Paul Reiser, his shirttail out and his beard a few days past stubble, looked thoroughly frazzled as he entered the Italian restaurant in Burbank, just a few blocks from where he was completing post-production on his one-hour Showtime stand-up comedy special "Paul Reiser: 3 1/2 Blocks From Home."
The special was filmed May 15 at New York's Palladium Theater, literally 3 1/2 blocks from the 14th Street housing development where Reiser grew up. It is Reiser's first cable stand-up show in four years, a period that has seen his acting career flourish to the point that many people don't even know that Reiser was one of the fastest-rising comics in the country before starring in the NBC sitcom "My Two Dads" and before his critically applauded appearances in "Diner" "Aliens" and the "Beverly Hills Cop" films.
While "3 1/2 Blocks From Home" takes him back to his stand-up roots, Reiser's acting career is still moving ahead. He recently appeared in "The Marrying Man," is currently shooting a film called "Family Prayers" and is creating a television vehicle that will be more suited to his wryly observant comedic style than was "My Two Dads." "It's just about a couple and the stresses on relationships," he says, "There's no hook, no three babies, no Martians. There's just life. It's like a small, fun version of "thirtysomething.' "
Between hurried bites of salad, Reiser talked with Joe Rhodes.
So tell me what the Showtime special is about. All I know is the title.
Which I still would love to change. We chose it because we figured it would take the least time to explain in an interview like this. You want a title that says comedy but isn't trying to be too funny. The premise was that it was gonna be a no-frills show, no sketches, just me, standing there talking. So we were going to call it "Paul Reiser: Just Like This." That didn't seem right.
Then there's a line I do in my act when I say something that might be mildly offensive where I go, "I kid, I joke, I come from love." So I thought we'd call it, "Paul Reiser: I Come From Love." But we thought, if you don't know it's funny, it'll sound pretentious and stupid. So we went with the title that was least offensive, "3 1/2 Blocks From Home."
Because that would be the easiest to explain and hardest to misinterpret?
Exactly. And yet, here we are, explaining and interpreting.
What was that neighborhood like when you were growing up?
I do a line in the show about how most people come back to their old neighborhood and they're so nostalgic. They note how the neighborhood's gone down hill, how it used to be so good and now it looks like crap. But the great thing about my neighborhood was that it was never good, so there's no huge disappointment.
Actually I lived in a housing development that was kind of nice. There were trees and nice apartment buildings. We were comfortable. My dad had a health food wholesaling business. The area, generally, was a little tough, but my little area (a lower Manhattan neighborhood called Stuyvesant Town, not to be confused with Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant) wasn't tough at all. People hear where I grew up and they always assume that I must have grown up in the street and I always go, "Well, actually, it was more like the curb."
Did you always intend to do this show in your old neighborhood, or did The Palladium just happen to suit your needs?
I just knew I wanted to do the show in New York and we looked at theaters all over. And this one was just head and shoulders above everything else we saw, which I thought was really ironic because when this was a movie theater, that's where I went to see "The Sound of Music" and "The Ten Commandments" as a kid. Then, when I was a teen-ager, it had become more of a concert hall. That's where I saw a bill that was Vanilla Fudge, B.B. King and The James Gang, which I look back on that now and I think, what business did those people having being on the same bill?
Originally, I wanted to do the show from a club, because I like having people seated at a table with drinks, as opposed to theater seating. I think the whole premise of comedy, certainly my comedy, is that this stuff is not that important. These are just things that at best will amuse you.
I know after three years of doing "My Three Dads," you said you were really itching to focus on stand-up for a while. Why?
I had a great time doing "My Three Dads," but I was always trying to change it and the fact is, the beast was bigger than I was. It wasn't my show and it wasn't created to be the kind of comedy I wanted to do. But there are enough pluses to balance it. You're making money and your name is out there so it's not like, 'Gee, I'm pinned under a car and I'm bleeding to death." It's not the worst of fates, but it was frustrating sometimes.
With stand-up, it's so low-tech. There are no editors, no producers to satisfy, no networks. You do the work yourself. It's just, "Here are the jokes, let's have some fun with it."
"Paul Reiser: 3 1/2 Blocks From Home" airs Saturday at 10 p.m. on Showtime.