116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Manhattan native Paul Reiser has spent his career in front of television and movie cameras, from his early star turns in “My Two Dads” and “Mad About You” to his first film role in “Diner” in 1982, rising up through the “Beverly Hills Cop” franchise and “Aliens.”
However, he’s returning to his first love, standup comedy, with a tour that will stop at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center in Cedar Falls on Saturday night, Sept. 24.
The Gazette caught up with him the morning Sept. 15, by phone from his home in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife, Paula. Married since 1988, they have two grown sons.
Reiser majored in music — piano and composition — at Binghamton University in New York, and put those skills to use co-writing the theme song to “Mad About You.”
What: Paul Reiser, standup comedy show
Where: Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, 8201 Dakota St., Cedar Falls
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24
Tickets: $31.75 to $61.75 adults, $26.55 to $50.55 youths; center box office, (319) 273-4849 or toll-free 1-(877) 549-7469 or gbpac.com/event/paul-reiser
Artist’s website: paulreiser.com/
But he fell in love with comedy albums in high school. During his college years, he discovered he could hang out and audition at comedy clubs. So after graduation, he moved into the city to try his hand at standup comedy. Then came an audition for the movie “Diner,” which jump-started his acting career.
“That led to me doing the Johnny Carson Show, and then suddenly, I was in show business,” he said. “I didn't plan that at all.”
His latest project is “Reboot” — a comedy from the creator of “Modern Family” — which premiered Tuesday, Sept. 20, on Hulu.
“It's about a very lightweight sitcom that tries to reboot 25 years later,” Reiser said. “Everybody has changed — the cute kid is no longer a cute kid, and the actors don't get along. It goes behind the scenes of making the TV show. It's really funny and a really great cast, and I’m very, very excited about it.”
Here are more highlights on everything from family to his career, as well as the books he’s written.
Q: When I hear your name, I immediately think of “Mad About You,” because I’m just a giant fan of that show. But you’re no doubt finding a younger fan base through “Stranger Things.” How do you keep yourself relevant in this instant gratification, Instagram world?
A: That’s not something I’ve ever considered or attempted. I kind of just do what I do, and many of the things are different, but there’s no plan. There’s no particular attempt to be relevant. But I noticed for sure in my live shows, the audience grows.
Used to be I could look out and see couples in their 50s, 40s and go, “OK, that’s ‘Mad About You’ people.” And now I see people under 20, and I go, “OK, that’s ‘Stranger Things.’ ” And I see people in their 70s, “OK that’s ‘Kominsky Method’ people.” I sort of do my own survey just from glancing at the audience. It is interesting.
And what’s funny to me is, I’ve always considered myself first and foremost, a standup comic. That’s what I started doing, that’s what I love doing. But in fairness to many who don’t know, I did take a long time off. So I’m not really widely known (as a comedian), or it’s not the first thing people think of.
Q: What do you talk about in your standup show?
A: The truth is, I always tell people, I’m not smart enough to make anything up. I just only know how to tell people what happened to me. And then when I tell it, people go, “Oh, that’s so funny — that happened to us, too.”
“Mad About You” grew out of my standup, and my books grew out of “Mad About You,” so it’s all started with standup. I’ve always talked about relationships. And then as I’ve gotten older, relationships became marriage, became children, and became family, and then it became being in my 60s. So I talk a lot about family stuff, a lot about marriage stuff. There’s a lot of stuff about somebody of a certain generation trying to figure out this rapidly changing world, and always being several steps behind.
But what I find is that it works both ways. People laugh because they’re so happy to know it’s not just them. And I’m on stage going, “Thank God they’re laughing, because I thought it was just me.” It’s a very shared experience when we get together.
And I love doing standup. It's just so refreshing to get out there and see live people. It’s not zoom, and it’s not a movie, which comes out 10 months later, or a year and a half after you do it. They’re right there. I love the immediacy and the simplicity. There’s nothing complicated about these shows. You come out, you talk to people, you make them laugh, they go home, everybody goes home happy. There’s no follow up. You don’t have to watch the ratings. You don’t have to get picked up for another season. Just have fun. I love the simplicity of that.
Q: What makes you laugh just in everyday life.
A: My kids make me laugh. I laugh at my own incompetence. Just this morning — it’s a good 45 minutes before my brain is fully operative. And I was watching myself — I was trying to pick up a coffee cup and bring it downstairs, and at the same time, I had a shirt that I was going to pick up and put on later, and I spent a good minute trying to figure out what would be the most efficient way — if I take the cup first and then come back for the shirt. It shouldn’t be this complicated. I was just watching my brain — I was smelling smoke coming out of my brain going, “I’m trying to do three things, and I can’t figure out quite how to do it yet.”
Q: How do you work up a standup show to take it on the road?
A: The short answer to the question is, you go to clubs and you just work the material, and it just gets sharper every day. And it’s never a finished product. I have a whole bunch of shows after Iowa. I will take my experience from Iowa and that will inform next week’s show. … So it’s a combination of a lot of preparation, and then a lot of just being responsive to these nice people who showed up for your show.
Q: Do you bounce jokes off Paula? I’ve read that she's a clinical psychologist, so I imagine she can analyze you.
A: The running joke in our house, is people innocently come up to her go, “Oh, your husband — he must be funny all the time.” And she has this look of, “Yeah, sure” — like, “If you only knew.”
People married to circus clowns are not laughing all day.
I’m very lucky that we do laugh at the same things, and they’re usually very offbeat things. … If you’re coupled with somebody with whom you share a sense of humor, you’re way ahead of the game.
Q: Do your boys think you’re funny?
A: I can sometimes get a laugh out of them. One of my sons came to a show once when he was 10. And my older boy has never actually come. I do make him laugh, but never with my act. (Recalling that his son declined coming to a show once) he said, “I’d be a little nervous.” “Why?” “Because I’m afraid I’d laugh.” I go, “Do you understand what I do for a living? You’re actually supposed to laugh.” “I didn’t know you’d talk about me on stage.” So maybe it’s better they don't come.
Q: What’s your secret to your long marriage?
A: The secret is, I’m a delight. I’m just such a delight to be with. Please laugh at my joke. First of all, I think I married smart. I married a really wonderful woman. Sometimes people are lucky.
There’s also a lot of work, and that’s what “Mad About You” was really about — it was about a couple who loved each other, but it also involves elbow grease. It’s a lot of commitment and effort, because at any given moment, it’s easy to go, “Maybe it’s more work than it’s worth.” You have to sort of emerge from that and go, “I think we could probably do better. We could probably take a day off. Let’s refresh our relationship.” … You gotta be in it for the long haul.
Q: One final question, which came from a Facebook friend: In your more than 40-year career in movies, television and standup, what was your most challenging performance, and how did you overcome that challenge?
A: Interesting. Probably, going back to ’86 and “Aliens.” At the time, it was such a different thing for me, and it was so not a world that I expected myself to be in. It involved a lot of preparation and focus to say, “OK, you’re going to be in a big, hit science fiction movie, and your job is to not stink up the joint.”
My standard was, if the movie doesn’t die when I walk on screen, then I’m already ahead of the game.
That was one that felt it was not in my wheelhouse. I had to sort of tap into a different discipline and different focus. It’s amazing to me how that movie has held up and how people love that movie 35 years on. It’s really something.
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