By Jason M. Rubin
Like a magic show where you know you’re being duped and enjoy it all the same, Paul Reiser’s act was something you just settled back and enjoyed without analyzing it too much.
Though he appeared in the ultra-blue documentary film The Aristocrats, and tossed a few f-bombs on stage at the Cabot Theater in Beverly last Saturday, Paul Reiser has never been one of our edgier comics. But in his return to stand-up comedy after many years in television, film, and authoring humor books, Reiser made it clear to the sold-out house that he remains a very funny guy. Striding the stage confidently with microphone in hand, the 66-year-old deftly spun a set focused on the decidedly unedgy — though highly relatable — theme of growing older. This shouldn’t be surprising as his three books follow the adult human lifecycle: Couplehood, Babyhood, and Familyhood. His hit 1990s show, Mad About You, began with his character newly married to Helen Hunt and ended with a guaranteed shark-jumper, a child. Twenty years after it went off the air, Reiser revived the show as a 12-episode limited series, with the featured couple now empty nesters.
That said, Reiser has always had his finger on the pulse of what’s really bugging us; not invented inconveniences like some observational comics, but things that make you wonder why the world we live in is as insane as it is. A bit he did about how e-commerce sites make you jump through digital hoops to prove you’re not a robot definitely hit home, as did the expected topic of health issues that spring up nearly every day during the most mundane of activities. Even cliché material like the communication disorders of husbands and wives and parents and teens worked in his delivery because his examples are so spot on.
I have followed Reiser’s career since his breakout role in Barry Levinson’s directorial debut, 1982’s mini-masterpiece Diner. His character was a relatively minor one — he didn’t appear on the movie poster — yet his lines, some ad-libbed, provided the biggest laughs, both for the audience and for his co-stars. His other major film roles were also of a supporting nature: the annoying suit in Aliens, the put-upon partner of Eddie Murphy’s character in Beverly Hills Cop, the ad company exec who institutionalizes Dudley Moore in Crazy People, and one of three divorced men in Bye Bye, Love. Seeking a leading role, he wrote one for himself, the 2005 bomb, The Thing About My Folks, playing Peter Falk’s son. Oddly enough, this was the only film he appeared in that made it to his stand-up set, when he noted that the film made all of $700.
On television, Reiser followed the cheesy My Two Dads with a legitimate hit as the lead male character on Mad About You, which he created, executive produced, and even co-wrote the theme song for. While it didn’t become the cultural touchstone that Seinfeld and Friends — other series of that era featuring all-white casts yukking it up in New York City — did, it won 12 Emmys (four by Hunt in an impressive pre-Allison Janney streak from 1996 to 1999) and allowed Reiser to more or less pick his shots. Despite that, he kept a fairly low profile until the last few years, when he joined the casts of Stranger Things and The Kominsky Method, earning an Emmy nomination for the latter, and currently is part of the ensemble of Reboot (Arts Fuse review).
Touring the country now with his stand-up act, Reiser is in his true element. Talking funny comes very naturally to him, and the Cabot crowd were with him on every syllable. In a fun twist, he offered people the opportunity to write down questions that he answered toward the end of his act. His answers were funny, though while he clearly was doing a good deal of improvising, it was also obvious that he had some prepared material that he was saving to plug in during his responses to the mostly predictable questions. But like a magic show where you know you’re being duped and enjoy it all the same, Reiser’s act was something you just settled back and enjoyed without analyzing it too much. When Mad About You debuted, I had just gotten engaged so he and Hunt taught us the challenges of being married (we’ve long since divorced); now, nearly 60, I felt comforted knowing that Reiser was back to help me navigate the back side of middle age.
Singer-songwriter Vance Gilbert opened with his amusing songs and surprisingly good guitar playing and beat-boxing. His humor and outsized personality made him an ideal opening act for a comic, and he kept his set short and sweet. Dispensing with an intermission — because, Reiser noted accurately, we’re all too old to want to stay out late — the headliner took the stage about two minutes after Gilbert finished, a practice other acts and venues should follow.
Jason M. Rubin has been a professional writer for more than 35 years, the last 20 as senior creative associate at Libretto Inc., a Boston-based strategic communications agency where he has won awards for his copywriting. He has written for Arts Fuse since 2012. Jason’s first novel, The Grave & The Gay, based on a 17th-century English folk ballad, was published in September 2012. His current book, Ancient Tales Newly Told, released in March 2019, includes an updated version of his first novel along with a new work of historical fiction, King of Kings, about King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Jason is a member of the New England Indie Authors Collective and holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.