Paul Reiser is returning to TV with the appropriately titled, The Paul Reiser Show. Paul, playing a fictionalized version of himself in the semi-autobiographical sitcom, is a man who is struggling with his fading celebrity while enjoying time with his wife and kids. He hangs out with a group of ‘friends’ -mostly other fathers or husbands of his wife’s friends – all while trying to figure out his next career move.
Paul did a Q & A recently where he chatted about making the show a single-camera sitcom and if he got any advice from Larry David on playing himself.
This new show, it obviously is a single camera sitcom, how is that different for you – you know a lot of your experiences have been in three camera with a studio audience, how has it been different for you and acclimating yourself to the new format?
Paul Reiser: Yes the irony is I always wanted to do single camera, even when we did Mad About You I originally pitched it as a single camera which they didn’t do back then and it has come into play. You know, as fun as it was to have a live audience, I never really felt that comfortable with it. I love it when I do stand-up, it’s great to have an audience, but I always felt that when doing a show it kind of distracted me a bit and this feels just perfect and right and it has a much more real life quality which is what the show is really about.
I mean hopefully the show is – people recognize it and they go oh, okay that really feels real, these are real people, I’m playing myself and it’s obviously accelerated a bit and it’s because it’s a comedy but that part of it feels – it feels right and it looks exactly like the show that I wanted to make so I’m very pleased with it.
Since the show is based on real life moments, how do your wife and kids feel about some story lines maybe making it into the show that come from real life?
Paul Reiser: On a good day they’re very tickled; on the other days they’re going why did you tell them that. But you know what, my brilliant partner Jonathan Shapiro is – he’s putting his family in there too and one of the great thing about having a partner is you get to hide behind the other guy and go honey that was really more his wife so we feel that enough names have been changed to protect the guilty.
All of these different people that are on the show are people you are familiar with but maybe the other actors on the show weren’t so familiar with, did you find that there was a gelling between everyone?
Paul Reiser: Oh my gosh. Yes, you know, we, it was an unbelievable thing, we kind of all fell in love and, you know, the five guys were all just getting such a kick out of each other and such unique senses of humor. You know Ben Shenkman is a brilliantly trained actor and theater actor and he’s done a lot of TV too and you wouldn’t know from his work necessarily that he’s so funny and he’s done a lot of drama but he’s an unbelievably informed student of comedy and will quote every comedy ever made and he’s brilliant and we just had to say, you know, what do that, be funny, don’t be afraid to that guy and Omid Djalili is 27 different flavors of funny and we would just sometimes have to – yes, we would lose a lot of time just because we would crack up and he was just too funny and I’d be off camera weeping and they’d go hold on we heard Paul crying and laughing.
And you know Amy Landecker, I had seen her in A Serious Man and had never seen her before that and I thought she was fantastic and then I had no idea, that was kind of going into this, I didn’t have any actors in mind, it was really a nice, clean fresh approach.
Someone said how about that woman from A Serious Man for your wife and I went wow, sure, she looks good and she came in and was one of those – it was very much like with Helen Hunt, it was one of those you had me at hello. She came into, you know, read for the part and just chatting for two minutes, we said you know what, done, you don’t have to read, you got it, and that’s it, she was just so lovely and funny and offbeat and perfectly neurotic, I went yes, that’s what my wife needs to be, all of those things.
So not that my wife is in anyway neurotic, by the way, I made that up for comedic impact, my wife is perfectly, always not neurotic, put that down, all right, good, she’s gone, not a word of this to my wife.
Since the show is based around your life, how do you balance playing the real you as compared to the needs of yourself as a character?
Paul Reiser: I don’t, I live on the set and have camera men running the whole time. Cause once I get home, by the way nobody’s laughing and my kids and my wife, I’ll be honest, after ten years they’ve had enough of me. There happy to share me with some others.
I actually don’t – it’s, as I said before, there’s enough mixture of, you know, experiences from my life and my writing partners, producing partners life that it doesn’t get too confusing and plus these are not my actual family so I have a whole pretend wife and pretend children and pretend friends. So far, it seems to be working. We’ll see, call me in a year, we’ll let you know.
Did Larry David gave you any advice on playing yourself on TV?
Paul Reiser: No, Larry David, I called Larry and I said I’m sure you’re not going to want to do this, but we wrote this part for you, you’ve got to do it and he was so gracious, he says, here’s the thing, but I can’t – I don’t like to memorize scripts so we’ll improvise it and I said done, let’s do that.
And I got very nervous to be honest with you because he’s brilliant, he has developed that art form and he’s just really a genius and I felt when we did that scene I felt like I was getting into the rink with Ali, I went let me just keep running around and hopefully I won’t get hurt and it was a two-minute scene and we have 45 minutes of tape because he was no brilliantly funny, that was the longest most challenging editing thing was getting Larry down to the time we had allotted on the show.
But he was so great and somebody had said early on well this show Paul, it’s sort of like your curb, and I went yes, that’s fair and it’s a very different feel but yes in that I’m playing me and Larry plays himself and so on so that we improvised that scene and when Larry says to me hey Paul you know what you should do, you should do your own version of my show, A Curb, I went – my head kind of exploded frankly because I go if he were actually filming my show and you’re telling me that.