Paul Reiser on Getting Back Into Stand-Up, Helen Hunt's Success, and How He Ruined Steve Buscemi's Comedy Career

Page 3 of 3

Are you looking forward to your gig this weekend at Wild Horse Pass? Yes, sir. What am I in for? Have I made a huge mistake?

It's a big casino . . . It's a huge casino in the middle of the sand.

More like in the middle of desert scrub on the edge of Phoenix. Are you much of a gambler? No, just to the extent that I'm gonna show up and tell jokes to people in the middle of a casino. That's my big gamble. Hopefully it will pay off.

I'm sure it will. It's funny, I hadn't been out doing stand up in probably like 20 years. It's where I started and I just put it away for a while and then realized that I hadn't gotten back, so it's really only been in the last six months that I've been out and about and performing again. And it's all new material and it's a really different experience in your 50s than [in] your 20s when I started.

But one of the things that's been an education to me is the places that I have never been to, a couple of towns I've never heard of, that have these great theaters and great communities. What I'm finding is, time after time, is that -- you know what? -- people are the same. Doesn't matter where you go. People like to laugh at funny things and laugh at themselves. And for good or for bad, there's a common thread going through all of us. We're not that different.

Are the rooms tougher than you remembered? No. Maybe I've been lucky. Well, some rooms are tougher than others, but in a way, I'm having more fun than I remember the first time around. One is 'cause they know me, I think. So if they're coming to see me at this point, it's 'cause they know me and hopefully like what they've seen over the years, as opposed to those who think, "You know, I hated his show and now I'm going to go see him to tell him I hate it." That rarely happens.

So, my comedy's been kind of consistent. What I did in my act was what turned into Mad About You and turned into books. And so it's a very similar conversation. And now the people know me, so it feels like, after all these years, seeing old friends. I'll joke about, yeah, it's been a while, things change and we're older and life is a little different, but the conversation feels the same. And it actually, in a way, feels easier and more gratifying.

Speaking of Mad About You, how do you feel about how Helen Hunt's career has taken off since the show ended? Did you see her movie [The Sessions]? It's great. She's really terrific.

So I've heard. Do you ever ponder how each of your careers have diverged a bit over the years? No. Listen, I'm very happy with my career, and she's very happy with hers. It's funny. We both took a long time off, and I don't think she really worked for a significant amount of time after the show. She did a few little things, but we were both happy to be not working at that quick a pace.

So are you completely done with TV after your battles with NBC over The Paul Reiser Show? For the moment. You know, I'm not in any rush to do anything, and I'm enjoying the simplicity of stand-up. TV -- it's such a needle in the haystack. You have to come up with an idea you like and then execute it, and then you have convince networks to buy it and put it on the air while a million people contribute to it. Stand-up is the exact opposite. Stand-up is just refreshingly free of any interference. It's just you and the people.

And a microphone. Yes. Just you, the audience, and a microphone. And I love it. So I'm developing things in no great rush, but I'm playing with a couple of scripts that maybe I'll sell this year and do sometime in the future. But it's very much sort of on the backburner while I've been having a surprisingly fun time getting out of the house. That's another thing, I haven't left the house in a long time. So it's a win-win.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.