THE SEASONED ACTOR, WRITER AND PRODUCER IS BRINGING HIS SIDE-SPLITTING STAND-UP ACT TO HILTON HEAD.
Story by Leslie T. Snadowsky
Paul Reiser has spent the last 30-plus years acting in Oscar and Emmy award-winning movies and TV shows. You may have read his New York Times bestsellers and seen him recently on Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and “The Kominsky Method,” for which he received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. No matter how you know him, from his first acting role in movie classic “Diner,” to his popular TV show “Mad About You,” to his stand-out role in the “Alien” franchise, this creative comic is sure to make you laugh out loud on Monday, August 29, at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina in Hilton Head. LOCAL Life found Reiser in good humor and got to ask him about his comedic career.
[LocalLife] You’re a multi-talented star who’s a comedian, actor, television writer, author and musician. How does stand-up comedy rank among your passions, and why is it exciting and rewarding?
[Paul Reiser] To be honest, stand-up was always my first love. When I started, that was all I wanted to do. Acting was a distant and improbable second place. When I got busy with “Mad About You” all those years ago, I just temporarily put stand-up on the back burner – just because I didn’t have the time to focus on it. The goal was always to get back to it. It just took me longer than I would have guessed. And when I finally did get back to it a few years ago, it was striking to see how much I had really missed it. And how exactly it felt to the first time I had gone up on stage when I was a freshman in college. The thrill of going up and trying out new material, getting the immediate response from a live audience – there’s nothing else like it. It’s still the thing I love doing most.
[LL] You’ll bring your stand-up comedy show to the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island in August. Are you a fan of the Lowcountry? Do you have a favorite bar, restaurant or beach in Hilton Head? If not, what are you looking forward to seeing/doing for the first time?
[PR] I’ve never been there. In fact, I only this very second learned that it’s called the Lowcountry. But everyone I talk to says it’s just beautiful there. So I’m looking forward to the whole thing.
[LL] As an actor, you’ve played some amazing characters from documentary filmmaker Paul Buchman on “Mad About You,” to a successful financial advisor on “My Two Dads,” to Dr. Sam Owens on “Stranger Things,” to the prosthetic-laden Martin Schneider on “The Kominsky Method,” to country club president Doug Getty on “Red Oaks,” to talent agent Bob Isaacson on “The Romanoffs”… I could go on, but I’m getting writer’s cramp. If you had to choose a character you portrayed on TV or film to be in real life, who would it be and why?
[PR] If I had to be one of those characters, I’d have to go with Paul Buchman from “Mad About You” since I created that role deliberately to be as much like myself as possible so I wouldn’t have to act too hard. When you’re lucky enough to play a character like that for so many years, as I did, and if it’s about something so close to my real life (again – pulled straight from my own marriage and journey with my wife of 34 years), it was best to keep it as “real” as possible because that’s where the material always comes from. At least for me it does.
[LL] You’ve appeared on TV shows and in films produced and/or broadcast by mainstream networks and studios. But you’ve also appeared on projects on Amazon, Hulu and Netflix. Has the proliferation of creative vehicles helped comedy, and are there more opportunities now for young talent?
[PR] The world of streaming and the changing viewing habits have certainly helped everyone, I think. The idea that you can do something that lives for eight episodes, or six episodes, or two seasons or three seasons really opens up the doors to a lot more original content. Not every idea is best suited for the traditional “can it last for eight seasons, 24 episodes every year” model. And the other great thing, which I appreciate, as a viewer as much as someone on the creative side, is that the content has such a longer shelf life. The fate of any show isn’t necessarily decided by the audience it draws in the first week. Or even its first season. I know as a viewer I’m still catching up on shows that have been out there for a couple of years. There’s so much great stuff out there, it takes a while to get to it all.
[LL] Regarding your movie resume I have to ask you a question about “Aliens.” What’s it like being forever linked to the infamous franchise, especially for playing a sleazy dweeb like Carter Burke. I think everyone was rooting for the alien when you were on screen. Can you tell us any cool behind-the-scenes factoids about the movie?
[PR] Well, I don’t know that I agree with you about the “sleazy dweeb” moniker. I’d say, “misunderstood.” I’ve always told people I was just a guy doing a job, and there was, unfortunately, a terrible workplace accident. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Maybe someday we’ll find out about the “other side” of Burke. That movie was so much bigger and its impact so much wider and deeper than I ever would have guessed. Or known. I’ve only recently gone to a few events celebrating the film and have been amazed to see the intensity of affection and reverence for the movie. Even when I first read the script, I thought, “Okay, this is gonna be a huge hit. All you have to do is not bring the movie to a grinding halt when you show up on screen.” I like to think I managed to hit that very low bar I set for myself.
[LL] I also have to ask you about “Diner.” What an iconic Hollywood movie. Besides becoming someone who’s officially within six degrees of separation of Kevin Bacon (your “Diner” co-star), how did “Diner” in 1982 propel you to further stardom, and who are you still in touch with from the production?
[PR] In a stroke of wildly good fortune, “Diner” was the very first job I ever had. And even that was an accident. I just happened to be hanging out with my buddy that day who went in to audition for the role, and when the casting director came out and saw me, she asked me to come back the next day to meet the director. I certainly had no idea how brilliant the movie would turn out, or how great Barry Levinson was (it was his first time directing, too). I was just thrilled to get any part in any movie. And all the cast, we all became really tight, for years. Just last month there was an event in LA celebrating the 40th anniversary of the release of the film. And it was the first time in a while we had all been together in the same room. And we all were very much aware of what a special moment in our lives making that film was, and what it continues to be. [LL] In addition to all your successes, you’re also a New York Times best-selling author. You’ve written Couplehood, which sold more than two million copies, and you also wrote best sellers Babyhood and Familyhood. Did your comedic chops help you out as an author, and is there a new book in the works?
[PR] It was an interesting transition to go from performing comedy to writing it for a book. So much of performance is, well, performance. And when someone is reading what you hope is funny, you’re not there to say it how you hear it. So it was a bit of relearning. And Familyhood was a different experience entirely. It was after having raised a family, having taken a few years off the radar, and I felt a lot more comfortable writing what I hope were richer, more expansive pieces, and not necessarily needing it to read as “stand-up on a page.”
[LL] Comedy Central voted you one of the “Top 100 Comedians of All Time.” Who’s your favorite comedian and why?
[PR] I grew up idolizing so many comics – George Carlin, Robert Klein, David Steinberg, David Brenner, to name a few. But the big revelation was discovering the Mel Brooks/Carl Reiner “2000 Year Old Man” records. Though they’re not “stand-ups” in the strict definition, Mel and Carl are both comedy giants who opened up a whole new world for me. Hearing those records for the first time was like finding the Rosetta Stone of comedy. LL
DID YOU KNOW
• Over the course of his career, Reiser has received multiple Emmy, Golden Globe, American Comedy Award and Screen Actors Guild nominations.
• Reiser, a SUNY Binghamton graduate in the prestigious music program, co-wrote the theme song from “Mad About You” called “The Final Frontier” with Grammy-winning producer Don Was.
• Reiser’s first book, Couplehood, sold more than two million copies and reached the number one spot on The New York Times best-seller list. His subsequent books, Babyhood and Familyhood, were best sellers as well.
Paul Reiser brings his comedy to the Arts Center stage for two thoroughly entertaining shows on Aug. 29. Purchase tickets at artshhi.com.