Friendly funnyman Paul Reiser performs at the Staller Center at Stony Brook University on February 6. The entertainer, whose extensive body of work includes the sitcoms My Two Dads and Mad About You, film roles, several nonfiction books, television and film production credits and the Amazon comedy Red Oaks, is excited to bring his standup act to Long Island once again.
Acting in hit TV series and films left Reiser with little time to work on his standup. “I took a 20-year break from standup touring,” Reiser says. “I feel more comfortable now. To me, it’s always this feeling of getting together with old friends. You hit the ground running. It’s much more personal.” And Reiser especially loves performing on Long Island. “Long Island is really fun,” he says. “Having grown up in Queens, I think there’s a certain level of reality [here]. That’s one of the other things I’ve noticed—I don’t need to change the act wherever I go. They’re all laughing at the same stuff. I’m talking about my family and my kids. When Mad About You was firing at its best, people said the characters ‘sound just like us.’ The most personal is always the most universal.”
Standup gives Reiser the opportunity to do what he loves. “You get known for the things that get seen, but for me, I’m having the best time writing or standup, which are the most rewarding. I find that in doing TV and film, there are so many other elements. If you have an idea for a show, you have to sell it, and in standup—I didn’t realize this at first—but what’s so refreshing is that there are no other voices [to contend with].”
Of course, Reiser is still acting regularly. He can currently be seen in Red Oaks, a comedy set at a country club in the ’80s. Reiser plays Getty, the president of the titular country club. “In the beginning, my character was a hard-ass, but the more we talked about it, I was getting to play this guy who’s ornery and an S.O.B., but he loves his wife [played by Gina Gershon] and takes the kid [David, played by Craig Roberts] under his wing. It’s great to play this guy who is so dismissive,” Reiser laughs, adding that he loves working with the cast. “Gina Gershon’s terrific. Craig Roberts and Ennis Esmer [who plays tennis pro Nash] are great.” Reiser also praises the performances of castmates Josh Meyers, Jennifer Grey and Hamptonite Richard Kind.
In addition to Red Oaks, audiences may have seen Reiser as Dr. Elliot Pellman in the recent film Concussion, which starred Will Smith. “I had a very small part that got even smaller,” Reiser laughs. “The director [Peter Landesman] asked me if I could put on a little weight. I said, ‘let’s go for 20 pounds!’ I pretended I was DeNiro in Raging Bull. Meanwhile, I was sitting the whole time.” But Reiser is proud of the project. “Will Smith was brilliant, I was a fan of the director and it was a great script.”
Reiser is currently working on producing and writing a show set in the ’70s, backstage at The Tonight Show about Johnny Carson. “It’s about a kid who’s new to the town, this wide-eyed kid. We’re doing it in partnership with Carson’s estate! Johnny’s been off the air for 25 years now. When he started, it was 45 years ago. The shows were 90 minutes, the degree of conversation…it’s a whole other period in history,” he explains. “Times were changing and social values were changing, and in the midst of all that, Johnny was a constant.” Carson was also supportive of Reiser as a comedian, which makes the project dear to his heart. “Even during my coming of age, Johnny Carson was ‘it.’ To get the nod from him was huge.”
Paul Reiser performs at the Staller Center at Stony Brook University on Saturday, February 6 at 8 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit stallercenter.com. For more on Reiser, visit paulreiser.com.