Once a standup comic commits to TV and film projects, it’s difficult to find a way back to the stage. That’s been the story for many comics, including Paul Reiser since the New York City native starred in the hit sitcom “Mad About You.” After a lengthy hiatus, Reiser is back on the road.
Reiser, 65, who is part of the Netflix series “The Kominsky Method,” looks back at “Mad About You” and reveals via Zoom how he hooked icons such as Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner to appear on the show and details what he’ll deliver as a standup when he performs Friday and Saturday at Spokane Comedy Club for the first time.
Congratulations on “The Kominsky Method.” How did you join that show in season 2?
(Laughs) The only reason I got on that show was that (creator-writer) Chuck Lorre is an old friend. I saw the first season and congratulated him since the show is spectacular. It’s dealing with a guy getting older and mortality, and I just can’t say enough good things about it. I called Chuck, and he said, “Would you like to be on season 2?” I said, “Yes, please.” It’s great to be part of a show that balances seriousness and tenderness with silly big laughs.
It’s great to watch a show with actors of a certain age. Years ago, actresses the age of Kathleen Turner would have been put out to pasture, but she’s great in “Kominsky.” Being an elder statesman now isn’t the same as it was a generation or two ago.
I agree. Being older now isn’t the same as it was. Do you think the people before us, our parents, felt the same way as us at 55 or 60? Did they think they were still cool?
No, I don’t think so. There was a much wider generation gap between us and our parents.
I think there is something to that. The rock and roll generation was the first to put emphasis on youth. We held on to our youth, and we watch Mick Jagger dance and prance at 80, and Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan are still writing great songs at 80. When we look back, Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant acted in their 30s and 40s, but they were nowhere to be found during their 70s. It’s different today.
I was talking to a writer friend who is in his 90s, and he says he’s creating his finest work now. I was like, “Wow.” I felt like I was 80 since I was 20. I’ve always been a Mel Brooks guy. I’m writing better than I was when I was 20. What I love about standup is that you continue to write, and when you feel like you nailed the perfect joke, it slips away the next night. You continue to chase it. What I love most about standup is that it’s the one thing you can do at 16 that feels exactly the same at 65. Now that I’m back doing it. I hope to be able to do it for years.
That’s exactly what Bob Saget said to me.
And he died, and we’re the same age. We all know how the show ends whether you pass away in your sleep at 90 or go early as Bob did. The bittersweet reality is that he was doing what he loved when he died. The day before he died, he tweeted out that he felt like he was in his 20s again.
What brought you back to standup after all of these years since a number of your peers who left the comedy clubs for a sitcom never came back?
Drew Carey, who once told me the reason he never returned to standup was because it was too much heavy lifting.
He said that? Wow. I didn’t realize he was done with standup. That’s interesting. Acting came as an accident. That was so for many of my comic peers, including Bob Saget. My inspiration wasn’t to become the next (Robert) De Niro or (Al) Pacino. My inspiration was George Carlin. It wasn’t as if I was expecting to be a standup after I saw Carlin. That would be like going to a Yankees game and expecting to play shortstop at Yankee Stadium.
It was fun enough to watch, but I did end up wanting to be a comic, and it happened, and it was amazing. After “Mad About You” ended, I became a house husband since we had little kids. As the years passed, I never lost that urge to do comedy. One night, I did a charity event and got some laughs, and I wanted to get back in. I got my comedy muscles back after a few months.
What will you talk about when you come to Spokane?
I’ve never been to Spokane. I talk about what’s happening with me. “Mad About You” grew out of what was happening in my standup. I had just gotten married and talked about how hard it is to be married. I have a great relationship with my wife, but it’s tricky even when you have a good relationship, and then there is the parenting element.
There was a great scene in “The Sopranos” with Tony and Carmela in bed. Tony said that once your kids find out you don’t know everything, you’re screwed. It’s so true.
I always loved how Tony Soprano could deal with mobsters and the feds but was no match for his kids.
That is so true. You can’t kill your son or muscle your daughter. That show was so great. There’s nothing like watching tough guys be vulnerable. I love watching actors who can make you laugh and break your heart the next minute like Peter Falk, Jack Lemmon and Tom Hanks.
How did you have so many iconoclasts, such as Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Carol Burnett, on “Mad About You”?
That was the icing on the cake. Mel and Carl are my comedy heroes. When we hoped that Mel Brooks would play my uncle, (“Mad About You” co-star) Helen Hunt and I walked over to Mel’s office, which was on the same lot as our set. We literally were on our knees begging him. Mel said it’s not absurd for anyone to kiss his ring, and he agreed to be on the show.
When we were thinking about who would be great as an eccentric billionaire, we thought of Jerry Lewis. We never thought we could get him. When he agreed, we asked him what other sitcoms he guested on, and he said, “I haven’t been on any other sitcoms.” The reason was nobody ever asked. It’s like the beautiful girl at the dance is never asked to go out because you think she would never say yes. We were fortunate to work with these giants.
I remember watching Carol Burnett work so hard. I remember she said, “I’m going to stretch further up, and then my shirt will go up, and it’ll be funnier.” Such a work ethic. Helen and I were in bed between Yoko Ono for a scene, and she said, “Give peace a chance.” Helen and I were like, ‘Yeah, that happened.’ I can’t help but notice a John and Yoko lithograph behind you, so you get it.
What led to the “Mad About You” reunion?
The funny thing is that we were so clear about never wanting to do a reunion. In the finale, we jumped ahead to the future, so how could we do another show? We ended the show in 1999 by having a baby. All of a sudden, all of these reboots popped up. We decided to do a continuation, not a reboot. What would happen to this couple 20 years after the baby was born? We came back and were in a way back where we started together since our daughter goes off to college.
However, we were older, more tired, not all of our dreams came true. We walked slower and don’t hear as well, and our child was more than a handful. Our audience during the ‘9’90s was having children, and they could relate to all of the bumps and bruises the characters from our show went through.
What are you most proud of with “Mad About You”? And tell us something we don’t know about the show.
We wanted to make something that was more like life than a show. We didn’t have a baby right away. We struggled with that, and it almost split us up. We didn’t want to be too cutesy. Here’s something you don’t know. Helen Hunt is 4-foot-2. She’s a very tiny woman.
I really enjoyed your show “Here’s Johnny,” the behind-the-scenes look at Johnny Carson and “The Tonight Show.”
Thank you for watching a show that was widely not seen. It was an amazing experience. Carson was literally the gold standard for comedians. You weren’t a comedian unless you were on “The Tonight Show.” I was like a kid in the candy store when I was working on the show and had access to Carson’s library.
The show is still on the Peacock and can be streamed. The cool thing is that shows don’t have to come flying out of the gate anymore. I would love it if people discovered the show three years after it came out. The world has changed so much, and much of it is for the better.