Paul Elia is an actor and comedian of Chaldean and Assyrian heritage who is best known for his roles in “Agents of Shield,” “Lady Dynamite,” and “Major Crimes” and the new movie “Stillwater.” Paul is also frequently featured in the hilarious sketches of the “Conan O’Brien” show and “LaffTracks” which is a popular show on TruTV.
Paul also produced a film titled “Dirty” in which he also starred. The movie was featured on “Oprah” and was successfully sold at the Cannes Film Festival. Paul also works with comedian Matt Rife on a monthly basis for their comedy store show titled “Lowkey Upset” which frequently plays to sold-out houses. On May 24th, he will play a show at California’s Santa Clarita Marriott hotel in honor of the Assyrians United organization.
Paul discussed his career, his projects, and more via an exclusive interview on May 21, 2019.
Comedy, television, and movies
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in the entertainment industry, and why do you focus on comedy so much?
Paul Elia (PE): Growing up, I was always doing movie quotes with my brothers. A lot of the Movies I enjoyed were comedies like “Don’t be a Menace in South Central” while drinking your juice in the hood, “Half Baked,” every Adam Sandler movie, and “Seinfeld.” I had a knack for impressions so often times I would do my impression of that actor and spend time trying to memorize their mannerisms.
I was always obsessed with the idea of being funny and would search for different ways to make people laugh. As I got more involved in entertainment, it seemed very obvious to me that comedy was the direction to take.
MM: What style of comedy do you most adhere to and how much, if at all, did your cultural upbringing impact your brand of humor?
PE: I have a broad spectrum of taste. I love realistic humor in shows like “Curb Your Enthusiasm” but also enjoy the silly, outrageous comedy of SNL.
I would say I’m a hybrid and identify with elements from both. My upbringing was very conservative. My parents didn’t like it when I would “act funny”. I was often told at social events “Please Paul, don’t act funny, it’s embarrassing”. Then at the events, once their backs were turned, I would look for ways to be funny.
MM: Do you enjoy starring in live shows, television or movies more, and what are the pros and cons of each medium?
PE: I love the pressure of live shows.
Before a live show, I can be seen pacing back and forth in the theater or studio thinking, “how’s this going to go?” I think to myself, “This is going to suck, right? What should I open with? What if I mess that line-up?!” That type of pressure excites me. When it comes to movies/TV, I love being on set. I get more time to gather my thoughts and figure out how the scene/scenes are going to go, which is fun. The con is there’s a lot of waiting, which I hate. Well, I wouldn’t say hate, but defiantly don’t love waiting.
Oprah, sketches, and experiences
MM: How did you establish a working relationship with Conan O’Brien, and how is he in real life versus his on-screen persona?
PE: I caught the interest of the casting directors, and they started to bring me in to do bit parts here and there. As I began to gain their trust, the parts got bigger. Conan is basically what you see on TV. He’s always having fun and is absolutely hilarious. He mastered the art of comedy and watching him work is a lot of fun. He can take a joke that isn’t working, diagnosis why it’s not funny, then immediately make it work. That’s genius to me.
MM: Can you tell us about the time you were featured on “Oprah”? What was that like and is she as kind and cool in real life as she comes across on TV?
PE: Chaz Bono was one of the leads in a movie I produced. He was featured on an episode of “Where are they now?” and during his interview, Oprah introduced a clip from the film which I also starred in. I think that was the happiest my mom has ever been. I wasn’t on set that day but heard she thought I was cute.
MM: Which of all your sketches has seemed the funniest to you and which role have you enjoyed playing the most?
PE: Playing a sketch character named “Brogan Dank” on Conan was a lot of fun. I had about three pages of dialogue that I got the night before so it definitely was a lot of pressure. This was one of the first sketches I did live so I wanted to do a good job. Right before we shot it, the writers made some adjustments to the script and for whatever reason; I was having a really hard time remembering the changes. Then right when it was time, I was just like “Whatever happens, happens” and we rocked out.
MM: What experiences with your fans has been the most memorable and how do you hope your career evolves from this point forward?
PE: I met an army veteran after a show in Montana. He knew about Assyrians and approached me after the show. He expressed how much he loves the Assyrian community and shared stories of meeting Assyrians while he was in Iraq. It was very emotional to hear and I appreciated his sentiment. He now follows me on Instagram and likes every post. Thanks Dan!
MM: Would you like to mention anything else, Paul?
PE: for tour dates and major announcements, follow my social media Instagram: @paulelia_ and Twitter: @paulelia