To read all of the interviews in our “questions with” series, go here.
Paul Reiser has pretty much done it all. From television and film to writing books and stand up, the funnyman’s wheels seem to always be spinning. Not only did he share a successful run with Helen Hunt with the hit show Mad About You in the 90’s, earning him several recognitions from the Golden Globes and Emmy’s, but Reiser has also written three bestselling books and made a hilarious guest appearance on Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2002. Recently, he starred opposite Matt Damon and Michael Douglas in Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra, which is set to air on HBO this spring. Despite the cancellation of his NBC series, The Paul Reiser Show in 2011, he says he’s also ready to try his hand at television again.
I’m developing a couple of things,” Reiser says. “Now that I’m out in the first time in years doing stand up, it feels like now it’s easy to do developing because it’s almost like a back burner project. I actually have something to go out and do in the real world. So. I think about it. I’m not in any great rush but I’m developing a couple of things and if they turn out great then I’ll do them. In the meantime, I’m having a great time just going out and making people laugh.”
Reiser is taking the stage at Hyena’s Comedy Night Club tomorrow night, and after speaking to him on the phone yesterday, I can guarantee that a lot of laughs are in store. In fact, when listening back to our conversation, I had to strain my ears to pick up his answers amidst my incessant chuckling. I’ll leave you with Reiser’s own encouragement to come out Friday night: “We wanna shake those trees and get those people out of the house. Bring a couple hundred friends!”
FrontRow: What is the best concert and the worst concert you have ever been to?
Paul Reiser: The best concert I have ever been to…you know what? Not to suck up to Texas, but it was Lyle Lovett in a little 300-seat theater in L.A. in 1992. I just remember it being one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. Lyle Lovett and a large band. It was a large band in a small room and it was pretty wild. If I say this maybe Lyle will come down and watch the show.
The worst show? If they’re bad, I must have blocked it out. As I’m picturing it, I’m picturing parking lots and turning around and going home. I don’t know what it was to, but I vaguely recall saying, “You know what? We’re going home.” So whatever it was, that was my worst concert.
FR: What was the first movie you saw in the theaters?
PR: Oh my gosh! Ever? It can’t be the first because I was probably like seven. But I remember seeing Robin and the 7 Hoods with Peter Falk and Frank Sinatra. That was the movie I fell in love with Peter Falk. I’ll tell you what year it was, it was 1964 so I was about eight. I’m sure I saw something before that but I couldn’t remember it.
I just remember laughing and being moved by Peter Falk and thinking, “Who talks like that?” I had never heard anybody talk like that. He was funny and vulnerable and he became a favorite. Years later, I had an idea for a movie that I wanted to write for him to play my dad, and I’m happy to say that we got to do it. It was a movie we did called The Thing About My Folks that he played my father and it came it out in 2005. But I always said the seeds were planted when I first fell in love with him as a kid, and I just always had this connection, so getting to work with him became a real highlight for me. Probably my favorite professional experience was the weeks making the movie with him.
FR: What’s the closest you have ever come to dying?
PR: It might happen in Dallas. It could happen this weekend! No, Dallas doesn’t need anymore famous deaths. The closest I’ve ever come to dying? Uh, I don’t know that I know that. For all I know, it could have been somebody who had it out for me and then he couldn’t get his car started and I lived for all I know. Everyday that I avoid death, I consider it a huge victory.
FR: What was your favorite toy as a kid?
PR: I remember some very cool James Bond guns that became other things, like, “It’s a camera, but it’s really a submachine gun! It’s a briefcase, but it turns into a missile launcher!” I just always thought, who are we actually faking out? Here’s a seven year old walking around with a briefcase the size of his chest. He’s not really sneaking it past anybody. (Whispers) It’s really a missile launcher. I remember enjoying that kind of subterfuge, sneaking a missile launcher into school.
I was just talking to an old buddy about a TV show called The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which was on the heels of James Bond, trying to be that. I remember loving that show. We used to run home to watch that show and he was telling me, “Oh, you can watch that now, everything’s available.” So I downloaded a couple of episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and they were terrible. I mean, they’re just so dated. You just go, okay I get why this was so fun for me at nine. It doesn’t quite hold up.
FR: Should the United States adopt a national healthcare system similar to the United Kingdom or Canada?
PR: I’d have to find out what they have in Canada and the UK. What does it mean, free things for everybody? Yeah! Who’s against that? Hey, very good medical care and everybody gets it. I say go for it. We’ll iron out the problems later.
You know what? I’m always optimistic about all good things. Good things will someday come. Here’s a lead article to read: “Reiser Adopts a Protocol…” Yeah, cause that’s what people would say, “We need a comedian with more opinions about healthcare.”
FR: If global warming melted the ice caps covering 90 percent of the known world with water, what city would you hope was spared so you could live there?
PR: Ironically, it would be the Antarctic. No, I just thought that would be funny. I’d have to say Dallas. Dallas, coma, and I’m not just saying that to suck up, period. I’m not beneath sucking up.
FR: If you could change one law — make something that is illegal legal, or something legal illegal — what would it be?
PR: Well, pedophilia…no, I’m kidding. Is that illegal or just frowned upon? No. Um…oh, man. I say legalize everything that’s not hurting anybody and illegalize everything that is. Let’s see where that gets us. We’ll think broad plans we’ll iron out the details later. We’re a smart people.
FR: If you weren’t in entertainment and had the talent and circumstances to do anything else, what would it be?
PR: I’m doing this without the talent, I’m doing this, so that should tell you something about my conviction. Every kid growing up wanted to play shortstop for the Yankees. I don’t have that skill set and I think it’s probably past my prime. Although, in my prime I was probably no closer, is the truth. I say shortstop, but somehow in my childhood thing, it would probably have been Mickey Mantle. It would’ve been playing the outfield. I’d say playing the outfield for the Yankees. You know why? Because you get a lot of down time. Not a lot of balls and you can walk around the grass and look at the crowd.
Now that I think about it, what I really want to be is a very bad vendor in the outfield section. I could be outside and no pressure. So yeah, being a hot dog vendor in a very quiet section of the Yankees stadium would be ideal.
FR: What was it like working with Matt Damon and Michael Douglas?
PR: You know what? It was very cool. I had a very small part and I only worked with them for a couple of days, but long enough to realize that those guys are really, really good. There’s a reason these guys are movie stars. They’re just terrific. It’s a very different movie, it’s a role you’ve never seen them be. Michael Douglas plays Liberace and Matt Damon is his pal, his paramour, and I play Matt’s lawyer. So it was just a couple of days of hanging around this conference room, doing legal stuff, and shooting the bull with these guys. Between them is a lot of great stories, and Dan Akroyd was in this room and those guys have stories. I could have done that for a month and just sat there. Even better than the Yankee stadium hot dog vendor. That was a good job.