If you condense what Paul Reiser is doing these days into a few words — acting as one half of a married couple on television and doing stand-up — it doesn’t sound so different from what he was doing two decades ago as a comic and star of Mad About You.
But in fact, much has happened since he achieved stardom on the hit NBC sitcom. Reiser’s written three books and raised two teenage sons. Still, the essence of what he does as a comedian remains immutable.
“What it takes to do stand-up is exactly the same as it was when I started 30 years ago,” said Reiser, who will perform May 4 at Adath Israel in Merion Station as part of an annual fundraiser in memory of longtime Jewish benefactor Ida S. Mandell. He answered questions in a telephone interview while en route to film a recurring role on Married, a new comedy set to premiere this summer on FX.
“The way you perform, it hasn’t changed. The way you get better, it hasn’t changed. There aren’t too many things like that in life.”
Reiser took about 20 years off from the comedy clubs before returning to the stage a few years ago. He also didn’t do much acting in the decade following the 1999 conclusion of Mad About You, for which he received six Emmy Award-nominations. And after writing his first two best-selling books, Couplehood and Babyhood, he took a 13-year break until publishing Familyhood in 2011. In short, he was spending quality time with his family.
“When you have kids, you’re suddenly less inclined to write a book because you’re busy treading water,” the 57-year-old joked.
In addition to Married, the comedian and actor has two films scheduled for release in 2014. Despite the uptick in acting work, Reiser said he is most excited about getting more involved with live comedy.
“These nice movie parts are a lovely bonus but what I’m putting my focus on these days is doing stand-up,” he said.
When Reiser decided a few years ago that he wanted to return to the stage, he said he started off at local clubs around Los Angeles, performing on week nights for five minutes, then 10 minutes, and so on.
“It took me about eight months until I thought I was getting the muscle back. It was about a year and a half before I went and performed on the road,” he said.
His style hasn’t changed — making observations about ordinary life — but now he can riff on what it’s like to raise two sons.
“I can’t soften the blow for them, you know, when you’re in high school, liking the girl that doesn’t notice you. It sucks. It’s like when it’s raining outside, I can’t make it not rain. You just acknowledge that it sucks,” he said.
On Married, a single-camera show that’s “a lot darker, a lot edgier” than Mad About You, Reiser said he plays the significantly older husband of Jenny Slate, who was a Saturday Night Live cast member and has a recurring role on Parks and Recreation.
Reiser also stars in Life After Beth, a zombie comedy due this fall from I Heart Huckabees writer Jeff Baena, in which he plays a father in a suburban Jewish community.
“When you watch zombie movies, sometimes you say, ‘that’s not how they would act,’ ” Reiser said. But he said this movie feels more authentic to him, citing one scene when the parents make zorgen about the titular zombie, saying, “She’s not eating. Why doesn’t she want to eat? ”
In addition to the appearance at Adath Israel, Reiser will also perform in Atlantic City and New York over the next few weeks.
“I used to love performing in Philly,” Reiser said. “To me, it was like New York — it just felt like home. There’s something that’s always better about working the East Coast.”