Speaking With ... Paul Reiser 09.07.12
By MIRIAM DI NUNZIO firstname.lastname@example.org September 5, 2012 6:32PM
Paul Reiser. | Getty Images/Michael Loccisano
♦ 7 p.m. Sept. 8
♦ Zanies Comedy Club,
MB Financial Park, Rosemont
♦ Tickets, $25
♦ (847) 813-0484; zanies.com
Updated: September 6, 2012 5:25PM
These days, Paul Reiser is mad about ... comedy, as in stand-up. Again.
The 55-year-old Emmy Award-nominated actorhas returned to the comic artform he walked away from 20 years ago when he began the mega-hit 1990s TV series “Mad About You,” and it has, he says, recharged his life.
Following the cancellation last year of his namesake NBC series after only two episodes (and plenty of subsequent anger and venting on late-night talk shows), Reiser turned his energy and his focus to stand-up, working a few clubs in Los Angeles and surrounding locales, and honing his skills for what he calls “Step 2” — taking it on the road.
Which is why Reiser is headed to Chicago, for a one-night gig at Zanies in Rosemont on Sept. 8. He talked to the Sun-Times (in his trademark rapid-fire delivery) about grabbing hold of that lone microphone in the spotlight.
Question: Welcome back to the world of stand-up. How did you make the decision to return to the clubs?
Paul Reiser: Thank you. I haven’t done stand-up in 20 years. Ya know, we started “Mad About You” in 1992 and I just didn’t do stand-up because I was always busy with the show. Then there were other shows, and some films, and I just wanted to hang around the home. In the past few years I hosted benefits periodically and I’d go on stage and do a few minutes and I was like, “That’s fun!”
My comic buddies would ride me. Jay Leno was relentless. He’d always say just get out there! About a year and a half ago my short-lived little TV show came on the air, and then it was gone; in ten seconds it was cancelled. And I was like, OK, let me get a suit and a haircut and let me go out no stage and remember how to be funny.
Q. So where did you start?
PR: The Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach (Calif.). I asked for 15 minutes, twice or three times a week just to blow the cobwebs off. It was like going to the comedy gym, basically. And I said, this is fun; and they can’t cancel stand-up.
Q. Did your fellow comedians cough up any advice for your return?
PR: I got the calls, but most of them were “What took you so long?”
Q. Has stand-up changed a lot in 20 years?
PR: Not really. It’s still all about the material. It’s a gorgeous art from that I only begin to understand the more I do it. It’s been really fun. This time I’m known, the audience knows me. It makes it easier to start, but they go with you. They trust you. I’m better than I was in the old days but I demand a lot more of myself now. The nice applause they give you lasts 4 seconds and then it’s, Okay, now be funny.
Q. Was it like riding a bike, or treading water that first night in Hermosa Beach?
PR: It was like riding a bike under water. It took a while. The rhythm of stand-up comedy and the shear craft of it was rusty. I just have to alter my body clock because it’s a nightclub not an afternoon club.
Q. So have you worked through all the anger of getting cancelled by NBC?
PR: There’s nobody there to get pissed off at. It’s not the same people. There’s only the network letters. So sure, I’m over it. But it was painful. The process of doing the show was joyful. My friend and I sat in my house, having lunch, writing jokes, and we wrote all the episodes. It was really ideal in every way. Even when they picked us up I said I wanted to go in under the radar, as a mid-season entry. I didn’t say sell the network to strangers in the middle of the year; that was not my plan. But that’s what happened.
Q. Would you return to series TV down the road?
PR: Sure. But I’m not looking to develop something. I don’t think I want to do that again. But if a great role comes up, sure. I just did a couple of days on the HBO movie about Liberace. I play Matt Damon’s character’s attorney. The whole time I’m working there I’m like, “This is fun. I can do my work for a few days and leave. It’s not all on my shoulders.”
Q. What do you love the most about doing stand-up again?
PR: I love the simplicity of stand-up. If you can nail down the material, it’s a beautiful thing.