Comic Actor-Musician Paul Reiser Happily Returns to his Stand-up Roots
Actor/comic/author Paul Reiser is perhaps best known for his star turn in NBC’s Mad About You series in the early ‘90s, but his career-defining roles in the films “Diner,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” and most recently in the hot new “Whiplash” have made the self-effacing actor and writer a household name. Additionally, roles in the new FX series Married as well as Amazon’s upcoming Steven Soderbergh-helmed vehicle Red Oakes have further cemented his impressive credentials. But Reiser has never abandoned his early ‘80s roots as a stand-up comic and his current live tour reaffirms his commitment to unscripted comedy. Calling between shoots for the upcoming film “Concussion,” Reiser filled us in on his current events.
Tell us about “Concussion.”
Well, I like to call it my movie that Will Smith is in, also. No, I have this little part in this huge Will Smith movie. It’s all about the controversy in the NFL denying or not denying the connection between playing football and possibly hurting your head. I don’t see how anyone would think you’d get hurt, banging your head against a 300 pound guy. It’s a true story, based on this guy in Pittsburgh who stumbled upon the research, about an ex-Steeler with a head injury. He naively mentioned it to the NFL, thinking they might want to know about it. They said, “We don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no such thing.” I play one of the doctors the NFL push to negate and discredit his work.
Your current film “Whiplash” has just exploded. And there’s Oscar talk and everything.
It’s gotten great reviews and it’s a really small movie but it’s really kickin’ it. I play Miles Teller’s father, and he’s a drummer, gets into a really good music school and his mentor is a really sadistic guy, J.K. Simmons, who pushes him to be the best. It’s really emotional. You wouldn’t think it, if you saw it on paper. A guy plays the drums and his teacher is mean? How is that a movie? Trust me, it’s unbelievable.
It’s an extremely busy time for you.
Yes it is. About two years ago I started doing stand-up again suddenly these nice roles start coming along. It’s just like when I started 30 years ago, I was a stand-up, first and foremost, then I’d get these lovely side-benefits and nice roles would come along. Now here it is again. And a lot of people didn’t even know I that do stand-up because I haven’t done it in so long.
And a lot of people don’t know that you do music as well. Tell us about working with [award-winning procucer/musician] Don Was.
It was sort of a happy accident. When we were doing Mad About You [in 1992], a couple of weeks before we aired, we still didn’t have a theme song. I happened to bump into Don Was when I was travelling with Helen Hunt and doing publicity. We started chatting and he said, “Why don’t you and I write one?” Literally, that night we went into the studio and wrote some stuff. I was just sitting at the piano, but he knew what to do with it. Suddenly it was a track and he assembled the best studio musicians out there in L.A. and I went, “Look at that, it’s a song!”
Do you still love the immediacy of the club audiences over any other type of performance?
It’s like nothing else. Because the people are right in your face and they’re really savvy about how to laugh at stand-up. In a club you get to try out and experiment. The thrill of that is something you don’t get anywhere else. I’d forgotten, with TV and movies you have to pitch it, you have to sell it, you have to do all of these things. In stand-up, there’s none of that. You think of something funny, you write it down, and say it that night. If you don’t like it, you can change it tomorrow.
When was the last time you played Atlanta?
I don’t think I’ve performed in Atlanta since the ‘80s, but I was there in 2005 when I had this movie called “The Thing About My Folks.” We did a little film festival there and I was doing some promotion. Suddenly, they had a hole in the schedule from 12 to 4. I said, “Hey, are the Braves in town?” They made a call and came back and said, “We got ya some tickets in the President’s box.” It was President Carter! And he was sitting there. So I’m sitting next to the President! He was awfully sweet and took a picture and couldn’t have been more of a gentleman, not surprisingly. So that’s gonna be tough to beat when I come back.
Was he aware of who you are?
He seems like the kind of guy who is just as kind-hearted and open with everybody. I think his secret service might have leaned-in and said, “This idiot used to have a TV show.” He might have said that. Now, put this in the paper and maybe he and Mrs. Carter will come down to the show. And put in there, if they’d like to come down, seats and drinks are on me! Free diet beverage of their choice and I promise, if he comes, I’ll keep it clean.