Paul Reiser is headed to Ada.
When a friend recently told me this fact, I thought, “Yeah, right. And Jerry Seinfeld’s coming to my house for dinner!”
When I found out she was serious, I thought he was coming to give a speech at the college or something. After learning it was to do some stand-up comedy, I asked, “Where do I get tickets?”
Reiser is a comedy legend. And he’ll be performing his routine right here in our city.
“I won’t have to drive a hundred miles and fight city traffic to see him,” I thought to myself.
Then I started thinking about the possibility of interviewing him. Sure enough, I did. But more on that later.
I’ve been a huge fan of comedy since I was a kid. Late at night, after my parents were asleep, I would listen to 8-track tapes of Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Pryor and George Carlin. Yes, 8-track tapes.
I first heard Reiser’s stand-up comedy in the 1980s. I’ve never heard him speak and not laugh at his routine. Well, except when he’s playing a serious part. Oh yeah, he’s an actor, too. And a great actor at that.
His successful comedy led to his own sitcom. He was one of a few comedians who got their own — think Seinfeld, Tim Allen, Ray Romano, etc.
He co-created “Mad About You,” a sitcom in which he co-starred with Helen Hunt as his on-screen wife. The hugely successful show ran from 1992 to 1999. Reiser earned nominations for an Emmy, a Golden Globe, an American Comedy Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award. The series is now available on DVD.
Reiser’s comedy heroes growing up were Mel Brooks, George Carlin and Richard Klein and others.
“Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner records were very instrumental for me,” Reiser told me during an interview Friday. “Those were the big ones, I would say.”
Reiser’s stand-up is not blue, which I like. I feel it takes more talent to make people laugh without cursing all the time.
“I’m pretty clean,” Reiser said. “I often bristle when I hear too much blue stuff. It doesn’t offend me, but sometimes I think the challenge for comedy is finding a way around that — finding the way to say things in a clever way, a new way. So feel free to bring the family.”
I was a big fan of “Mad About You,” but probably an even bigger fan of “Bye Bye Love,” a 1995 movie in which Reiser co-starred with Matthew Modine and Randy Quaid.
The movie is about three divorced dads and their relationships with their ex-wives, children and new women in their lives. It’s among my favorite comedies. When I saw it, I was a divorced father raising two kids. Maybe I’m biased?
But Reiser’s acting was great. His performance was so solid you would have thought he actually was a divorced dad dealing with all the stuff with which that entails. At the time, he and his wife, Paula, did not have children. They now have two kids, Ezra, about to turn 21, and Leon, 16.
“One of the nice perks of having gone out again and doing stand-up is meeting people face to face,” Reiser said. “And after the show, we take pictures, or meet-and-greet and get to chat. Certain things always come up, and always someone has a story about some episode, or some particular joke in “Mad About You,” that registered with them, or that their husbands or wives do, and there’s something about “Bye Bye Love.”
“A lot of guys will come up to me very privately and say, ‘I gotta tell you that scene where you yelled at your daughter, that killed me. That’s exactly how I felt about my daughter.’ There is something about parenthood that run so deep. There’re certain truths about it. I talk about a lot of stuff in my act, but when I get to being married or something about kids, it resonates, the laughs go deeper because everybody’s feeling that. Things that are really private are also very universal. So when you talk about your own kids, or the troubles you’re having, or the funny frustrations you’re having, audiences respond, because they go, ‘Yeah, man. That’s me too.’ And it doesn’t change, whether you’re in Oklahoma, New York, Seattle, Florida, it’s all the same. People are people. It’s been very eye-opening and heartwarming to see the response be so personal and universal.”
If you haven’t seen “Bye Bye Love,” you should.
Reiser has written three books starting with the best-selling “Couplehood,” about the ups and downs of being in a committed relationship. The name for the book was created while he and reps from the book company were mulling over titles.
“I said, ‘I always write about couples, and coupling and couplehood,’” Reiser said, “and the book company said, ‘That’s the name.’ I said ‘what?’ They said, ‘Couplehood.’ I said, ‘I don’t think that’s a word.’ They said, ‘Well, it is now.’ So that’s where that came from.”
Reiser followed with the best-selling “Babyhood,” about his experiences as a first-time father; and Familyhood (released in May 2011), a collection of humorous essays. Couplehood is unique in that it starts on page 145. Reiser explained this as his method of giving the reader a false sense of accomplishment.
“So my next book will be ‘Deafhood,” Rieser said with laugh.
I asked him, “Not Grandparenthood?”
“Well, maybe.” he said. “You’re right, maybe there’s a couple of steps before. Forgetfullhood, Can’t-find-my-glasseshood. There’s a couple of books there.”
Reiser currently co-stars with Craig Roberts in the Amazon Studios original comedy series, “Red Oaks,” which has received great reviews. It’s a coming-of-age comedy set in the “go-go” 80’s and follows a college student enjoying a last hurrah before summer comes to an end and the future begins.
Reiser plays “Getty,” the president of Red Oaks County Club.
I’m a fan of this show as well.
“What I like about it is, it’s a coming of age piece,” Reiser said. “Whether it takes place in the 80s, as it does, or in the 60s, or now, it’s always a universal story. You know, people having to break away from parents, and parents’ expectations, and finding themselves.”
Reiser said it’s not just the young characters who are trying to find their way.
“What’s fun about this show is, everybody is sort of finding themselves,” Reiser said. “I play this sort of very confident, self-assured big shot who gets humbled. And not everything goes his way, as it turns out. So everybody is going through changes, and everybody is figuring out their lives on this show. It’s a very well-written, sweet show, I think.”
I told Reiser his character “Getty,” (a not-very-nice-person) to me, was a sort of small-time Gordon Gekko (from the 1987 film “Wall Street”).
“I call him (Getty) a very big fish in a very small pond,” he said. “He throws his weight around the country club because he can bend people to his will. Or he tries anyway. It’s actually fun to play somebody who’s not being nice all the time. To let out my inner cranky child, is a lot of fun to play. On the set, most of the cast is very young, so I’m sort of like ‘Pops Comedy’ there, I’m the veteran. And it’s a a very easy relationship to stake out. You know, get cranky with these young guys and bust their chops a bit. And they gotta take it, cause there like, ‘Well, he’s Mr. Getty.’”
Reiser said he is also having fun spreading the character’s attitude to the rest of the cast as well.
“It does ripple out onto the set,” Reiser said laughingly. “I find myself being comedically nasty with them and putting them down. And they get a chuckle. I go, ‘OK. This really fun. I like being the jackass.’”
In “Red Oaks,” Reiser is re-united with actor Richard Kind, his co-star from “Mad About You” although they do not have many parts together.
“We did have one scene together and it was interesting,” Reiser said. “We’d spent so many years together on ‘Mad About You,’ so they throw this one scene where we’re both waiting in a doctor’s office and we’re both getting of an age where we’re both getting our hearts checked and it was so fun to just hit the ground running. You know, we had so many years together that, they gave us these pages, and we just felt like an old comedy team. It was really fun.”
Reiser and the rest of the cast just finished filming the second season season of “Red Oaks,” which will premiere on Amazon Nov. 11.
Reiser will perform at the Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center (920 E. Main Street) at East Central University at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22. Tickets are $30. Call (580) 332-8000 or visit: https://www.ecok.edu/.
I’ve got my tickets. Make sure you get yours.