With Paul Reiser coming to the stage at Bay Street Theatre on July 15, we grabbed the opportunity to converse with the multi-talented actor—perhaps best known for his role on the long-running sitcom Mad About You, which he also co-created. We dove into discussing Reiser’s stand-up, recent projects and a hidden talent (more on that later).
Reiser was named the 77th Greatest Stand-up of All Time by Comedy Central in 2004. “I’m not sure what that means, and I was hoping to place 74th, but I’ll take it!” Reiser said. Despite this distinction, Reiser is still excited to perform stand-up, having not done it in a while, and always finds it rewarding. “When I’m on stage, I get out there and people who watched [Mad About You] know me. The show was designed to kind of be who I am,” he explains, noting that he finds it easy to relate to his audience. “When Mad About You was on, the comment I would get from people was always ‘That’s what I’m going through!’ or ‘That’s just like my wife.’”
Mad About You ran on NBC from 1992 to 1999. Reiser starred as Paul Buchman, a filmmaker, and Helen Hunt played his wife Jamie, a PR specialist. Often compared to Seinfeld, the series focused on the day-to-day situations the two characters encountered and proved to be a major hit. Reiser was nominated for Emmy, SAG, Golden Globe and American Comedy Awards for his work on the show.
Reiser’s comedy tends to revolve around real life, getting used to change and dealing with friends and family. His three books—Couplehood, Babyhood and Familyhood—cover the various intricacies of relationships, having children and managing a family. Couplehood sold more than 2 million copies and was on the top of The New York Times bestseller list. The books are at once hilarious and poignant. On the back cover of Babyhood, Reiser warns: “I’m going to be totally honest. This is not the kind of book that can help you. It’s not a ‘how-to,’ ‘when-to,’ a ‘what-to-expect’ book.” Familyhood, Reiser’s most recent tome, was released in 2011. “The theme of these books is sort of anecdotal,” Reiser says.
Reiser’s two children, Ezra Samuel and Leon, may not follow in Reiser’s career footsteps, but they certainly caught the comedy gene. “My little guy [Leon] got the acting bug. He did a little film with Jeff Garlin. So he got the bug…until he realized it meant he’d have to work and audition for stuff,” Reiser laughs. “Both of them can quote Mel Brooks and Bill Cosby. When my oldest son was 9 or 10, he passed a fruit stand and quoted Mel Brooks as saying about nectarines, ‘Half a peach, half a plum, such a hell of a fruit!’”
Reiser is also a musician, something many people don’t know. He composed the theme song to Mad About You, “Final Frontier,” which was sung by Andrew Gold (who also sang the Golden Girls theme song) and later by Anita Baker. The song, which can be found on Gold’s album Thank You For Being a Friend: The Best of Andrew Gold, is also quite popular elsewhere—Mars, to be exact. “I’m one of the top artists on the planet, as far as I know,” Reiser boasts. “Final Frontier” served as NASA’s wake-up call for the Sojourner rover.
In addition to his interplanetary success, Reiser collaborated with singer-songwriter Julia Fordham on the album Unusual Suspects, which featured Fordham singing and Reiser playing piano. “Two summers ago, we did a little tour. Julia is a fantastic singer and wrote the lyrics. I’d never gotten to tour before. It was the one time I didn’t have to talk, just sit and play piano,” Reiser says. “I was a music major at Binghamton until I figured out you have to actually be good at it,” he jokes. “Turns out that in comedy, you only have to be okay. So I did comedy.”
Paul Reiser performs at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor on July 15, baystreet.org.