Paul Reiser Talks on the Anatomy of a Sandwich and a Joke
Paul Reiser is the type of guy who could have been a Jerry Seinfeld, but didn't quite make it to that level. We mean that in the nicest way possible. The comic is best known for his role in the hit TV show with Helen Hunt Mad About You, but that was like 20 years ago! So when speaking with him recently, we were more interested in chatting about his other projects as he makes his way to the Palm Beach Improv this June. A musician and author, Reiser's skills go far deeper than television.
The comic is back on the road for the first time since the '90s, and working his hardest to not skip a beat. In what proved to be a very natural and entertaining interview, Reiser pulled back the curtain on some of his writing philosophies, and we even got him to spill the beans on the uncertain possibility of another season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Pretty, pretty good.
New Times: I don't think my dad has ever been more proud of me than when I told him I was going to interview Paul Reiser.
Paul Reiser: Really? Wow, I am so happy to be a part of that moment for you. Where's your dad at?
My parents are living in Baltimore now which is actually relevant to my first question. When I told them we would be having this chat, my mom insisted that I watch Diner.
You had never seen it?
No, I had not seen it, which surprised them as I do consider myself a movie buff of sorts.
(Laughs) That's alright. Better later than never.
You would be happy to know, I got my butt right over the the West Palm Library and rented it.
And, did you learn anything, Dana?
Yeah, yeah, I enjoyed it.
Alright good. Well, you are up to snuff, you know everything about me now. There is nothing left untold.
Because Diner was the first thing that came to mind for my parents, I was wondering if that movie is still something you consider a big part of getting your career started.
Yeah, for sure. Absolutely. That was my first job, I hadn't done anything. When Diner came out, I got my first Tonight Show to publicize the movie, and it opened the door for casting. It wasn't a huge hit, but it was a very well received movie and since I had never been out, it was like "Who's that kid?" To this day, when I am out touring doing comedy, people often come over to me, usually from Baltimore. For a lot of people, mostly men, that movie really hit a nerve. It has a found a spot in a lot of people's hearts.
Give me another one, give me a tougher one.
I rewatched The Aristocrats not too long ago. Your part is very much focused on the anatomy of the joke. Is joke writing formulaic like that for you?
I am always tickled by looking at jokes carefully and looking at moments carefully. Sometimes, it's counter productive because it takes you out of the moment. It's about listening to and watching a set and trying to isolate why something worked better than expected or less well than expected. And also, you know, just admiring other people's craft and when someone does a joke asking "Well why was that so funny?"
It is just a fascinating art form. Just being excited when someone chooses a beautifully selected word and it's so much funnier than any other word they could have chosen, or the rhythm, or the timing. There are 1000 elements that go into making something work and many of them are intangible. It's like how some people like taking apart cars, I like taking apart jokes.
You have written three books so far; Couplehood, Babyhood, and Familyhood.
Yes, and I have read 7.