He’s likely best known for the hit sitcom “Mad About You,” but before Paul Reiser became a film and television star, he was an aspiring standup comedian, working the New York clubs during summer breaks from Binghamton University.
And it’s standup comedy that brings him to Sacramento. With his affable, pointed, self-deprecating style, Reiser returns to his roots for a performance Friday at the Crest Theatre.
Ranked 77th on Comedy Central’s 2004 list of the “100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time,” Reiser said he was excited to begin working the stage again after years of acting and writing screenplays and books.
“It was something I always wanted to get back to. I always really loved doing standup,” said Reiser, 57.
Reiser, who co-created and starred in “Mad About You” (1992-99) opposite Helen Hunt, compared doing standup to using a specific muscle. He said it’s taken him months to build that muscle back up, but now he’s ready to flex. After years of filtering comedy through studio executives and focus groups, he said it’s thrilling to have that direct connection again with an audience.
“It’s exactly the same as when I was 19,” Reiser said. “There is something very simple about it. You write jokes and you tell them to people.”
Tastes and technology may have changed over the years, but Reiser’s take on standup hasn’t. “I think I have the same exact style and approach to comedy,” he said.
However, time has influenced some of his new material. “In your 50s you’re different that you were in your 30s,” he said. “You see life a little differently.”
At Friday’s performance, he’ll “unleash his hilarious insights about the absurdities of modern life,” according to promotional materials.
Observational humor about married life generated many of the laughs on “Mad About You” and made Reiser and Hunt so relatable as Paul and Jamie Buchman. Reiser said they knew they were in the sweet spot of TV comedy when fans would talk about having the exact same fights with their significant others that the characters would have on the show.
It was standup that helped Reiser earn his breakout role in Barry Levinson’s Baltimore-set 1982 film “Diner.” He quickly found more on-screen work with roles in “Beverly Hill Cop,” “Aliens” and the television series “My Two Dads.”
More recently, Reiser appeared in Steven Soderbergh’s Emmy-winning HBO movie “Behind The Candelabra,” staring Matt Damon and Michael Douglas. He also has roles in the upcoming indie films “Life After Beth” and “Whiplash,” which were both well-received at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
After having creative control over “Mad About You” and the much-shorter-lived “The Paul Reiser Show” (it was canceled after two episodes), Reiser said it’s nice to focus on giving his best performance as an actor, rather than having to worry about every scene.
That’s also what makes standup so enjoyable, he said.
“It’s very invigorating,” Reiser said. “You go to a town and make people laugh.”
Call The Bee’s Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @NewsFletch.