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Paul Reiser Comes to Phoenix to Celebrate His Return to Stand-Up

Paul Reiser Comes to Phoenix to Celebrate His Return to Stand-Up
Dmitry Bocharov

The current generation probably knows Paul Reiser as Sam Owens in Stranger Things or as Martin in Netflix's The Kominsky Method. But it's been exactly 40 years since he made his Hollywood debut in Barry Levinson's Academy Award-nominated film Diner.

That was followed by a rich stand-up career in the '80s and the Emmy-winning sitcom Mad About You. He's making his return to the former at the CB Live, 21000 North Tatum Boulevard, on Saturday, February 12.

Reiser, now 65, has been to Phoenix before. He calls it, "a good audience town.” He also says it has a strong comedy scene. The comedian took a 20-year hiatus from doing stand-up until a few years ago when he made a casual comeback. Then, just as he was finding his stride the pandemic hit and everything was put on hold for another two years. Thankfully Reiser is ready, and his recovery doesn't need too much tinkering. He says venues like CB Live are what give him energy and it's where he feels the most comfortable this time around.

"There’s something a little more informative about doing an intimate club," Reiser says. "You know in clubs, a lot of the work is done for you because in comedy clubs audiences know how to be an audience. They’re used to it; the environment sort of lends itself. Whereas in a theater it’s weird not to see tables and drinks in front of me. It’s just like people sitting in a chair. This is not Pippin — I don’t know what you’re staring at!" he laughs.

He likes the interaction with fans in a club environment. "You know, you can chat a little bit — the walls are down I think. You know after the last two years people are hungering for a little human interaction.”

If you're not familiar with Reiser's brand of comedy, it ranges from relationship humor to comical observations of everyday life. At least that's what it was 20 years ago. Although today's comedians can be a bit edgier, Reiser isn't interested in going that far. He believes everyone does what comes naturally.

"I’m not smart enough to make anything up so I just tell you what happened to me and then the audience laughs and goes, ‘Oh yeah, son of a gun, that happened to us too.'" That works both ways says Reiser. He's glad that his funny experiences aren't just happening to him.

He can do it all with little or no swearing; something that's become somewhat uncommon among today's popular comedians.

"You know it’s not a real specific design not to be edgy or not to curse a lot," he says. "It’s so funny, one time someone said, ‘You don’t curse at all.’ And I went, ‘I’m gonna list for you the nine times I just used the words I used in the last show’ And they went, ‘I didn’t even hear them.” Meanwhile, I’m not really a purist about it. Sometimes I’ll watch a young comic with my kids, I’ll go, ‘See he wasted the opportunity’ — if you want to use that word, save it. If you use it too often, it waters it down and so my concerns are really more comedic than anything else. I like people to be comfortable."

Speaking of comfortable, fans of Mad About You got a cozy treat when the series was rebooted for streaming. It was a well-received hit, but many people didn't know it even existed since it was released by Spectrum Originals, which according to Reiser, "is one step below Al Jazeera; not everybody has it. Luckily it’s been on Amazon." For fans of the series, there's some bad news: the recent season was never meant to go beyond 12 episodes.

Fans have always presented him with their stories about Mad About You and how certain episodes related to them personally. “It sounds silly to say, but I never knew that. When we had the show, we were busy, and we didn’t have social media. I knew the show was a success, but I never heard from people directly. So, for me to hear that 20 years later, Like, oh, that show meant something to all these people — that’s really uplifting and gratifying.”

Just after the release of the reboot, the lockdown hit. One might think he would use that time to write about the pandemic. But Reiser didn't want to. “There’s a little bit about it. There wasn’t that much about it that struck me as particularly funny. One of the positives is it was a shared experience; we all went through something and in that regard, you certainly have to sort of address it and you all know what you’ve been through.”

One thing he definitely can't talk about is the upcoming season of the Netflix sci-fi megahit Stranger Things. The cast of season four is hyper-cautious. Reiser, who plays Sam Owens, isn't even sure if he filmed scenes for it or not.

“There is nothing you can say about Stranger Things without getting in trouble," he says. "I was on season two, and I was on season three at the very end. So, you can draw from that what conclusion you like. But I thought, well, if they’re bringing me back for the last five minutes of season three, I imagine I might be in season four.”

Whether he is in Stranger Things (which is scheduled to air mid-2022) or not, the fact remains: Reiser has been in the business for 40 years. He's performed with legends and icons of the trade.

"One of the wonderful perks of this ride that I’ve had is I’ve gotten to work with so many people," he says. "Some whose genius wasn’t yet…apparent? I got to see part of it like Barry Levinson; it was his first directing and my first job. And Jim Cameron on Aliens, like I knew he was great but it didn’t clarify for me how much shelf life that movie has and how many people still watch that movie and how much that movie has been sort of tapped and imitated and built upon."

In later years Reiser worked with comedy legends such as Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Sid Caesar, and Carol Burnett to name a few. If there is one lesson he learned from them, it was tenacity. "They never stopped trying to make their work better." This is something he adheres to today. As for the future?

“I’m going to be joining the cast of a new show which they’re going to announce shortly," he says. "It will be shooting this next month and then I’ll be off in the summer hopefully making this movie that I’ve been trying to get off the ground for a couple of years which would take me to Ireland. I’ve always wanted to make a movie there for reasons I don’t understand, there’s just something about the place. I kept looking for a movie in Ireland and nobody had one so I went, ‘Well, I’ll write it.’”

Paul Reiser. 6 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, February 12. CB Live, 21001 North Tatum Boulevard. Cost is $25. Get tickets here.
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Timothy Rawles