Mr. Wacky forgot to take his wacky pill today.
How else to explain the somewhat wan, decent young fellow approaching across a hotel lobby, pale of face, paler still of countenance, recognizable but still a universe apart from that crazy force of nature, that demonic, out-of-control guy exuding anarchistic humor from every pore, crunching sobriety in a tidal wave of crazed inspiration, that is Pauly Shore of MTV and the movies.
But in reality, Pauly Shore doesn't do wacky, at least if the camera isn't running. And since a reporter doesn't carry a camera, the sign reads No Wacky Today, not even in service to "Jury Duty," which he is obediently flacking on a cross-country, get-out-the-vote tour.
He looks like some kind of road-gypsy wannabe ballplayer, maybe a replacement geek hitching back from Florida. Maybe he's tired -- he just did an early set for The Bird on 98-Rock after a late arrival the evening before -- maybe he's hungry, maybe he's just human. Anyway, it was surely dark when he got dressed, because he's wearing his sweat pants inside out, his hat backward, and an old turtleneck on which a platoon of moths once picnicked, exposing a shoulderful of mangy T-shirt. His manager was probably, like, "That's the dust rag, man, that's not the shirt."
But he's haunted by wacky. Everybody wants wacky from him. The hungry masses yearn for wacky. Never cut wacky, the dying comedian said, right before he said death is easy, wacky is hard. Life is like a box of wacky, the man said, you never know what kind of wacky you're going to get.
Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea, brace yourself for some bad news:
"We're not going to be doing wacky all the time now," says Pauly Shore, wearily.
Up close, he's surprisingly delicate; his face is unlined, his body slight, his features fragile and precise. If he weren't wacky, you'd think the bigger kids in high school might have called him Wimpola and used his face to shine their shoes.
But he always had wacky.
"I always wanted attention," he says without a thought to self-defense. "I got kicked out of French class. I was born funny. But I grew up and it was stuffed in my face."
If anyone is wacky by environmental factors, it has to be Pauly Shore. One suspects that if he'd grown up to be the Regional Sales Vice President (Southwest) for IBM, his mother and father would look at each other and boo-hoo "Where did we go wrong?"
His father is the not very famous comedian Sammy Shore ("My dad is doing better now," Pauly says), and his mother is the powerful Mitzi Shore, founder and owner of the Comedy Store in Los Angeles. Pauly, 27, grew up watching stand-ups rise and fall on that wretched little stage, come off drenched in flop sweat, and go on to Letterman or back to Toledo. Even Letterman came off that stage to go on to Letterman. ("Dave's a genius," says Pauly. "He's . . . honest.")
Besides Letterman, his other hero is Sam Kinison, the crazy yelling comedian who died in a car accident just when he seemed on the verge of breaking through to a huge national audience.
"From Sam I learned honesty and spontaneity. He brought it out of me. I also learned what not to do. Don't obsess on being No. 1. Poor Sam, he was getting ready to do a big movie for Universal, starring him, and he pulls out. He was scared. The insecurity thing. He thought about where he came from, and he didn't think he deserved it."
Shore has seen the downside of the business, too, and knows how it can eat up the Sam Kinisons and even the Pauly Shores. The thought of his dead mentor turns him briefly depressive.
"It has to do with the loneliness," he says. "You're in front of a thousand people and they're screaming and chanting. The next night you're alone in some Green Room and you're . . . lonely and it [stinks]."
He remembers his own debut well: It didn't stink. Sept. 25, 1985. He's 17.
"I had a very successful debut," he recalls. "My dad was jealous afterward. I looked like I had been up there all my life, like I had ESP with the audience."
He turns from the reverie of remembering to say to Poor Old Reporter, "like, even people your age were going nuts."
(That sigh you just heard brought to you courtesy Creeping Melancholia, Inc.)
The rest isn't history, but it's something: In 1990, he goes on MTV, gets instantly famous with his show, "Totally Pauly"; Jeffrey Katzenberg, the then-resident Disney genius, spots him and throws him into "Encino Man."
"They let me do the Pauly takes," he says. "Jeffrey said, 'Leave the kid alone, let him do what he wants to.' He's such a cool guy."
The movie's a hit, two more follow: "Son-in-Law" and "In the Army Now," all playing off the same weird character, a teen-ager or very young man who seems to be hard-wired to receive radio station WAKY: odd noises, strange accents, a powerful conviction all pour off and out of him. He's the only comic, before or since, to do a weasel imitation, which was a kind of speeded-up chittering complete with pawing motions. It wasn't funny in the old ha-ha sense, but it sure was wacky.
"The scripts are pretty stupid," he confesses. "But I have a certain voice. So they allow me to put the script in my voice. I've developed a persona. They give me the freedom to do anything I want."
Of the creation that he has become, he says only, "That's just me. Other people don't get my deal. I'm just kind of a kid, but I know what works. If it says on the page to scream, I can come up with something that's really funny."
But with success has come that boxed-in feeling. Thus a shift in Pauly goals, away from the wacky to something else.
"We're looking for smaller characters in bigger movies. I know what I'm doing. People have only seen one side of me. Hollywood wants me to do the same guy, and I am, but I'm not. I'm not doing the stretch thing totally. Only in some scenes will I be that crazy guy."
He struggles for a metaphor by which to address the full wonder of that which is Pauly.
"We're a pizza and America's only seen one slice. There's six slices left."