Paul, previously best known for his part in the remake of Fame, now stars as the titular role in The Hard Times of RJ Berger. The second season of MTV's hit high school comedy airs Mondays at 10pm.
The Hard Times of RJ Berger was originally a short film. Were you involved with that?
I was not. I was probably the last piece of the puzzle. Fun trivia: McLovin played RJ in the short film.
Did you know that going into the audition?
I knew nothing about that. Right before they showed the pilot for the cast and crew, they were like, “First, we're going to show you the short we made." I remember watching the short and going, “Oh my God! I have to go against McLovin? Please, please let me be funny!"
The show starts with a very specific reveal: That RJ has a giant penis. Will that always be an integral part of the show?
I think the penis will always be the hook. The penis, in a metaphorical sense, is always the hook in any kind of teen sex comedy, but our show is an interesting, uniquely vocabularized discussion about the awkwardness of teenage sex. And what's more awkward than an awkward kid with a huge penis?
He just doesn't know what to do with it, or maybe he does. I think that's what the second season is about. After having kissed Jenny at the dance and lost his virginity to Lily in the hospital, he has to deal with the consequences of both those actions. He has to make the ultimate decision: Jenny or Lilly?
It's the idealized versus the realistic.
That's exactly the argument that RJ makes. He's an extremely practical fellow, much like myself I'm a Virgo. Does he want to go after the dream girl and the dream life? Or is he willing to settle for reality? That's just one of the fun things in the second season.
You were also in the remake of Fame. Considering you actually went to a performing arts school, can you still relate to RJ and his more traditional high school experience?
I went to Professional Performing Arts School, which is LaGuardia's [the school in Fame] rival. But we actually did shoot Fame at my school and not LaGuardia, so screw them. [Laughs] But high school is high school, and everyone feels super duper vulnerable. I think that's why some of these stories are so accurate. They're pinpointing the most dramatic and God-awful awkward events that happen to us in our youth. Those experiences are always heightened in a high school setting.
What first drew you to comedy?
I've had some real shit happen in my life. When I was a kid I had cancer leukemia and I'm 22 now. I was diagnosed when I was 8 and for the last 11 years I've been, as they say, “cured." When you go through something like that as a child you learn you have to have a sense of humor. We're in the entertainment business and it's our job to be able to laugh and help people to laugh at things that might be to traumatic or sad. If you can't find the humor in life, then what's the point in living?
Comedy from tragedy, so to speak.
That's where the material comes from as far as I'm concerned. I can't believe that Gilbert Gottfried got fired from Aflac for making a joke about the tsunami. That's what comedians do. We're here to help people laugh and get through the horrible things that life presents you with. I gravitate towards comedy and tragedy. I guess that's what I'm about.
Are you working on anything else right now?
I've been writing this play for the last four years called Prince Elizabeth, which refers to the cross streets in Manhattan. It's a day in the life of an up-and-coming actor and his eclectic group of delinquent friends. It's not autobiographical, but lets just say a lot of the experiences have happened around me or to me. We just had a reading in New York this past February, and I was very lucky enough to have a fantastic cast: I had my friend Sofia D'elia, who is on Skins, and Peter Vack, who is the new lead in MTV's I Just Want My Pants Back. The reading went so fabulously that it was picked to kick off a downtown arts festival called Pussy Faggot. [Laughs] Real avant-garde-type stuff.
That's funny: A group of MTV stars have a secret life as underground theater actors.
Hell yeah! It might be too late for the article, but on April 7th, the play is going up at Pussy Faggot. I couldn't be prouder of this piece. There aren't many plays written for people my age; modern plays about actors, drug, and musical theatre. [Laughs] Sex, drugs, and musical theatre. But it's also the real New York experiences from that specific world's perspective. April 7th at the Delancey Lounge. It's going to be fucking rad!