa.” We don’t usually talk about it. I’ll tell a story [on the podcast], like “My grandma told me about this butcher who kidnaps kids and chops them into meat,” and Jason and June will be like, “That is disturbing.” And then I say, “That’s not disturbing, I have something that’s really disturbing.” I always feel like I’m holding back. But I was laughing the other day thinking that if someone reads the book they might come away thinking, “This poor guy never got a chance to be on Saturday Night Live and then never did anything else.” Because I don’t really talk about my career.

Why did you want to include your SNL audition story?
It’s such an interesting rite of passage that I never assumed I would actually get. UCB Theatre wasn’t an established, cool place at that point. It was an up-and-coming and, for lack of a better word, punk-rock place. They went to Groundlings and Second City, and we were this off-shoot doing shows in a retrofitted strip club. It’s funny when you bump into people and everyone can tell their audition story. And then, conversely, I’ve talked to so many of my friends who are up in the offices [at NBC] watching that live feed of SNL and watching so many people’s auditions.

As someone best known for comedy, did you feel pressure to make the book funny?
No, but at the same time I know it’s a book and I want it to be entertaining. I didn’t want it to be like trauma porn. Writing one of these things is like walking on a tightrope on a tightrope. The title of the book is Joyful Recollections of Trauma, right? There’s a difference between joyful recollections of trauma and recollections of trauma, and I was very aware of that. But I never tried to undercut anything [with humor]. There was one chapter I wrote that felt more like recollections of trauma and my editor was really great in saying, “I think you can take this and spread this out among these pieces.” So what was one giant chapter became chunks in a few chapters.

Towards the end of the book, you reveal your ADHD diagnosis. At what point did you feel comfortable sharing that?
It goes back to this idea where I always felt like I’ve been most helped by people who share. But it’s a chapter I didn’t want to put in the book. I was nervous that it would feel memoir-ish, like, “Well, here’s my thing.” I wrestled with taking it out and my publisher was like, “No, you can’t take that out.” And my wife was like, “No, you can’t take that out.” [ADHD] is still relatively new to me. But I realized writing about it was actually so helpful for people. If I hadn’t gone down a rabbit hole on Twitter, I wouldn’t know I had it. And the only reason I went down that rabbit hole was because people were sharing their personal stories. So I felt like it was my duty to also give that back.

Besides the book, what are you focused on right now in your career?
I just got done doing three seasons of Black Monday with Don Cheadle and Regina Hall and Andrew Rannells. I’m about to go off and make this new show with Marta Kauffman and June [called DINKS]. It’s an improvised multi-cam series. The title stands for “Dual Income, No Kids.” We’re shooting it for Amazon and we start next week.


Your IMDb page is very extensive, although you don’t talk a lot about your acting and directing in your memoir. What’s been your favorite show or movie to pop in and be part of?
Recently, I loved doing Knuckles. Being asked to be one of the Ocho guys with Rob Huebel [in DodgeBall] was a blast. I also recently appeared on the reboot of Night Court and that was a surreal experience. Because as a kid, TV was my friend. I didn’t have any other siblings and I would watch tons of television and Night Court was one of my favorite shows. Getting to be on that set, fully recreated, standing next to John Larroquette playing the same character was like a childhood fantasy come true.

Has there been any discussion about rebooting The League?
[There] has definitely been talk about it, multiple times, whether as a movie or maybe just coming back to the show. I think that we left at a great moment because football was getting in a very tricky spot and I feel like it’s settling again, so I’m glad that we got out there. And I love to get out early. I did NTSF:SD:SUV: on on Adult Swim and we did four seasons, and then we left. Human Giant we did two seasons and we left. The only show I’m bummed out that ended early was Black Monday because we did three seasons of that and then Showtime imploded. But I love trying new things and challenging myself to work with new people. A reboot lacks something new and exciting.