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You loved him in the ’90s hit television series “Mad About You,” but Paul Reiser has many show business credits to his name, including his recent appearance in “Behind the Candelabra” – the Emmy Award-winning movie about Liberace. The 56-year-old has written three books, starred in multiple movies and taken on a busy stand-up comedy schedule. He’ll bring his successful self to the annual Festival of Arts, Books and Culture at the Katz JCC this month.

“I did not know how much I missed doing stand-up,” Reiser says. “It was in the back of my mind that I was always going to get back to it. A lot of comics do stand-up to get a television show and then they never want to do it again, but that was never me. I always wanted to get back to it but kept putting it off for some reason.

“I did a charity show. Usually you do short little jokes and then bring up the mayor, but this was just a great night and great audience, and I was having so much fun. I got on the stage and thought, ‘I like that – I used to be good at that.’ So I started going to clubs, and I’ve been touring the last year. It’s much more fun than I remembered having the first time around.”

The first time around was in the ’70s and ’80s, before he made it to television in the sitcom “My Two Dads” (1987-1990). But it was Reiser’s role as Paul Buchman in “Mad About You” that made him a household name. Playing husband to Helen Hunt’s Jamie, Resier premiered the show in 1992. It ran seven seasons.

“Especially with TV, the chances of any kind of success are so minimal,” Reiser says. “The odds are against you, so that we snaked through was a miracle. We’ve been off the air for 13 years but now that I’m on the road, I’m meeting people for the first time who are sharing stories about their favorite episode or how a particular episode changed their marriage, or they are still doing the same joke because of something I said in an episode. Wow! I didn’t know that it had a lingering effect. There’s a pocket of people out there for whom this show was a big part of their lives.”

Paul-opeingWhile Reiser was also the sitcom’s co-creator, it’s a little-known fact that he was the co-composer of the show’s theme song “The Final Frontier,” and played the piano for the recording. He still plays piano and recorded an album with singer-songwriter Julia Fordham.

“I fell in love when I heard her on the radio, and we became friends and decided to write a song together,” he says. “It became two, three, four and suddenly we had an album. We put it out two summers ago. We did a little tour in six or seven cities and got a band. It was so cool. I could be on stage and not have to talk or be funny, just play piano.”

Reiser has enjoyed success in movies, too. Some of his most notable films include “Diner” (1982), “Bye Bye Love” (1995), “The Marrying Man” (1991), “Aliens” (1986), “One Night at McCool’s” (2001) and “Beverly Hills Cop” I and II (1984 and 1987). Recently, he played the lawyer in “Behind the Candelabra.”

“I worked for two days. It was a really quick, little thing,” he says. “I got a call shortly before and they said, ‘Do you want to play Matt Damon’s lawyer?’ and I said, ‘Yes, that will be fun.’ It was a little part but it was a great script and such fun to sit around and play with Matt Damon, Michael Douglas and Steven Soderbergh. The real draw, to be honest, was that my kids are big Jason Bourne fans, so I thought maybe I could bring them to the set.

“I got a little nervous. I didn’t want to be this idiot that asks right away. I very sheepishly went up to Matt after lunch the first day and asked if it would be a terrible imposition. He said, ‘No, bring them down,’ and he was so gracious as my son peppered him with every trivia question. When somebody’s nice to your kids, they’re yours forever. He’s aces in my book.”

Reiser’s next movie, “Life After Beth,” hits theaters in January. “It’s if zombies showed up in a Jewish, suburban house,” he explains. “It’s a very funny, dark movie, and I’d never seen anything like it. It’s really a love story about these two kids, and I play the father of the boy, and John C. Reilly is the father of the girl. One of them happens to have just died and comes back, but it’s suburban families who don’t know how to deal with zombies.”

It’s a far cry from his recent role in another independent movie called “Whiplash.” “It’s about a kid who’s a drummer that joins this elite music school, and the teacher everybody is trying to please is brutally abusive. I play the kid’s father. It’s very emotional and heavy, a beautiful movie.”

The role goes against type for Reiser, whose trademark is relatable humor. “When we were doing ‘Mad About You,’ the best compliment we ever got was people saying ‘I was poking my husband in the ribs because in that episode it was exactly what he does,’” says Reiser. “It was a connection and recognition of seeing themselves. It’s what my stand-up is, too. People aren’t laughing because it’s abstractly funny, they’re saying, ‘Yes, that’s exactly true. I know you’re talking about you, but you’re talking about me.’ It’s a very warm experience.”

1 Copyright-FeatureflashHis third book, “Familyhood,” continues where his first two, “Couplehood” and “Babyhood,” left off. And his books, he insists, were natural extensions of his stand-up routines and “Mad About You.”

“At the time, my material was about being newly coupled and newly married, and that became the show,” he says. “The books grew out of the show. When people see me do stand-up, it’s very much the same viewpoint. It’s different material and a different point in life – being in my 50s is different than being in my 20s or 30s. But I still think I’m trying to figure out the same puzzles of life.”

Reiser’s books are comic sketches in print. “You put it down for eternity and hope the reader will take it home, hear your voice and enjoy the ride, even though it’s now written down,” he adds. “That was a learning curve for me to learn how to write and trust that the audience will enjoy it without me being there yammering.”

Among his many roles, Reiser’s favorite is husband to Paula and dad to Ezra, 18, and Leon, 13. “I’m kind of a homebody,” he admits. “The priority to me has always been family. My oldest son was 4 when “Mad About You” was over so for most of their lives, I have not been consumed with career. For the first 10 years after the show, with the exception of a project here or there, my work was done from the house.

“So much of what I do is mining that, so if I weren’t home, I wouldn’t have a career. If I didn’t have an intensive relationship with my wife, I wouldn’t have ‘Mad About You’ to write about. My act comes from staying home and listening to kids and struggling to figure out how to do parenting correctly. Even if I was just being career-oriented, it’s in my best interest to stay home.”

And a funny home it is, he says. “My kids are funny in different ways, but nothing makes me laugh more. It makes me proud when they say something very hip and smart. I would be tickled if they followed in my footsteps. My little one is a performer – it’s in his genes. He sees things in a funny way.”

For now, Reiser is loving performing his stand-up act. “It’s the most immediate,” he says. “Everything else is great to see and has great results, but it takes forever. In stand-up, you go, you think of something, you tell it and you’re done. And the audience laughs right there. There’s something that’s much more gratifying about that than anything else.

“It’s a moving target. The slippery thing about stand-up is you never get it perfect. I keep trying and just love watching it grow and get better. And the icing on the cake is afterward, chatting with people and shaking hands, and hearing all these stories that tickle me.”

November 2013
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