Comedian Paul Scheer Hadn’t Realized His Childhood Was Abusive. His New Memoir Examines His Pain With Humor: ‘I’m Not Trying to Write a Therapy Session’

Paul Scheer is known for his joie de vivre in scores of comedy projects, from TV (“The League,” “Veep”), to podcasts (co-hosting “How Did This Get Made?” and “Unspooled”) and movies (“The Disaster Artist,” “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”). Yet behind his impish persona is a troubled childhood marked by bouts of physical and emotional abuse. For better or worse, Scheer was the last person to identify it as a troubled upbringing.

“We’ve been doing ‘How Did This Get Made?’ for 14 years now, talking about bad movies,” he says of the podcast he co-hosts with Jason Mantzoukas and his wife June Diane Raphael. “Occasionally we’ll segue into these bigger conversations. This is when I first started telling these stories from my life, and I would launch into a story about my grandma telling me not to open the door to strangers because there’s a butcher in town who is on the loose, killing children. I would see this look of shock on my wife’s face and Jason asking, ‘Wait, what happened?'”

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Scheer’s dark childhood stories became something of a running gag on the show, with fans making supercuts and debating the darkest details on Reddit.

“Honestly, I didn’t understand how bizarre it was until I was telling it on a big stage where people were reacting to it,” he says.

Developed from those moments of self-reflection is “Joyful Recollections of Trauma,” his new memoir that shapes and contextualizes many of these stories and how they made him the man he is today. Although Scheer grew up as a fan of best-selling books from comedians that largely resembled their standup — like Jerry Seinfeld’s “SeinLanguage” and Paul Reiser’s “Couplehood” — he wanted “Trauma” to go deeper into how these anecdotes shaped his life.

The first essay Scheer wrote was a well-loved anecdote from podcast appearances, where he recounted how he learned he was lactose intolerant after an ill-fated trip to Disney World. Sitting down to write the story allowed Scheer to dig in deeper about how it resonated and spoke to his antagonistic relationship with his abusive stepfather Hunter.

“I’ve told that story a million times,” he says. “It’s a very pivotal moment in my childhood, and I thought it was funny because it’s a crazy story about a kid getting super sick. Going a little bit deeper, Disney World represented this escape from life, this place where I didn’t have to care about anything. I was living in a world where I was very cautious — if Hunter came home and was in a bad mood, I would pay. But Disney World was great all the time. Finding out I was lactose intolerant took away this one last bit of carefreeness. I had never looked at it like that before.”

Even though he writes about dark topics, Scheer was mindful to balance them out with other anecdotes from his life that were cringeworthy and, at times, truly joyful.

“I was able to hash it out on the page,” he says. “I was very conscious of saying, ‘I’m not trying to write a therapy session. I understand my goal here is still to be an entertaining book.'”

Beyond his vulnerability on the page, Scheer is happy to talk about the positive impact that actual therapy has had on processing some of the difficulties in his life. While the worlds of comedy and mental health have often clashed in the past, Scheer believes his generation has been able to usher in an understanding that everyone is wrestling with something in their private life.

“I’ve heard people say, ‘I break up with somebody and that’s when I’m most creative,'” he says. “But why not just funnel that energy into yourself and figure out what’s there? I don’t think I’ve become less interesting because I’ve solved things, and in many ways, it made me more open to experience other things so I get out of my way. Comedy in general now is such a giant scope of people going through so many different things. In a way, comedy can represent life, and I think we all are going through these stages. We’re all trying to be better.”

That same comedy community welcomed Scheer into a world outside of his fractured upbringing, a fact he got to examine more closely with his book.

“When I first saw improv, it felt to me like that kind of playing around I was doing as a kid,” he says. “I was automatically connected to it. I think what drove me to improv was it brought me back to the sense of safety and play and, more importantly, a world where people had my back. Improv is all about finding that core community that lifts you up.”

Outside of his improv family, Scheer is the father of two sons with Raphael, herself an accomplished actor with key roles on shows like “Grace and Frankie” and “Big Mouth.” Scheer says a big motivator in getting these stories down on paper was his relationship with his children — despite initially believing he was protecting his family by holding them back.

“I think the real reason why I wrote this book was because I was a dad,” he says. “As I started to be with my kids and have more intense conversations, I wasn’t hiding anything. I was telling them my story.”

While Scheer would be open to writing another book of essays in the future if he could crack a thematic avenue to examine, he’s plenty busy with other projects. Outside of his regular podcast commitments, he has a role in this summer’s tornado blockbuster “Twisters,” and is blending his improv and nuclear families in an ambitious upcoming sitcom named “DINKs.” Amazon MGM Studios ordered a pilot for the comedy, starring Scheer and Raphael, which bends a traditional format.

“It’s an improvised multi-cam, which has never been done before,” he says. “We’re going to shoot in front of a live studio audience, and it’s going to have a vibe like ‘The League,’ where we have our agenda of what we want to shoot, how we want to do it, and then we’re going to open it up to improvisation. We’re going to also be using the audience as part of that jumping-off process — they aren’t passive. Ideally, it’s a show where we have amazing guest stars joining us and it becomes this kind of playground. It feels like I’ve been training for this for 25 years.”

Yet between balancing professional projects and working with his spouse, Scheer is devoted to maintaining his close-knit family unit above all, having spun his difficult childhood into a lovely future for himself.

“The rewards of prioritizing family will always outweigh anything else,” he says. “It’s just what I’ve found.”

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