Entertainment

Paul Reiser, coming to Clearwater, talks about returning to standup and never winning an Emmy

Posted July 22, 2018 6:07 p.m. EDT

When Paul Reiser returned to standup comedy a few years ago, younger comics couldn't figure him out.

"All the younger comics would say, 'Are you doing a special?' I'd go no," said Reiser, 62. "'What, are you getting ready for the Tonight Show or something?' I said no. 'Well, what the hell are you doing here? Why are you doing it?' I would say, 'I'm doing it just to do it.'

"The act of doing it, being out there in front of an audience of people, is really refreshing and exciting and fun. At this point, I feel pretty confident I can show up at the theater and know we're going to have a good time."

Reiser has a good track record of that. His resume is stacked with beloved projects, from Hall of Fame sitcom Mad About You, for which he was nominated for 10 Emmys, to iconic films like Diner, Aliens and Whiplash.

Over the last couple of years he has become an unlikely omnipresence on streaming networks, creating or appearing in series on Netflix (Stranger Things), Amazon (Red Oaks) and Hulu (There's ... Johnny!). But he gets the most joy out of his rebooted standup career, which will bring him to Clearwater's Capitol Theatre on Friday.

When Reiser called from his home in Los Angeles recently to chat about the gig, our conversation made headlines for another reason: He said a much-discussed reboot of Mad About You was stuck in development, and at this point "likely won't happen."

But he also had more to say about his standup, the Hollywood awards circuit and Mad About You's theme song, which he co-wrote. Who knew?

You know, there used to be a punk band in Tampa called Down With Paul Reiser and the Renegade Thugs.

What? What?!

They still have a MySpace page.

I never heard of that until you. (A), how is it possible I never heard; and (B), how is it possible that somebody was so moved against me that they formed their career around stopping me? That's really frightening.

I don't think they're still together.

Well, let's not give them any space. Because then they'll go, "Hey, guys, we should regroup!"

The last time you were here was in 2015, the same weekend Whiplash won a handful of Oscars. Did you make it back for the ceremony?

I wasn't invited to the Oscars. They're very tight with those things. But I remember watching at home, and when they got to Best Picture, they showed a clip, and there was a three-second shot of me. My young son was so impressed with that. Somehow, being in the movie meant nothing. But the fact that they chose a clip my face was in, he was just, "Wow!"

On the topic of awards, you've never won an Emmy, which is hard to believe.

I did not ever win an Emmy! Yeah, let's do something about that!

What's the most that ever bothered you, and where do you sit with it now?

(laughs) That's something I've truly never thought about. When you're nominated, you sit there and go, "I hope they call my name," and then they don't, and it's over. For about two seconds, it lasts. I don't even vote for those things. If somebody chooses to celebrate and honor you, that's very nice, and if they don't, it's not anything that you think of.

When you started doing standup again, was your material all new, or did you go back through old sets and say, "Oh, this holds up"?

It was all new. One of the things that kept me delaying coming back was I didn't just want to dig up and shake off the cobwebs of the old act. I wanted to start fresh. That just looked daunting. When I went back, I went to the club here 40 minutes from my house, where I used to work out all the time, and I think I had five minutes of stuff. It's a very strange thing, because your muscles aren't there. You know how to do it in your head, but it's like, if you don't play tennis or basketball for a year or 10 years, the muscles atrophy. It took me about a year to feel confident enough to go out and actually try and sell a ticket, as opposed to just dropping in and doing 10 minutes. It's funny: After having taken 20 years off, now, if I take two weeks off, I feel like I've got to warm up again. It's like a race car. You've got to keep it serviced and running.

How long did it take you to write a surefire save-me-I'm-bombing, I-know-this-will-kill bit?

You don't bomb anymore. There are nights that the audiences are great, and some nights that it takes a little more elbow grease. You never know, and that's part of the thrill of it. There are parts of a routine that you know always work; they're always going to get the laugh. And there are others that need a little nurturing. Those are the fun parts. I look at it and I go, "Let's give the rookies some playing time." You pull them off the bench and throw them into the game, and that's fun.

If Mad About You did come back, would you retool the theme song? Give it a 2018 remix?

I've thought it would be fun to shuffle it up and have a different artist cover it each week. But I've always been surprised -- so often, people tell me they use that song as their wedding song. That's a real sweet thing, to be a part of people's lives like that.

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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