Paul Reiser is in no need of a career reboot.
The prolific actor and stand-up comic has worked steadily since breaking out in Barry Levinson’s 1982 classic Diner. His resume covers all genres and includes several notable films (he gives great slimy corporate villain in Aliens) and TV shows, including his best known role on NBC’s Mad About You. Co-starring with Emmy and Oscar-winner Helen Hunt, Reiser’s role as a documentary filmmaker navigating relationships and, eventually, parenthood netted him multiple awards nominations.
Recently, Reiser’s hot streak continues into a variety of high profile projects. After last year’s Emmy-nominated work in Netflix’s The Kominsky Method, he reappeared in season four of Stranger Things and joined the cast of Amazon Studio’s The Boys earlier this summer. This fall, Reiser embarks on a stand-up comedy tour and finally premieres The Problem with People, a long-gestating passion project about two distant relatives dealing with family drama.
But it’s his work in Hulu’s new Steven Levitan sitcom Reboot that sees Reiser doing his best work in years. In the series, he plays Gordon, the producer of a 2000s sitcom Step Right Up, who joins the creative team on a modern reboot. His presence in the series grounds it in a much needed sense of old-school sitcom timing, and he mines Levitan and team’s scripts for beautiful subtlety, depth, and nuance.
Here, in an interview with Awards Daily, Paul Reiser talks about his recent prolific output in high-profile titles. He also talks about working on Reboot within in stellar ensemble. Finally, he talks about what’s next both on the road and in theaters with The Problem with People.
Awards Daily: You’re everywhere these days from The Kominsky Method to Stranger Things to The Boys to Hulu’s Reboot. Does that dichotomy of projects drive you creatively?
Paul Reiser: It is fun to stand back and look at how different they all are, but there’s no design. I’m not trying to I’m not trying to fill in any blanks. We’re all lucky enough to be in some shows, and sometimes we are able to call enough people and create our own shows. Other times, you get invited to be in somebody else’s. They’re all very different experiences. With Reboot, it’s impossible to say no to that great script with a terrific cast. I don’t know that I would have been jumping to do another half hour sitcom, the traditional multicam, but this is a behind-the-scenes show about a multi-cam. That’s funny. I’ve been there, but the great gift here is now, when we do a scene about writers walking back from an unfulfilling run through and you have to tear apart the script, I’m just acting as the guy who has a script that needs rewriting. I don’t have to rewrite it. That’s Steven Levitan’s problem. So, you know, it’s the best of both worlds.
AD: I loved the show, but it was a strange experience for me. It looks very much like a Steven Levitan show that should be on ABC. It’s a traditional sitcom length, and it has that look and feel of an ABC sitcom but it’s on Hulu, which is where everything is headed I guess. That must have taken some adjustment.
PR: Yeah, it’s because it’s meta. You literally turn the camera around, and the people in front of the Step Right Up cameras are doing cutesy television stuff, but just off stage, they’re talking trash about each other. They’re flirting and having affairs and there are secrets. That is a really fun world. Somebody asked me if it was a worry that it’s too inside baseball, but I don’t think it is. First of all, there’s so many behind the scenes shows that there’s nothing behind the scenes anymore, and everybody knows everything. The show isn’t really about making a sitcom. That’s the vehicle, but these characters are going through stuff that everybody goes through with workplace relationships. It’s about fulfillment, second chances. It’s about family. It’s about rebooting your life, getting a second chance. So they could be in an advertising agency. They could be in an insurance office. This is funnier.
AD: So, you’re part of this brilliant ensemble. When you come onboard onto a project like this, what are your shortcuts to building the necessary chemistry?
PR: I don’t think any of us gave any thought to it. It just happened really naturally. We all we all were fans of each other, and all thrilled to be in this and working with each other. The parts really give you the the tools you need. The writing is there. Rachel and I certainly had a great relationship right off the bat. As an actor, a scene is usually informed by what the character wants, and the other person wants something different. [Gordon] kind of wants redemption and wantw Rachel’s character to warm up. That automatically makes it really fun to play. It’s really all in the writing. In this case, everybody’s just so great. Also, in the new world of eight episode seasons, you don’t have enough time to get tired of each other. [Laughs]
AD: Talking about the writing, what room did Steven and team leave for ad-libbing?
PR: There’s too many talented people to not open the doors and see what happens. He writes great scripts, and it’s really about character. It’s really much more about character than jokes because the jokes will come, and, a lot of times in a show like this, the laughs are in the silence or in the look. It doesn’t have to be written. Somebody says something, and then you get the laugh off somebody else looking at them or processing what they just said. Having said that, he was very open to ad-libbing. When you have a powerhouse like Keegan-Michael Key, you’re not gonna say do what’s on the page and nothing else. This guy’s a genius. He’s really just powerfully funny, and he has so many arrows in his quiver. He just can lean into seven different flavors of funny, so you’d be crazy to not welcome that.
AD: Gordon, as the series progresses, and Rachel’s Hannah start to represent, particularly in one of my favorite episodes dealing with the writers room, the contrast between the the old guard and the new guard and finding a middle ground. Does that resonate with you as a current comic?
PR: Yeah, I haven’t been in a writers room for a while. When we did Mad About You a few years ago, we had a very small room. We were aware of Helen and Peter Tolan, who was our showrunner, and myself were the old guard, and we made sure we leaned towards youth. We were also writing a 19 year old daughter, so we needed to get some younger people who are closer to 19 than we are. We felt like we didn’t have to bring in the old people — we WERE the old people. That’s also at the heart of [Reboot]: if you’re bringing something back 20 years later, then how much do you change. Gordon is the keeper of the old guard, and Hannah is the pioneer spearheading the new way. That’s one of the clashes. That’s where the humor is coming from. What’s really fun on Reboot, you have all these really lifelike moments. These are real characters with real problems. Everybody on there is flawed and is sort of rebooting their lives. This is a second chance for everybody.
AD: You’re getting ready to embark on another stand-up tour. What is it that keeps you going back out on the road?
PR: It’s so funny to me that people might know me from this show or that show. They don’t even know that I am a stand up or that I do stand up. Some of them are surprised– why is the guy from Stranger Things trying to be funny? But that’s where I started. That’s all I meant to be. These other things happened nicely, but I didn’t plan them. I took a long time off, longer than I meant to, but my goal was my intention was always to get back out and do it. Traveling is sometimes a pain in the neck. I don’t love that. George Carlin used to say, ‘I perform for free. You just got to pay me to go through the airports.’
It’s the immediacy and the simplicity of it. People come in, they pay money to sit in their seats, you make them laugh, and everybody goes home. There’s nothing more complicated. It’s just simple and immediate. It’s not even on Zoom. There’s actual people sitting in chairs. Wow, look, human beings!
Because of the moment we’re living in when the world is so fraught, the idea of having an evening where you just sit and laugh at things that are not complicated, things that are universal, things that all make us feel that we’re all going through the same thing, it’s such a relief. It’s such a welcome respite for the audience and for me. Can we just have some fun? Then, you can go home and watch the news if you insist on it, but right now, we’re not going to talk about anything. We’re just going to talk about your family, my family, my incompetence, your incompetence, how we’re getting older, and then let’s go home. Comedy has an extra appeal to it that I don’t remember being there years ago.
AD: Last question: you have The Problem with People coming up. What can you tell me about that film?
PR: That’s a movie that I had for years wanted to make. I went to Ireland years ago and just loved it. I wanted to go back and make a movie in Ireland just so I could go to Ireland. So I wrote this movie, and I was ready to do it right before pandemic hit. It’s basically a two-hander between Colm Meaney and myself. We play distant relatives who’ve never met, and we’re descendants from two sides of a family. There’s an American side and an Irish side. Apparently, three generations ago, there was a fight between the great grandfathers, and so nobody speaks to each other. His father’s dying request is to make peace. We can’t heal the world, but maybe we can heal the family. So on a nice invitation, I go to Ireland with the best of intentions, and it just gets worse — becomes a War of the Roses. It’s a comedy, but it’s about something that’s worth asking. What is the problem with people? Why are we so messed up? Colm Meany is just a brilliant actor, and Jane Levy plays my daughter who is wonderful in this. It was glorious.
Reboot drops on Hulu today with three episodes.