Photo by Michael Yarish/NBC
On Mad About You, Paul played a character similar to his real-life self, but on this new series he is out and out mimicking his own existence. In a recent conference call interview he stated, "This show to me is everything that Mad About You had and then so much more. At the heart of it, it's really based on my life and my life starts with my family and that is the priority… It comes down to here's what's going on in the home and here's what's going on with my wife and my kids. But you rarely see the kids in the show. They inform the show… but you're not going to see them much by design. And Amy [Landecker], there's a lot of great stories of husband and wife stuff but they really serve to ground the other stories."
But if the family is the heart of the show, his friends are the soul. "The kick-off for all the stories is about the guys and that's an element we didn't have in Mad About You that is so fun to explore and it was not really part of my life 15 years ago… So the stories almost always come from the guys or they start with the wife, perhaps, but they filter into okay now I'm off and running with these other guys."
The "guys" are Ben Shenkman as Jonathan, Andrew Daly as Brad, Omid Djalili as Habib and Duane Martin as Fernando. Reiser commented, "These guys are such strong performers we thought, 'When are we going to get have stories with just them?' And we thought probably not 'til season two or three, but we found even in the first six, seven episodes, we were able to cut away to two of the guys and it was great. It's really an ensemble show in every sense of the word."
Reiser noted that the characters are all based on real life friends who have come into his circle because they are fathers of his kids classmates or husbands of his wife's friends. Not because he necessarily chose them. And yet they find the common ground even though they are all so different. He expressed, "One of the things that makes me really thrilled about the show is the sort of diversity of the characters… There's such a nice eclectic group of performers."
He described each of his castmates. "Omid Djalili is 27 different flavors of funny. And we would… lose a lot of time just because we would crack up and he was just too funny. I'd be off camera weeping and they'd go, 'Hold on. We heard Paul crying and laughing… Omid is hugely powerfully funny and he's a huge comic in the U.K. and I'm hoping this show reintroduces him. He was on Whoopi's show ten years ago but I hope America gets to see him every week because he's just absurdly funny."
He continued, "Andy Daly who is a totally different look, and based on another friend of mine who looks like him, has a huge following in the comedy community and he's really a clever inventive comic and has really sly timing. Duane Martin, who is a whole other feel and not known as a comic, but is just really also in his own way very funny and such a delightful screen presence.
He also added, "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. He's done a lot of drama but he's an unbelievably informed student of comedy and… he's brilliant. We had to say, 'You know what? Do that. Be funny, Don't be afraid to be that guy ."
Lasty Paul recounted finding the actress who plays his wife, 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 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 it was very much like with Helen Hunt. It was one of those, 'You had me at hello.' She came in to 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.' 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."
Reiser said the chemistry on the set was instant. "It was an unbelievable thing, we all fell in love and the five guys were all just getting such a kick out of each other and such unique senses of humor."
He joked that perhaps the most difficult role to cast was that of Paul Reiser, "The original Paul Reiser, not only is he older and out of shape, but he wanted too much money so we went looking around. Nobody would do it. Seinfeld, yes, not for this kind of money. Seinfeld wouldn't do it. Gary Shandling… We had a call into Jack Benny's office, I have not heard back. So ultimately I just did it… It worked out fine… Because I knew the jokes already."
Aside form the regular cast The Paul Reiser Show has some heavy hitting guests including Reality TV guru Mark Burnett. Paul and Mark are friends through their kids and the famed producer has been offering the comedian parts on his reality shows for years. And while Reiser acknowledged he is not a reality snob, he divulged, "I didn't really want to leave the house, I was very comfortable. And even within the house I didn't want to get up, I was very happy sitting down so I was really enjoying working at a leisurely pace on great projects and periodically something will come up and I'll go, 'I don’t know that I really want to do that.'" And so when Burnett made him an offer he'd reply, "'Mark, I love you, I don't know that I'm the best for that, there's people who are better at that.' And he says, 'No, but you would be so funny. Don't you see Paul?' And I'd go 'I appreciate that, it's awfully sweet.'
So when Paul did get his own show and it came time to cast a game show producer, Mark was Reiser's first thought. "We had one episode where, the first episode up, where I'm offered a game show and [I] say, 'Let's get my friend Mark Burnett to play Mark Burnett,' because why fake it? So there's a real realty feel to it."
In addition to Burnett, Paul's show has also welcomed other stars behind the camera, "Daniel Stern, who is my old buddy who I met on my first job, Diner, a thousand years ago. He's become a great director and he directed a great episode. And Helen Hunt directed an episode and Fred Savage directed a great episode. So it's really a wonderful. One of the nice things [is] that people are responding to it. And people who might not necessarily want to just do any show are coming on board and playing with us and it's been a great experience."
Another star who had agreed to come play on The Paul Reiser Show has had years of success in a similar series. Larry David from Curb Your Enthusiasm does a guest spot, which Paul found to be somewhat intimidating. He recalled, "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, 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 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 so brilliantly funny. That was the longest, most challenging editing thing was getting Larry down to the time we had allotted on the show."
The similarities to Curb's format draws obvious comparisons. Paul admitted, "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 what better way to approach the parallels head on than to have TV Larry suggesting to TV Paul that he do a show about himself? Reiser described it, "We improvised that scene and when Larry says to me, 'Hey Paul, you know what? You should do your own version of my show, a Curb. My head kind of exploded, frankly, because I go, 'We're actually filming my show and you're telling me that.'"
Paul also told of a friend who teases him because how he comes across on TV is not like the real Paul. They added that into the scene with Larry David as well, "[My friend] goes, 'You come off as Mr. Nice Guy on TV, you're Mr. Sweet, Nice Guy, but I know you, you're not that nice.' And I go, 'I know that but America doesn't know that.' So we got to do that in the scene [and it] really made me laugh. And Larry David, of all people, saying you're so much worse than me, that made me laugh to be honest, that's my favorite joke in the whole show."
Find out your favorite joke from The Paul Reiser Show tonight at 8:30 pm. EST/7:30 p.m. Central time on NBC.
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