- The Washington Times - Friday, February 19, 2016

Returning to the microphone after so many years is like riding a bike — or so comedian and actor Paul Reiser believes. After decades away from stand-up, the New York native known for the ‘90s sitcom “Mad About You” is picking up the mic again, including a stop at the District’s Howard Theatre Sunday evening.

When the phenomenally successful “Mad About You,” which co-starred Helen Hunt, went off the air in 1999, Mr. Reiser says he at first enjoyed being home with his wife and children over the grind of a sitcom schedule.

“One day my kid came home and said, ‘Daddy, what do you do? Why is it you’re always here?’” Mr. Reiser told The Washington Times with a laugh. “There was a vote in my house, and they felt I needed to get out and do something.”

Mr. Reiser studied music in college but then assayed right into stand-up as a young man. A few lucky breaks led to his being cast in Barry Levinson’s Baltimore comedy, “Diner,” in 1982 among other then-unknowns Kevin Bacon, Mickey Rourke and Steve Guttenberg. Small roles in “Beverly Hills Cop” and on TV followed until he came to a greater renown thanks to being cast as Carter Burke, the turncoat bureaucrat who sells out Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley in the 1986 sci-fi sequel “Aliens.”

Then came “My Two Dads” and the success of “Mad About You,” whose demands effectively put the kibosh on his stand-up career.

“I thought of myself as a stand-up first and foremost, and it’s what I started to do, and it’s what I wanted to do,” Mr. Reiser said. “When ‘Mad About You’ started, I put that all on the backburner. When it was done … my thought was maybe I’ll take a year and then get back out there again.”

One year became several. In the interim, Mr. Reiser got work in some films and had his own short-lived sitcom. But the mic continued to call.

“The truth is, it was time. So I just called a comedy club that I love going to out here in L.A. and went through the exact process that I did when I was in college,” Mr. Reiser said of the often-grueling regimen of developing and refining a set night after night in L.A.’s notoriously competitive comedy circuit. And while he had name recognition on his side, at 58, he is no longer the young man he was in the “Diner” days.

Plus, the intervening years away from the stage had in fact dulled his skills.

“You’re using muscles you haven’t used in a while, so you’re not quite as confident or as sharp, and those muscles need working out,” he said. “But it was indeed exactly as I’d remembered it. It was as exciting and as mystifying. You come up with a bit one day and it kills, and then the next night doesn’t work quite as well.

“It took about a good year to get my comedy muscle back in shape and develop material. And then I just started going out and haven’t stopped,” he said.

Mr. Reiser said that, unlike with developing a TV show or writing a screenplay, his stand-up act requires no input from network suits or second-guessing over creative control from nervous investors. Rather, being alone at the microphone, he said, offers a “straight to the market” approach.

“The simplicity of it is really refreshing,” Mr. Reiser explained. “There’s nothing that compares to the joy of coming up with bits and telling ‘em onstage and people laughing.”

Mr. Reiser has written books about being a husband and father: “Babyhood,” Familyhood” and “Couplehood.” Much of the themes of his comedy come from such experiences.

“I always would say I’m not smart enough to make anything up, so I just actually tell people what happened,” Mr. Reiser said in his typically self-effacing manner. “But what I tell people about conversations and arguments with my wife and kids, the audience laughs because they go, ‘Oh, man, this sounds like my wife, my kids.’ So that’s one of the nice bonding things about stand-up.”

While music turned out not to be his career — although Mr. Reiser said scoring a film is on his “bucket list” — the comedian has occasionally ventured back into his college training, including writing an album with Julia Fordham.

This year also marks the 30th anniversary of “Aliens.” Mr. Reiser looks back on his one and only villainois role philosophically.

“It was one of those scripts that you read and go, ‘OK, this is gonna be a huge hit,’” he said of the sequel to 1979’s “Alien.” “To whatever degree I was known at that point, it was as a comic actor, and I think that was part of James Cameron’s thinking,” Mr. Reiser said of being cast as the cowardly Burke. “Get a guy that hopefully you’re not going to suspect of being a bad guy.”

Also in the ‘80s, Mr. Reiser had a brief role as a fellow policeman in “Beverly Hills Cop” named Jeffrey who frantically tries to get Eddie Murphy’s attention during an early scene. Although brief, Mr. Reiser’s line “This is not my locker” — and its permutation in the first sequel, “This is not my office” — has become a touchstone for his fans, who often approach him while quoting same.

“For years I didn’t know what they were saying. What locker?” Mr. Reiser said.
“It’s funny because I had like three lines in the movie, and that was one of them. The fact that anybody remembers that tickles me.”

While shows like “Full House” and “The X-Files” are seeing revivals on TV and on Netflix, Mr. Reiser maintains that “Mad About You” should remain as it was: a testimonial to married life in the ‘90s. While the entire series is now available on DVD, Mr. Reiser believes in leaving well enough alone.

Furthermore, as a man pushing 60, he says that his routine will necessarily be different than when he was a teenager.

“There aren’t that many things in life that you can do the same way when you’re 19. This is one where you go, yep, it’s the same thing,” Mr. Reiser said of his new stand-up routine. “You get some experience and some years, and one of the better things about getting older is you have a stronger perspective, you know who you are more, you have more to say.

“There’s something very organic about stand-up, and when I got back onstage, it felt very validating,” he said. “Why did I let so many years go by without doing it? I’m having a blast getting back out there again.”

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