The Catalyst interview: Paul Reiser
Take out your Roku, Fire Stick or other streaming TV remote, search the name “Paul Reiser” and the screen will fill up with possibilities. The actor, writer and comedian, who starred in the smash hit sitcom Mad About You for seven seasons, is in a handful of classic movies including Diner, Whiplash and Fosse/Verdon.
He currently appears in Stranger Things, The Kominsky Method, The Boys and Reboot, successful series all, and a show he co-created in 2017, the nostalgic There’s Johnny, is a late-blooming hit.
Of course, Mad About You is in perpetual reruns, and the 2019 “continuation” of the series, with Reiser and his longtime co-star Helen Hunt, is streaming as well.
Yet Reiser still finds time to tour the country as a standup comedian. He will be at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater Friday night.
St. Pete Catalyst: We last spoke in 2015, when you were just getting back into standup. You haven’t slowed down in seven years – you’re all over the place. Are you busier now than ever, and is that the way you like it?
Paul Reiser: I’ve always considered myself a standup, even though I didn’t do it for 20 years. But that was always my thing. I felt “busier” in the thick of Mad About You – that was sort of a nonstop, relentless merry-go-round. That felt more intense than things do now.
But as a standup, I never felt not busy. I was always working; I was always doing something. Now I seem to be finding projects that are fun and worthwhile … to be honest, although they’ll end up dropping at the same time, so it looks busier than it actually is – The Boys and Stranger Things dropped the same week, but they were both done a year and a half earlier. So, busy week? Not really.
It’s almost relaxing to do standup. Because it’s so uncomplicated. You go to a place, you walk onstage, you tell people funny things, they laugh and you go home. You don’t have to raise the money, you don’t have to edit it, you don’t have to wait a year and a half so to see if you’re picked up … I love the immediacy of it. And the simplicity of it.
What about your audiences now? Are there people who come to see your standup going “That’s the doctor from Stranger Things”?
Somebody told me that their kid said ‘Wait a minute – the doctor from Stranger Things is going to try to be funny?’ I thought well, that’s just misinformed. No, I’m actually a comedian, and I’m actually not a doctor. Don’t come see me for your checkup.
I will say there is clearly a wider demographic in the audience now. It used to be a big solid base of Mad About You people, who got married around the same time, had kids around the same time – we’ve all gotten on the same train together. Add to that people who watched Kominsky Method and maybe skipped Mad About You. And now Stranger Things and The Boys.
And Reboot, I hope we get to make another season. They haven’t told us yet. But that’s been a real boost as well. It’s a really funny show. It has a much wider reach than some people would have thought. They thought it was too inside Hollywood, too inside-baseball. And it’s not. It’s about people. It’s about characters that you care about, and everybody in their own way is trying to get a second chance because they didn’t do their life particularly well the first time.
There’s Johnny, on Peacock now, is set backstage at the Tonight Show in 1972. Where did that come from?
That was the ultimate passion project, that from inception to execution was like 15 years. Mostly because we had to wait for Johnny Carson’s approval. His gatekeepers were not eager to do it. And then he was ill, and then he passed, and finally they looked at it and said ‘This would be great for Johnny’s legacy.’ Which was what I was telling them from the beginning.
It was a very typical showbiz story: We sold it to a brand-new platform, and as soon as we finished making it the platform folded. And then it was in a corporate shuffle. Hulu aired it, but they didn’t want to.
Then I went to Peacock and said guys, if ever there was a show for Peacock … the NBC peacock is in the show! It’s a show about an NBC show. Luckily they understood it and they put it on.
One of the great things about streaming now, to me, is you don’t have to promote it. Just put it where somebody can find it. I’m fine with that. I still get people coming up to me all the time saying ‘Hey, I just stumbled upon There’s Johnny.’ And it’s a great show. I’m so proud of it.
You did the updated Mad About You in 2019. It’s on Amazon Prime now.
Despite the fact that I’m on a show called Reboot, I’m not a big fan of reboots in general. Helen and I were very close in all the 20 years since the show ended, and we used to joke about how clear we were: We would never do a reboot, or any reunion. Because to me those are always just a little sad, and unnecessary.
Specifically, we were so proud of the way we ended it, after seven years, and we did every episode we wanted to do. We landed the plane perfectly; why mess it up?
But they kept coming to us and asking if we were interested. We knew it would be fun to play together again, but we still thought, but why? Why would we do it?
But when we did the chronology, we realized that the baby that we had when we ended the show in ’99, twenty years later now is leaving the nest. And we thought, that’s an interesting moment in a parent’s life. Because now it’s you again.
It was picked up by Spectrum, which was just beginning to do original content. Then I think they abandoned that plan. So I seem to be able to personally break entire networks. I’m very proud of that.
Was it a one-time thing? Any thoughts on continuing?
No, we went into that and said ‘Let’s just do it once.’ I took a lot of teasing because I refused to use the word reboot. I said it’s really a continuation. We’re in our 60s – let’s see what life did to these people. What does raising a kid for 20 years do to you? Moving a little slower, and not hearing that well – what does that look like on these people?
So we had no plans to continue. Having said that, it was great fun. And I knew it would be fun with Helen, but what was really crazy about it was when we all got on the set, and the whole cast was together again – on that set – we jumped right into it as if we had been gone for a weekend. Instead of 20 years. There was no ‘gearing up.’ We all just picked up – as I said, like it was a continuation. And here we are.
Tickets for the Capitol Theatre show are here.