Paul Reiser on Why He Ended Up a Comedian and Not a Musician

"It felt like coming home again." Paul Reiser said about returning to his roots as a stand-up comedian. You might have first been introduced to Reiser in his supporting roles in classic movies like Diner, Beverly Hills Cop 1 and 2, or as the bad guy in Aliens. He was...
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"It felt like coming home again." Paul Reiser said about returning to his roots as a stand-up comedian.

You might have first been introduced to Reiser in his supporting roles in classic movies like Diner, Beverly Hills Cop 1 and 2, or as the bad guy in Aliens. He was most immersed in popular culture through creating and starring in the sitcom Mad About You. But it is on the stage, telling jokes about the angst and peculiarity of everyday life where Reiser first made his name.

After a 20 year absence from the stand-up circuit, distracted by writing books, directing movies, and continued acting roles, most recently in the Academy Award nominated movie, Whiplash, Reiser is back. He's cracking wise with spirited monologues followed by a question and answer session with the audience.

As he drove through the canyons of Los Angeles, Paul Reiser granted the New Times a private question and answer session to prep us for his show at Coral Springs Center for the Arts tonight. He spoke about his comedy influences, how it was to get back on the stage, and why he's not a professional pianist.

New Times: What first inspired you to become a comic?

Paul Reiser: It was just to aggravate my parents. I think that was the incentive. I was talking to someone about this. I don't think comedians ever choose to be comedians, I think they're just happy that job exists. It is the least likely game plan for life you could think of other then counting on winning the lottery. As a kid I loved comics, I loved comedy. I didn't know you could do it, but right as I was coming of age in college was right when clubs opened up and there was an actual way to do it.

Who were some of your favorite comics growing up?

My parents had the Ed Sullivan Show on growing up, so I liked some of the traditional guys like Alan King and Jackie Mason. But then they had some of the hipper guys like Richard Pryor and Robert Klein. They and George Carlin were the big ones.

You studied piano in college and co-wrote the theme song for Mad About You along with recently recording an album. What stopped you from pursuing life as a musician?

It was never a plan. Music was never going to be my vocation. I played piano as a kid. It was something that came naturally to me. I always did it so when I went to college and saw they had a program I said, "Alright I'll do that." So I never had thought of making it a profession.

Probably, if I'm being honest, because these comedy clubs opened up, it was like they had a program to become a comedian you could sign up for. If there was a thing like, "come to this place and become a professional musician," I'd probably have done that. Comedy, as crazy as it sounds, became a tangible game plan.

Have you ever been tempted to incorporate the piano into your comedy?

Never. They're very separate to me. I'm not a very big fan of funny music. It's sort of like you're an actor, but you also like eating? Yeah, but I don't eat on stage.

You took a lot of time off from stand-up. Was it hard to get back into the groove?

Yes and no. It was instantly appealing to me. It felt like being home again. Coming back, I didn't just go out and tour. I started doing clubs first going five minutes, ten minutes or whatever.

It was very much like when I was 18 and I started. There's no expectation. Come in, work a little bit, having said that, it did take me a year before I felt that muscle. It's like a ball player, you take a long time off you still know how to play, but it takes a long time for the muscles to do what you think they'll do.

To prepare did you ever watch old footage of your stand-up from the '80's?

No. I never really watch those. When I come across them I find them shockingly unfamiliar. It's like I was a puppy.

You finish your routine with a Q&A session from the audience. Has a question ever stumped you?

I find my memory now to be alarmingly spotty. My early memories and certainly comedic high points and low points do stay in my memory. The Q&A's are fun. I used to have the questions written out and I'd weed out the difficult ones or at least the ones that didn't lead to funny. But these have been interesting. Sometimes they're very factual based, people want to know x, y, and z. Sometimes they just want to be a wiseass and sometimes they ask really absurd, funny stuff.

Any last words on what audiences can expect at your show?

I can tell you what there won't be. There will be no juggling, there will be no politics, there will be no singing, and there will be no weeping. I tell people I provide a money back guarantee. If you come down to the show and are not fully satisfied I'll come back to Florida next year and take you to see someone funnier.

Paul Reiser, 8 p.m., Friday, February 20, at Coral Springs Center for the Arts, 2855 Coral Springs Dr., Coral Springs. Tickets cost $43.46 plus fees. Call 954-344-5990 or visit

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