When Paul Reiser first performed at Bay Street Theater two summers ago, he was just getting back into stand-up comedy after a 20-year break from what had jumpstarted his career in the 1980s.
Just as stand-up led to opportunities in film and television then—including the hit long-running TV show Mad About You—his return to the stage of late has had the same effect.
“When I focused on the standup, the other things happened as well,” he says.
He now has a recurring character on FX’s Married and has joined the cast of Amazon Studios’ Red Oaks, produced by Steven Soderbergh and filming now in Westchester and New Jersey. He’s featured in a number of upcoming films, including Concussion with Will Smith and Alec Baldwin and Miles with Molly Shannon.
Reiser explains that he was content for several years to stay at home, writing and producing projects that he was not acting in. It was only in the last three years that he returned to stand-up “for my own entertainment” and other interesting projects started to come his way, he says.
It didn’t come easy, though.
“It took about a year to sort of get the muscle back, where I felt comfortable enough just to go out and start working,” Reiser says of stand-up. “And even then, as I say, it reminds me of when I first started, in that you never get on stage and feel like, ‘OK, now I now how to do this.’ What happens is, you go, ‘OK, I think I got that, but then that other part fell apart. Now I know how to change that.’ It’s a moving target, and it’s part of what I love about stand-up. You’re always trying to fine tune it and always trying to perfect it.”
His comedy is derived from his personal and family life. “I always tell my wife and kids that I have to keep them because I’d have no act if I lived by myself,” he quips.
It’s the material he’s naturally drawn too, and it works for him. “People laugh because they recognize their lives. You may be talking about yourself, but you’re invariably talking about everybody.” There’s universality, he says; it’s rare to be the only person who’s had a thought, feeling or experience.
Mad About You was based on his life and marriage as well. He says the show worked best the closer his character’s personality came to his personality. “There is something better about it when it’s truthful,” he says.
So when audiences who are familiar with Mad About You see Reiser on stage, they won’t be surprised.
“Nobody’s going to come to my stand-up and say, ‘Man that’s not who I was expecting.’ If you had any preconception at all, you’re going to say, ‘Yeah, that’s the guy,’” he says. “Hopefully, they’re coming because the like that guy—they enjoyed what the saw. Nobody’s coming because they don’t like that guy.”
Reiser says there is a long tradition of television executives approaching stand-up comics to develop series. “I think the reason they do that is there is a built-in persona. They expect that if they can translate what a comedian is about on stage into a show, we’re going to have a successful comedy.” And successful it was. Mad About You garnered five Emmy nominations for outstanding comedy series and six lead actor nominations for Reiser, himself.
Reiser is developing three new projects now, two he doesn’t plan to star in and one he does. He says it’s too early to give details on any, but he is excited to start shows from scratch. Expect to see them in fall 2016.
Paul Reiser performs Monday, July 20, at Bay Street Theater on the Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. Tickets, $70, are available at the box office, at baystreet.org or by calling 631-725-9500.