This Looks Terrible! #4 Paulytics
When I interviewed Pauly Shore for The A.V. Club seven years ago, the one-time MTV bad boy seemed achingly, agonizingly sad. He was never more accidentally heartbreaking than when we talked about his cameo in Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star (which is sad enough already) and, with real pain in his voice, said, “Showing up on the set (of Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star), I missed it a lot, because a lot of the people that work behind the scenes, the gaffers, or the people that rode the trucks, or the caterers, they all missed me. They were all like, “Man you’ve got to get back in the movies. We miss you.” That’s my family, you know, and the fact that Hollywood has taken it from me, it hurts. It hurts, and I miss it a lot.”
So while Shore has made self-deprecating digs at his has-been status the cornerstone of his post-success career, a fog of genuine sadness and pathos follows Shore everywhere he goes, from his fascinatingly batshit appearance on Hollywood Handbook to his 2012 special Paulytics, which I first heard about when Tom Scharpling discussed a segment involving Michael Steele gyrating awkwardly while Pauly Shore and a little person rapper performed a rap called “Obama Got Osama” about, well, you can probably figure that one out yourself.
I was intrigued, but even my masochism knows limits. So I decided to wait until I was writing a column called This Looks Terrible! before I subjected myself to Paulytics because I sensed, with good reason, that the special’s 70 minutes would last several lifetimes, each passing more slowly and painfully than the last.
The special’s premise has Shore traveling from his home base of Los Angeles, California to Washington D.C in the election year of 2012, where he performs a politics-heavy show interspersed with sketches, songs and interview segments featuring Shore talking politics with Barney Frank, Ralph Nader, Republican bigwig Michael Steele and former Presidential front-runner Herman Caine.
Paulytics suggests what Da Ali G. Show would have looked like if it were hosted by a genuine moron who had no idea what he was talking about rather than a satirical genius masterfully playing a role. Shore isn’t here to ambush his interview subjects or expose them as hypocrites or fools. In what might be a joke, but probably is not, Shore at one point actually asks Barney Frank for the definition of “hypocrisy.”
The special is consequently comedy about politics for people who know nothing about politics, and nothing about comedy either. Shore’s dopily bipartisan perspective is essentially, “Politics, huh? It’s crazy, right? With the Republicans and Democrats and Obama and stuff? What’s up with that?”
Shore seems obsessed with Obama, but only because he’s black and his last name sounds like Osama Bin Laden’s first name. Shore’s take on the former President is that Obama, a famously eloquent and dignified man, who communicates thoughtfully and deliberately, actually behaves like a foul-mouthed, drug-addled pimp from a 1970s blaxploitation movie in private. Shore imagines the former President smoking weed and beating his chest on Air Force One, hollering, “I’m the mother-fucking President. Soul Plane motherfucker.”
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Pauly Shore is white.
Adding a little misogyny to his racism, Shore suggests Michelle Obama is an even bigger racist caricature. Shore insists that President Obama didn’t cheat on his wife because Michelle would tell women intent on seducing her husband, “I ain’t no Hillary Clinton, bitch! I’ll chop yo pussy out yo stomach.”
Looking back, it’s hard to imagine what in Shore’s brain made him imagine that those were words that he should say out loud, but Paulytics is a 70 minute long illustration of Shore’s terrible judgment and inability to delineate between good ideas and ideas so terrible they should get him run out of show-business, like “Obama Got Osama.”
I suspect that Frank and Nader—both of whom tangled with Ali G and consequently should be a little more skeptical of youthful idiots interviewing them about politics—as well as Steele and Caine agreed to play along with Shore’s shenanigans because they understood that, unlike with Cohen, there’s no subversive intelligence underneath the apparent buffoonery. Hell, a few minutes with Shore and it quickly becomes apparent that there’s no intelligence at play here at all, subversive or otherwise. Shore isn't playing dumb and ignorant to get something funny and weird and unexpected out of his interview subjects: he’s genuinely dumb and ignorant.
Some moments in Paulytics are now freighted with bitter irony, like when Shore, in an extended riff on how crazy it is that Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected Governor of California, insists, “When people in the entertainment business get into politics, they always win.” Oh God, I wish that wasn’t true, just as I wish we were still able to single out Schwarzenegger’s Governorship as the crazy apex/nadir of American voters’ obsession with celebrity. Shore unwittingly captures Bill O’Reilly’s gross, leering essence, meanwhile, when he says to Michael Steele, “Tell me about the hot chicks on O’Reilly? He’s a pimp.” It turn out, however, that he’s less a “pimp” than a “serial sexual harasser.”
Da Ali G. Show represents a high-water mark of the comedy of awkwardness. Paulytics is just awkward. Shore’s entire take on Frank is, “You’re gay, huh? That’s cool, I guess” which is preferable, I suppose, to “You’re gay, huh? I find that to be an abomination against the Lord” but is still an awfully threadbare comic take.
Shore clearly didn’t go into these interviews with any question on his mind more nuanced than, “Politics, huh?” which not even the lightning-fast improvisational mind of Ralph Nader is able to do much with, although he adorably does make kind of a joke when he and Shore are talking about Ambien and sleep and counting sheep the prescription drug crisis and Nader quips, “The city’s full of sheep—they’re called congressman.”
Nader looks way too proud of himself for that classic Nader zinger but he emerges as the picture of dignity compared to Michael Steele, who somehow finds himself in the uneasy role of both Shore’s ostensible political mentor and comedy sidekick. I have no respect for Steele as a politician, but I was nevertheless felt profound pity when he was called upon to wave his arms around awkwardly in the background while Pauly Shore (wearing a white baseball hat sideways, hardcore gangsta style) and a little-person rapper performed “Obama Got Osama”, a rap Shore ostensibly wrote for President Obama with lyrics about throwing Bin Laden into “the ocean like a Taliban burrito.”
That last line actually wouldn’t seem out of place in a Lonely Island song (specifically “Finest Girl”) but Shore is closer to being a real-life Conor4Real than the brilliant satirists who thought Conor4Real up and brought him to vivid life.
Paulytics is sad, strange and strained throughout but it really gets heartbreaking during a pair of closing bits that do little but serve as yet another reminder that, hard as it may be to believe, at one point the sad, lost man at the center of Paulytics was a hugely popular comedian who was ubiquitous on MTV and starred in hit movies that were released theatrically and slept with famous actresses and supermodels.
If Shore has a message, which is a very big if, it’s essentially, “Remember Son In Law? I was in that! And Bio-Dome too! Weez the Juice! Can’t forget Jury Duty! And MTV” If Paulytics has anything more to say beyond that, it escaped me. Shore doesn’t have an act anymore: he has a list of IMDB credits.
First, Shore sits down with an acoustic guitar and a country musician get-up to sing a “parody” of Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue” called “Courtesy of the Red, White and Buddy” that’s almost entirely devoid of anything resembling jokes but long on maudlin self-mythologizing.
Shore sings in a halting, wavering voice that just makes the whole sorry exercise in self-aggrandizement feel even more self-indulgent before following that bit up with a slideshow contrasting the last four and a half decades of American life with milestones from Shore’s career, ending with the crowd chanting, “Pauly, Pauly” before the “Directed by Pauly Shore” credit.
It’s tempting to call Paulytics an accidental tragicomedy but that would imply that there’s anything remotely comic about it. There isn’t. It’s pure tragedy on a minor scale. The fact that it doesn’t realize that at all only compounds the sadness.
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