What the Hell Happened to Pauly Shore?
Pauly Shore was never a movie star, but for a short time in the nineties, he managed to headline a modestly budgeted comedy annually. Although he had deep roots in the comedy club scene, Shore was more of a personality than a comedian. He didn’t make observations or tell jokes per se, but Shore did manage to create a character that made him more famous than he had any right to be. It won’t surprise anyone, except perhaps Pauly Shore, that he wasn’t able to coast on his slacker-bro image in definitely. After several years of semi-stardom, Shore’s fans abandoned him and he was left wondering…
What the hell happened?
Pauly Shore was born into comedy. His dad, Sammy Shore, was an old school comedian. His mom, Mitzi Shore, founded the famous comedy club, The Comedy Store, where several well-known comedians honed their craft. Shore’s parents divorced when he was six years old leaving Mitzi to raise him while she managed the club:
I’d wake up and go downstairs and my mom would be in a smoke-filled room with [Richard]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.
Shore’s dad set up his first stand-up gig for his son in 1985 at a small club in Culver City. According to his father, Pauly was cocky the first time he went on-stage and it worked. His beginner’s luck didn’t last. After bombing several sets in a row, Shore learned some humility and called his dad for help.
While Shore was still in school, he worked as a short order cook in the Westwood Comedy Store where Sam Kinison worked as a doorman. Kinison was homeless at the time. He slept on the stage of the club at night. But once he caught on, he became a mentor to Shore.
Sam said it’s about having your own color of the rainbow. He said when people start imitating you, that’s when you have your own thing.
While Shore was working on his stand-up act, he started appearing in guest spots on TV shows. He made his acting debut in an episode of 21 Jump Street in 1987. The following year, Shore played a punk on an episode of St. Elsewhere. He also had a bit part in the George Burns comedy, 18 Again! The money he made from appearing in TV shows like Married … With Children allowed Shore to move out on his own at the age of nineteen. He continued honing his stand-up act until eventually his mom thought he was good enough to play at The Comedy Store. “He grew so quickly. I never saw anybody grow so quickly.”
Shore made his MTV debut during the cable network’s Spring Break coverage. According to Shore, he didn’t get off to a promising start:
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.
But Shore got a second chance with MTV based on a good set on the stand-up comedy TV show, Comic Strip Live. The network wasn’t willing to put Shore on the air again, but they hired him to warm-up the audience for a comedy special. According to MTV exec, Joel Gallen, Shore was the funniest comic in the room despite being the warm-up act. That lead to talks of given Shore his own show. But Gallen knew Shore’s brand of loose comedy wouldn’t work in a stuffy studio, so he came up with the idea of sending him out into the crowd’s to interact with MTV’s viewers.
Totally Pauly debuted in June of 1990 as a temporary summer program. The original concept was that every week Shore would get a new job and by the end of the week he would be fired. But Shore wasn’t interested in the conceit. He told the MTV camera men just to follow him around while he talked to young people.
By the end of the summer, Shore’s audience had grown. When he opened for Sam Kinison’s concert, he says he was mobbed by girls. A few months later, he was hosting a comedy show for MTV and the audience was shouting out his catch-phrases for him.
MTV may have been slow to warm to Shore’s shenanigans. But they quickly realized they had a hit on their hands. They started promoting Shore all over the network and sending him all over the country.
After a couple of years working the crowds on MTV, Shore was ready to take his act to the big screen. The 1992 comedy Encino Man starred Brendan Fraser as a frozen caveman who is discovered by a couple of California slackers. Naturally the teens, played by Sean Astin and Shore, thaw Fraser out and try to convince everybody that he is actually a foreign exchange student.
Despite the fact that Shore was merely a supporting player, Disney’s marketing for Encino Man featured him heavily. The studio was hopeful that Shore’s MTV audience would follow him into movie theaters and for the most part they were right. The movie was filmed on a tight budget over just 33 days. It managed to gross just over $40 million dollars during the competitive summer movie season. Since the movie cost virtually nothing to make, its fourth place opening weekend was viewed as a considerable victory.
Critics didn’t like the movie, but no one cared. Shore’s movie debut earned him a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst New Star, but I doubt the actor’s young fans even noticed. What did bother Shore was the way he was treated on the set. During an MTV special that taped during the making of the movie, Shore sat in his trailer and cried. After throwing a few things around, he complained that people were being mean to him.
After the success of Encino Man, Shore started looking for opportunities away from basic cable. He was especially interested in developing a show for the Fox network. MTV vice-president wished Shore well, but prophetically declared that the actor needed the network more than the network needed him. “Pauly can do all the outside things he wants, but if he doesn’t have MTV, he’s not gonna succeed.”
Believe it or not, studios were scrapping over who got to make the next Pauly Shore movie. Shore had signed a contract with Disney which gave them an option to make his next to movies. But the studio hadn’t been able to come up with any scripts that interested Shore. He wanted to defect to New Line where he would have starred in a movie called Totally London in which he would have played a nanny to a bunch of British kids. Disney offered to buy Totally London from New Line, but the studio declined.
But at the last minute, Disney decided to exercise their option to have Shore star in their fish-out-of-water comedy, Son in Law. Carla Gugino played a small town girl who leaves the family farm to go to college. She befriends Shore who helps her adapt to life on the West Coast. When she brings Shore back to her hometown for the holidays, he tells her family that they are engaged much to the chagrin of Gugino’s father played by Lane Smith.
Son in Law cost a lot more to make than Encino Man, but it fell short of the $40 million dollar mark. It opened in sixth place at the box office during a busy Fourth of July weekend and then kicked around for a few weeks before disappearing from theaters. Son in Law wasn’t a hit, but it performed well enough to ensure Shore a chance at another movie.
Shore finished the terms of his Disney contract with a Stripes rip-off, In the Army Now. You know how the only thing that holds Stripes together if Bull Murray’s performance? Well, imagine if Murray were replaced by Pauly Shore and Harold Ramis was replaced by Andy Dick. That should give you some idea of what In the Army Now is like.
No surprise that critics didn’t like the movie. They had yet to like anything Shore had done. But by this point, even Shore’s fans seemed to be growing tired of his slacker routine. In the Army now opened in sixth place at the box office during the late summer when most of the big movies had already been in theaters for weeks. It ended up grossing just under $30 million dollars. That’s not dismal, but In the Army Now definitely wasn’t a hit. Whatever appeal Shore once had appeared to be waning.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Shore parted ways with MTV in 1994.
With his Disney contract completed, Shore was free to make crappy comedies for other studios. In 1995, he starred in TriStar Pictures’ courtroom comedy, Jury Duty. The movie was a loose adaptation of Twelve Angry Men with Shore in the Henry Fonda role and Tia Carrere as his love interest. The supporting cast included Stanley Tucci, Brian Doyle-Murray and Abe Vigoda.
Shore played an exotic dancer (I kid you not) who finds himself homeless when his parents decide to move out of their trailer park. In order to obtain cheap lodging, Shore gets himself assigned to jury duty when he realizes that jurors are put up in a hotel.
Shore’s previous movies were summer releases, but Jury Duty opened in the spring instead. That allowed the movie to open in fourth place at the box office just behind Disney’s Goofy Movie (in which Shore did some voice work). Unfortunately, Jury Duty was unable to recoup its $20 million dollar budget.
By this point, Shore was no longer considered bankable on his own. So he costarred opposite Stephen Baldwin in the dumb-guy buddy comedy, Bio-Dome. Together they were the D-list Dumb and Dumber. Their characters accidentally get locked in a closed ecological system while looking for a bathroom.
Bio-Dome was Baldwin’s follow-up to The Usual Suspects and it set the tone for the rest of his career confirming that he was more of a Billy than an Alec. For Shore, this was his last strike. Bio-Dome’s pathetic $13 million dollar gross made it clear that Shore could no longer lure kids into the multiplex.
Somehow, Bio-Dome has become one of Shore’s better-remembered movies. Baldwin has gone so far as to talk up a sequel which seems unlikely to ever happen.
As Shore’s short movie career came to a close, he continued getting work in voice acting in direct-to-video sequels like Casper: A Spirited Beginning and An Extremely Goofy Movie. In 1997, Shore finally got his wish to have his own show on the Fox Network. The sitcom, titled Pauly, featured Shore as a slacker who tries repeatedly to get his rich dad to divorce his trophy wife. It was cancelled after only five episodes had aired.
According to Shore, he took the cancellation of his sitcom to heart, “I was on the road one night by myself and I realized, ‘Well, the jig is up. Time to move on.’ … I couldn’t look at it like business; I took it very personally.”
Odds are, Shore has been off of your cultural radar since at least the late 90’s (that is assuming you ever took notice of him in the first place). Since then, he has returned to The Comedy Store which is still owned by his mom. He’s also produced several direct-to-video projects like the mockumentaries Pauly Shore is Dead and Adopted. Most of his projects over the last couple of decades play on Shore’s status as a has-been.
So, what the hell happened?
Even at the height of his popularity, it was painfully obvious that Shore came stamped with an expiration date. His act consisted largely of saying words in a funny way. That will get you through grade school as the class clown, but you’re not likely to be able to build a movie career on it. Shore’s success was linked to the popularity of MTV. Once he left the network, his fans moved on to other things.
Shore’s fans were young and they saw him as their representative. As they got older, they outgrew Shore’s slacker comedy. And younger audiences had slackers of their own. In 1995, just as Shore’s movie career was bottoming out, Adam Sandler starred in the comedy Billy Madison which kicked off a long run of slacker comedies making Sandler the box office star Shore would have liked to have been.
Maybe the question shouldn’t be why Shore’s career ultimately failed. Perhaps a better question would be why he was ever famous in the first place. Certainly nepotism helped. But Shore’s connections didn’t make him a popular TV personality. For that, it seems, Shore was just the right guy at the right time. MTV was the only place Shore could have been a star. And the early nineties were the only time at which that might have happened. If Shore is upset about his lost fame, he should take solace in the fact that he was much more successful than he ever should have been.