Crazy about Reiser: comedian and legendary actor to make his Spokane debut
Once a comedian is committed to TV and film projects, it’s hard to find a way to get back on stage. It’s been the story of many comics, including Paul Reiser since the New York native starred in the hit sitcom “Mad About You.” After a long break, Reiser is back on the road.
Reiser, 65, who is part of the Netflix series ‘The Kominsky Method’, reflects on ‘Mad About You’ and reveals via Zoom how he snagged icons such as Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner to appear on the show and details which he’ll deliver as a stand-up when he performs Friday and Saturday at the Spokane Comedy Club for the first time.
Congratulations on “The Kominsky Method”. How did you join this show in season 2?
(Laughs) The only reason I was on that show was because (creator-writer) Chuck Lorre is an old friend. I saw the first season and I congratulated him because the show is spectacular. It’s about an aging and mortality guy, and I can’t say enough good things about it. I called Chuck, and he was like, “Would you like to be in season 2?” I said, “Yes, please.” It’s great to be part of a show that balances seriousness and tenderness with big, silly laughs.
It’s great to see a show with actors of a certain age. Years ago, actresses Kathleen Turner’s age would have been put on pasture, but she’s great in “Kominsky.” Being a former statesman is not what it was a generation or two ago.
I agree. Being older now isn’t like it used to be. Do you think people before us, our parents, felt the same way we did at 55 or 60? Did they think they were still cool?
No, I do not think so. There was a much bigger generation gap between us and our parents.
I think there is something to that. The rock and roll generation was the first to emphasize youth. We have retained our youth and we watch Mick Jagger dance and prance at 80, and Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan still write great songs at 80. When we look back, Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant played in their 30s and 40s, but were nowhere to be found in their 70s. It’s different today.
I was talking to a writer friend who is over 90 and he says he is creating his best 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 write better than when I was 20. What I love about stand-up is that you keep writing, and when you feel like you’ve found the perfect joke, it slips away the next night. You keep chasing him. What I love most about stand-up is that it’s the only thing you can do at 16 that feels exactly the same at 65. Now that I’m back. I hope to be able to do this for years.
That’s exactly what Bob Saget told me.
And he’s dead, and we’re the same age. We all know how the show ends, whether you die in your sleep at 90 or leave early like Bob did. The bittersweet reality is that he was doing what he loved when he died. The day before he died, he tweeted that he felt like he was in his twenties again.
What brought you back to standup after all these years since a number of your peers who left comedy clubs for a sitcom never came back?
Drew Carey, who once told me that the reason he never came back to stand-up was because it was too heavy.
He said that? wow. I didn’t realize he was done with stand-up. It’s interesting. Acting came as an accident. This was the case 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 like I expected to be a stand-up after seeing Carlin. It would be like going to a Yankees game and expecting to play shortstop at Yankee Stadium.
It was pretty fun to watch, but I ended up wanting to be a comedian, and it happened, and it was amazing. After “Mad About You” ended, I became a stay-at-home man since we had little kids. Over the years, I have never lost this desire to do comedy. One night I did a charity event and had some laughs, and I wanted to come back. I got my acting muscles back after a few months.
What will you talk about coming to Spokane?
I have never been to Spokane. I talk about what happens to me. “Mad About You” was born out of what was going on in my stand-up. I had just got married and I was talking about the difficulty of being married. I have a great relationship with my wife, but it’s tricky even when you have a good relationship, and then there’s the parenting element.
There was a big scene in “The Sopranos” with Tony and Carmela in bed. Tony said once your kids find out you don’t know everything, you’re screwed. It’s so true.
I always liked the way Tony Soprano could handle mobsters and Feds, but I was no match for his kids.
It’s so true. You can’t kill your son or beef up your daughter. This show was so awesome. There’s nothing quite 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 get so many iconoclasts, like Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Carol Burnett, on “Mad About You”?
It was the icing on the cake. Mel and Carl are my comedy heroes. When we were hoping Mel Brooks would play my uncle, Helen Hunt and I walked over to Mel’s office, which was on the same lot as our set. We were literally on our knees begging him. Mel said it wasn’t absurd for anyone to kiss her ring, and he agreed to be on the show.
When we thought of who would be great as an eccentric billionaire, we thought of Jerry Lewis. We never thought we could have it. When he agreed, we asked him what other sitcoms he had been on, and he replied, “I haven’t been on any other sitcoms.” The reason was that no one ever asked. It’s like never asking the beautiful prom girl out because you think she’d never say yes. We were lucky to work with these giants.
I remember seeing Carol Burnett work so hard. I remember her saying, “I’m going to stretch higher, then my shirt will come 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, it happened.’ I can’t help but notice a lithograph of John and Yoko behind you, so there you have it.
What led up to the “Mad About You” meeting?
The funny thing is, we were so clear about never wanting to have a reunion. In the finale, we jumped to the future, so how could we do another show? We ended the series in 1999 having a baby. Suddenly, all these reboots appeared. 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 we were kind of back to where we started together since our daughter left for college.
However, we were older, more tired, not all of our dreams came true. We walked slower and didn’t hear as well, and our child was more than a handful. Our audience during the ’90s had kids, and they could relate to all the bumps and bruises our show’s characters 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 do something that felt more like life than a show. We didn’t have a baby right away. We struggled with that, and it almost separated us. We didn’t want to be too cute. Here’s something you don’t know. Helen Hunt is 4ft 2in tall. She’s a tiny little woman.
I really enjoyed your show “Here’s Johnny”, Johnny Carson’s behind-the-scenes look and “The Tonight Show”.
Thank you for watching a show that has not been widely viewed. It was an incredible experience. Carson was literally the gold standard of 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 I had access to Carson’s library.
The show is still on peacock and can be streamed. The cool thing is that shows don’t have to go out the door anymore. I would love for people to discover the series three years after its release. The world has changed so much, and a lot of it is for the better.