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The Perils of Pauly

Weazin’ buff nugs and chillin’ with MTV’s Pauly Shore, the star of ‘Encino Man’

Pauly Shore, MTV Video Music Awards

Pauly Shore, 1990 MTV Video Music Awards, September 9th, 1990

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“I’m in nug heaven,” says Pauly “the Weasel” Shore. The scene in the swank Sunset Boulevard café is La Dolce Vita remade by L.A. headbangers: Tables of young women (“nugs”) with plunging necklines and surging, surgically enhanced chests await their turns to flirt with the star of MTV’s Totally Pauly show as he asks Tai Collins, featured on the cover of Playboy as “the woman Senator Charles Robb couldn’t resist,” for her phone number. Before the night is through, Pauly will woo (“weaz” – which can also be used to describe more advanced stages of dating) all comers.

Pauly, at first glance, seems an unlikely Lothario, a short, burned-out-looking twenty-four-year-old with stringy brown hair (“Jim Morrison’s retarded son,” as Pauly – By Jay Martel describes himself), dressed like someone caught between the exploding dressing rooms of Mötley Crüe and Tiny Tim – black jeans, a powder blue jacket and a long, flowing scarf. When he opens his mouth, Southern California surfer slang (Pauly calls his particular dialect Dude) slides from his lips so effortlessly he makes Bill and Ted and Wayne and Garth look like fictional characters. It is the language of love.

“I like your cones,” Pauly tells Karin, the next in line. “I think they’re really cool.” “You like my what?” replies Karin, stunned. “Your cones,” says Pauly. “My cones,” says Karin, gradually putting it all together. “Yeah,” says Pauly, giving her time. “My cones,” says Karin. Finally, she stands and throws her napkin in Pauly’s face. “You’re a pig,” she says and walks away from the table.

“That was great,” Pauly says after the camera has stopped. Three weeks later, thousands of viewers will see Karin call Pauly a pig on MTV, somewhere between a slick ad for hair-care products and an extravagantly produced music video starring a group of androgynous men jumping around with guitars. Pauly’s MTV segments (which are part of Hangin’ W/MTV, the network’s after-school show) stick out like a bagpipe solo on a Poison album, boasting production values that make anything this side of public access look lavish. In this one night, Pauly and his crew will churn out a week’s worth of segments, thirty-six pieces, all concerning his search for a new nug (Pauly has just broken up with his girlfriend). There are no sets, scripts or actors: Pauly comes to a location with an idea of what he wants to do, and the dialogue is all adlibbed in single takes. “We tried scripting scenes, but it didn’t work,” says producer Greg Johnston. “It’s basically Kamikaze TV.” Any nuance of sickness could be perceived as a betrayal by Pauly’s many loyal fans.

“So, you guys come over and hug me, all right?” Pauly is setting up the next shot, moving two buxom nug extras into position near the restaurant table. When the cameras roll, Pauly slips easily into pitiful mode, dabbing water under his eyes and crying mournfully, looking like a postpubescent version of the big-eyed waifs painted by Keane. Pauly confides to the camera, schmoozing it like a best friend: “Hey, buds, I’m not really crying. I just need it for the sympathy, bro.” (Pauly is actually quite happy about the breakup: “I got too much going on,” he says. “The thing is, like, with relationships, once you start having like a worse time than a fun time, you know, I’ve got to finish it up.”) “Ohh, poor babe,” says one of the nugs, enveloping Pauly in her cleavage. “Let’s give him a hug.” The comforting continues for a few moments until Pauly tells the camera, as he always does at the ends of segments, to “check out the video.”

“Women love him, because he’s like a cartoon character,” says Joel Gallen, vice-president of MTV production. “He doesn’t do it like Andrew Dice Clay does it when he is humiliating and degrading to women. Pauly may use terms that are controversial [nugs, cones, pieces], but he’s just calling them girls. He’s a horny teenager, and he’s not afraid to admit it.”

“Horny teenager” is a double understatement: Pauly is in his twenties and seems bent on breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s scoring record. “If Magic has it, I do too,” he said in a recent stand-up routine. At casting sessions, Pauly has had no trepidations about openly weazing nugs. “Pretend you’re trying to use me to get on TV,” he said to the pretty female auditioners for his 1991 MTV special, which, not coincidentally, was about pretty female auditioners using Pauly to get on TV.

The script doesn’t change much. All the nug candidates this evening are volunteering their services (former porn star Tracy Lords was supposed to make it but didn’t). Pamela, for one, is having a good time. “Pauly’s a real schmoozer,” she says. She’s doing the job for “the exposure.” Flavia, who works with an escort service and who’s doing the job “as a favor to some guy over at the Tropicana” (the L.A. topless-hot-oil-wrestling bar that is one of Pauly’s favorite hangouts) is less amused by MTV’s clown prince. “He just came up to me and touched my boob,” she says. “What a cheesy motherfucker.” Flavia has a different theory about Pauly’s appeal to women. “The only thing that makes him lovable,” she says, “is that he’s on MTV.”

Pauly, in a sense, agrees. “Hey, they use me, and I use them,” he says. “They get on MTV, and I get pretty girls to act for free.” Or as he says to the camera in another segment, “I am kind of a slime ball. But I am also heartbroken, and I need a lot of love.” Later, Pauly positions himself even farther from the guy who sings, “Your donut’s kinda fresh/I wanna glaze you,” in his music video “Lisa, Lisa (The One I Adore).” “Don’t be mad,” he says. “I’m doing this because I’m really lonely.”

The dramatic split between those who find Pauly irresistible and those who want to punch his face extends beyond this restaurant, and the dividing line is in most cases around the age of twenty-five. “Pauly definitely targets twelve to twenty-four,” says Gallen. “He totally bonds with our audience – he doesn’t talk down to them, he speaks to them at their level. … I think people who don’t like him probably just don’t get him.”

“Do the other MTV VJs get this kind of attention?” asks Pauly. “Do you ever hear someone say, ‘Oh, Adam Curry, I love him’? No. When you’re a star, people are going to either love you or hate you. Look at Kinison, Arsenio. If I let the people who hate me get to me, I’d sit at home and never do anything. Most people who can’t appreciate me are bitter and jealous people. What I’m doing has never been done before – going out and talking to the camera like it’s America.” He pauses, enjoying the thought. “That camera’s America, man.”

Pauly Shore’s America is, for the most part, young and loaded with disposable income – in other words, the kind of demographic that makes TV and movie executives stain their sheets at night. Pauly’s ability to deliver this audience has gained him myriad projects. The most recent is Encino Man, a comedy about two high-school misfits (Sean Astin and Pauly) who excavate and thaw a frozen cave man and, naturally, become popular. The plot is nearly as old as the title character, but Encino Man, aided by a Pauly-centric TV campaign featuring gags that weren’t in the movie, went on to earn more than its $7 million budget in its first weekend of release.

In August, after Pauly shoots an HBO stand-up-special, he’ll start work on his second star vehicle, Son-in-Law. (He also has a cameo as a DJ in Kid ‘n Play’s Class Act.) He recently released Scraps From the Future, a collection of outtakes from his first comedy album, The Future of America. In development are a Fox sitcom pilot and an animated series called Here Comes the Weasel (starring a weasel drawn to look like Pauly).

None of this success is accidental: Forget the wandering gaze, the vacant double takes and the spacey, halting delivery – Pauly knows exactly what he’s doing. In fact, you could argue that no one in history has been better prepared, genetically and environmentally, to be a comedian. As Pauly says, “I’m a comedy Frankenstein.”

Pauly is the youngest of four kids born to Mitzi Shore, owner of the Comedy Store (the L.A. comedy-club chain where Richard Pryor, David Letterman, Arsenio Hall, Sam Kinison and many others cultivated their talents), and Sammy Shore, a veteran comic and Friar’s Club member who used to open for Elvis Presley in Las Vegas. Sammy left home when Pauly was four, and Pauly was raised in the Hollywood Hills by his mother and various stand-up comics. “I’d wake up and go downstairs,” he says, “and my mom would be in a smoke-filled room with Pryor and all those guys, and I’d be like ‘Mom, I guess you’re not making me my sack lunch.’ My parents never came to watch me in Little League, but I always had like five hung-over comics in the bleachers.”

By the time Pauly came around, management of the Comedy Store took most of Mitzi’s time. Mitzi remembers that Pauly was so starved for attention that he would pound his forehead against the crib until it was black and blue with bruises. “He was a screwy little kid,” she says in her nasal Midwestern growl. (She jokes that Roseanne Arnold, a onetime Store regular, copied her voice.)

Mitzi is sitting in a booth in the main room of the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard, a comedy Yoda dispensing wisdom to the comics who stop by to pay homage or seek advice. She listens carefully to each performer, occasionally emitting a delighted piercing squeal of a laugh. When Pauly appears onstage, the laughs become especially sharp. “I started smoking pot young,” Pauly says into the microphone. “I used to snake joints from my mother’s underwear drawer.” The crowd erupts with laughter. “It’s true,” Mitzi brays.

“She used to say, ‘It relaxes me,'” Pauly says. “Well, third grade is making me tense, Mom.”

Pauly felt like an outsider through most of his schooling. “I was the guy in high school you threw rocks at,” he says. “I wasn’t on the football team – I was in the dance company. I didn’t want to pile up with a whole bunch of fucking guys when there were chicks in leotards.” After school Pauly worked as a short-order cook in the Westwood Comedy Store, where Sam Kinison was a doorman struggling to survive. Pauly made a lot of burgers for Sam, who slept on the stage at night. The late comedian would become one of Pauly’s profoundest influences. “Sam said it’s about having your own color of the rainbow,” Pauly says. “He said when people start imitating you, that’s when you have your own thing.”

Pauly’s stand-up persona, a bluer version of the MTV Pauly, originally incorporated some of Kinison’s trademark mannerisms. “I just told him, ‘You’ve got a little Sam in you, and you better get it out,'” says Mitzi. Of course, the concept of the spacey surfer-dude character was hardly unique. “Sure, it’s been done,” says Pauly. “But I created the whole pausing thing and a lot of other stuff.” “The kid’s off the fucking wall,”Sammy Shore says. “Who ever heard of a Jewish surfer?”

Sammy arranged Pauly’s first stand-up appearance, in 1985, in a small Culver City club called the Alley Cat Bistro. “Pauly walked in,” says Sammy, “and just took over the whole room. In a way, I was jealous of him, ’cause he was so cocky. And he went on that stage and killed. Then he drove away in his Jeep, the tape recorder playing his act real loud, his scarf blowing in the wind.”

“I got cocky,” Pauly says. “I said, ‘Thanks, Dad,’ like I really didn’t need him after that. After that I bombed ten times in a row, and I called him up.”

According to Pauly, Mitzi never encouraged him to be a comedian. “She didn’t want me doing it, so I moved out for a year,” he says. “It was because she didn’t want me turning out like my dad. … You’ll interview her, and she’ll deny it. She’ll say, ‘Oh, I always knew he was going to be a comedian, da da da.'”

“I think when he was a little baby,” says Mitzi, “I subconsciously wanted him to be a stand-up.”

At nineteen Pauly had the money to live on his own from small parts he’d done in movies and TV shows like Married … With Children and 21 Jump Street. When Pauly was finally confident enough to perform at the Comedy Store in front of his mother, he bombed. “I called my dad,” says Pauly, “and he said: ‘Don’t worry. I bombed the first time I performed for her, too.'”

Pauly kept at it, playing comedy clubs all over the city, and after he’d worked the Comedy Store’s openmike night for weeks, Mitzi decided he was good enough to be paid and get better times. “He grew so quickly,” says Mitzi. “I never saw anybody grow so quickly.”

Pauly’s debut on MTV was as promising as his Comedy Store debut: a nervous, babbling appearance on a Spring Break broadcast. “I had to pay for my room,” he says, “and I wasn’t even allowed to hold the mike. I’m sitting there, nervous as shit. It’s live. I’m on MTV. Buster [Poindexter] asked me a simple question. He goes, ‘What’s the difference between beaches in Florida and California?’ And I said, ‘Everyone’s wasted.’ And Julie Brown freaked. She is like ‘What are you talking about, “everyone’s wasted”?’ And I’m like ‘Leave me alone, wubba wubba wubba,’ you know. So they didn’t use me for a while after that.” “When I first got here,” says Joel Gallen, “there was a really bad buzz about Pauly around the halls of MTV.” But after Pauly did well on the Comic Strip Live TV show, Gallen and talent coordinator Drue Wilson managed to get him a job doing audience warm-up for the MTV comedy special Five Funny Guys. Though his performance never made air, he was, by all reports, the funniest guy that night. “He really connected with the college audience,” says Gallen.

“My energy was just like ‘Fuck this, man, I’m ready, I’m rockin,'” says Pauly.

When they started talking about putting Pauly in his own show, Wilson and Gallen decided from the outset that Pauly would die if they stuck him in a studio. “We thought if we could get him out there interacting with real people, in these different environments, the audience would take to his natural personality,” says Gallen.

Pauly’s first MTV show, Totally Pauly, debuted in June of ’90 as a temporary summer show. “Originally the show was, every week I’m going to get a job and then get a pink slip at the end of the week,” says Pauly. “I’m like: ‘Yeah, that’s great, but how long is that going to last? Just give me the fucking camera, and let me show people like around my town.'” By midsummer, Pauly was getting heaps of mail, and when Pauly went on the road in August, opening for his mentor Kinison, he was mobbed like a New Kid on the Block. “I had little girls waiting to see me, screaming, crying,” says Pauly. “I freaked, you know what I mean?” By October, when Pauly hosted a comedy night in L.A. for MTV, he didn’t have to complete his sentences onstage. “Heeeeey,” he said. “Buddy!” the audience yelled. “Check out the … ,” he said. “Nugs!” the audience yelled.

The MTV marketing machine kicked in, scheduling appearances for Pauly all over the country. Then Pauly had the idea of putting up an address during the show and soliciting “ten reasons why I should come hang out with you for a week.” “We still haven’t gotten through all the letters that came in,” says Gallen. Pauly ended up hanging out at a pig farm in Minnesota. “I hate putting people on my show that are actors,” says Pauly. “I like putting on the bum-fuck people, people that don’t know me. I always say to my producers, get me to a place where people don’t know who the fuck I am, so that we get the honest weird reaction.”

Wherever he and his crew go, Pauly gets the most unlikely people, like dour middle-aged matrons from Massachusetts, to talk Dude and announce Cinderella videos. Getting young aspiring actresses is easier: One scene in the ’91 MTV show Pauly’s Totally Buff Special required about thirty young women. When the crew arrived at the location, only about six had shown up. Pauly made a phone call to a radio station, which agreed to broadcast a casting call. Within an hour, eager would-be actresses were arriving in droves.

Pauly’s never had any trouble lining up costars. “I have this thing about me, an ease,” he says. “Everyone is always real cool, as long as you have them at ease about you.” Pauly is driving to a new location in his BMW (with a cellular phone, yes), talking about the women back at the nug-heaven restaurant. As he negotiates the traffic, he calculates how many of the breasts were real. “None,” he finally guesses. He’s not a fan of boob jobs – “Hugging implants is like hugging someone’s elbows,” he’s said – but he also knows that “that’s what they like,” that his audience (or at least half of it) would rather see fake big breasts than real small ones. Such is the nature of the medium: Sacrifices must be made.

He hands the keys to a valet in front of a trendy bar on Sunset Boulevard and eyes the musclehead bouncers standing at the door. “These guys are complete dicks,” he says. But before the evening is through, he will have incorporated them into a segment for his show: Pauly is kept out in the cold by a doorman until someone inside gives him the okay. Pauly turns around and pretends to punch the doorman in the face.

“He’s so genuine,” says Joel Gallen. “It’s really him – it’s not a character playing Pauly Shore.”

In recent months, as the comedian positions his career for adulthood, the MTV Pauly persona has moved away from the dude affectations, the big pauses and the weasel gestures and come closer to the real-life Pauly. “It’s a beautiful sight,” says Mitzi, “to see somebody grow and develop and not stick in the same character, like Pee-wee Herman did.” On Pauly’s Groundhog Day special on MTV, he documents the price of success with realistic angst. In the opening scene, Pauly sits in his trailer on the set of Encino Man and cries and throws things while complaining about his treatment on the movie. “People are being mean to me,” he whimpers.

“Pauly really wants to show people himself,’ says Gallen. “In the movie they really did treat him like shit, and he wasn’t happy.” Gallen’s not too worried that the movies will steal Pauly away from MTV. “Pauly can do all the outside things he wants,” he says. “But if he doesn’t have MTV, he’s not gonna succeed. This is the only game in town for Pauly Shore. And I think the great thing about him is he knows that and is very humble about it, and he’d be the first one to tell you that without MTV he’d be nowhere.”

“I’ll be on MTV six more months,” says Pauly. “Then we’ll see. Hey, why stay there when I’m going to segue into movies? You know, why not have another movie on HBO and a TV series? I want to be on Sunday night on Fox, man.” “Pauly’s just got a great beat on what he should be doing and the time he should be doing it,” says Sammy.

Except for once in a while. Like last October on The Arsenio Hall Show, when Pauly got his first chance to do his stand-up in front of a major national audience. He bombed, which, considering Arsenio’s pumped-up, woofing crowd, is something of an achievement. “As a stand-up, you have to adapt to where you are at,” Pauly says. “In Vegas, I can go, ‘God, I can see why the older people are thinking, “Didn’t we leave him at home?”‘ In front of a rock crowd, you talk about jerking off or whatever. And when you are on Arsenio, you should talk about yourself. But instead I talked about MTV. So I learned and bombed, and it was a great experience. … It slapped me in the face. It kind of humbled me.”

One of the jokes Pauly told on Arsenio was one in which his mom complains about his having a porn-star girlfriend and Pauly replies, “At least she’s working.” (In his nightclub act, Pauly says he once asked his girlfriend why their sex isn’t as great as in the movies. “Well, in the movies, I’m acting,” she says. “Well, start acting with me,” Pauly says.) “When you go on national TV and talk about how you’re going with a porno queen … this is not the image that you want,” says Sammy, who claims that Pauly’s taste in women is inherited. “Except for my ex-wife, I’ve always been involved with bimbos.”

“Pauly will grow out of it,” says Mitzi.

“I’m living what people want to do,” says Pauly. When Pauly headlined with Sam Kinison last New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas, Mötley Crüe’s Vince Neil came up on stage and sang with him. “I was singing with Vince, man,” Pauly says. “I guess it was like every teenager’s dream.” Pauly lives this dream full time. He’s sitting in one of the two rooms he inhabits in his mom’s mansion in the Hollywood Hills. (He recently bought a nearby house from his mother.) While the manor could belong to any successful executive – if you overlook the statues of monkeys peeing into the swimming pool – Pauly’s suite is a teenage Shangri-La: posters of male rock stars and scantily clad models abound; a four-foot translucent bong decorated with surfer decals stands in the corner; a large drum set sits in the center of one room; a huge bed, with a Lava lamp on the headboard and a red-light lamp on each side, fills the other; video and audio appliances are nestled against the walls with giants stacks of videocassettes, many of them tapes of his show, many of them home movies in the tradition of filmmaker Rob Lowe. As Pauly has said in his act, “One of the advantages of having a porn-star girlfriend is you don’t have to hide the camera anymore.”

Of course, Pauly rarely has to hide the camera – the camera is America. He pulls a stack of Polaroids from a desk drawer: In the picture on top, taken in his hotel room when he was on tour in Denver, two young women lift their shirts and stick their breasts out. “See, this is what you get when you get a show on MTV,” Pauly says. He’s keeping track of it all in a journal. “I got shit in there about different people and celebrities,” he says, pointing at a book on his desk. “Who I’ve hung out with and who I’ve weazed.” It’s a thick book.

Yet Pauly insists that his obsession with the love thing goes beyond the kind that he tells viewers to wear a condom for (“Remember to put a helmet on your wood, dudes”). At the end of Pauly’s Groundhog Day special, after a clip showing Pauly getting tied up and sat on by Elvira, Pauly wraps up on a more edifying note, telling the camera, “Remember to give your friends and family love and other people on the street, ’cause that’s what the Totally Pauly show’s all about – going up to people on the street and giving them hugs and cruising.”

“I have love, man, that’s all,” Pauly says. “Whether you are sick of the fucking and all that shit, that’s fine, because that can leave. But one thing I’ll always have is the love thing, and that’s something that I’ll have forever, and that’s what I’m about.”

Pauly’s gotta go – he has an appointment with his acting coach. He slips on his shades and jumps in the Beamer. It’s a full-time job living out the fantasies of teenage America, but somebody has to do it.

In This Article: Coverwall, Pauly Shore

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