“THIS IS THE PERFECT TIME — my son went down for a nap five minutes ago.”
Paul Schissler ’11 is standing in his New York City apartment, still jet-lagged from his latest trip: four sold-out shows opening for former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Tim Meadows at the Vermont Comedy Club.
“It was a perfect few days of comedy,” said Schissler. “Tim Meadows is just the nicest guy ever. We had a couple one-on-one conversations talking about dad stuff, because he has two kids. It was really special.”
Comedy is familiar ground for Schissler, who has worked as a professional funny person since he graduated from Auburn in 2011. Marriage and fatherhood, on the other hand, is uncharted territory. When his son Owen was born in September 2018, Schissler suffered what felt like an identity crisis; now, balancing family, work and parental anxiety comes naturally.
“I genuinely love being Owen’s dad. He’s only seven months old and I’m already afraid of that phase in his life where he’s like ‘I hate you dad.’ At this point, I’m like ‘I wipe your butt. I bathe you!’ Either he’s going to want to be ‘Mr. Joke Guy,’ or he’s going to not do what dad did.”
Growing up in a Christian household, the only real comedy the Titusville, Fla. native experienced was “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” Though he never dreamed of telling jokes for a living, Schissler has always felt an innate urge to make others laugh.
During his time at Auburn, Schissler cohosted a weekly nighttime entertainment show called “The Prowl,” where, among videos and live sketches, he interviewed Auburn celebrities like football players Phil Lutzenkirchen and a (pre-Heisman) Cam Newton.
“Doing ‘The Prowl’ really opened me up to performing in public, because most of what I did on there, I was nervous and scared. That just drove me to try to make everyone laugh more, because I was like ‘man, I’m so lame, and I’m trying so hard, and everyone hates me’.”
His senior year, Schissler won Auburn’s version of “Last Comic Standing.” After graduation he took a chance and moved to New York City, knowing that nothing was guaranteed. That first night, locked out of a friend’s apartment, he slept under a stairwell.
While working day jobs, Schissler was a fixture in New York’s open-mic circuit, developing his identity and an arsenal of jokes as a “clean” comic — not offensive or political, but not quite family-friendly, either. In the profane world of standup comedy, he stood out as a man of morals.
He booked gigs anywhere he could, once taking a two-hour Uber ride to the University of Houston-Victoria, only to find he would be hosting their talent show.
“Getting to perform, making people laugh — that’s the reward of doing comedy. But in order to get on stage, I have to network and get booked, then figure out my travel situation. It’s not like going on vacation. I’m going somewhere to perform and they’re paying me, so I better be funny.”
Religion helps Schissler learn not to take himself too seriously and recognize his own flaws, which makes for great joke writing. Schissler married his wife, Esther, on New Year’s Eve 2016. One of the first things he learned, and quick, was knowing when not to be funny.
“My natural inclination is ‘oh, I got a joke for that,’ and there’ve been so many times where my wife is like ‘can you be serious for a second, please?’”
In California visiting Esther’s family, Schissler practiced around Los Angeles for a tour of church shows in Florida. One show, for a mostly elderly audience, was from 10 a.m. to noon — a marathon in standup time —and required him to cut more than half his normal material. It was then Schissler realized he is not a Christian comedian, but rather a Christian in comedy. His faith might inform his perspective, but there are too many other things to joke about, most of which feels out-of-place in church.
Still, despite the pressures to entertain, Schissler says he would rather a performance “bomb” than be average.
“If I’m reciting jokes instead of being the comedian, I’m just existing onstage. Whereas, if I’m bombing, I’m taking a risk doing stuff I am excited about. If I do get a laugh out of them, then I know that is a good joke.”
In June 2019, Schissler headlined his first show at Standup NYC, where he rolled out over an hour of new material. Many of those jokes were workshopped at hostels in an attempt to go beyond the family experience, or even the “American experience,” to something people everywhere can relate to.
“[Those gigs] help me focus on human experiences, things that people everywhere experience on a human level. I just want to feel connected to people, and laughing is a great way to do that.”