Paul Reiser has become one of Hollywood’s go-to character actors, especially for parts requiring a high-strung, aging yuppie who’s convinced he’s the smartest guy in the room. But despite upcoming roles in FX’s highly anticipated miniseries “Fosse/Verdon” and a reboot of “Mad About You” (executive-produced by Brave New Workshop alum Peter Tolan), the 62-year-old is eager to remind the public that he’s still a formidable comedian.
Once listed by Comedy Central as one of the 100 greatest stand-up comics of all time, Reiser will perform Saturday at the Pantages Theatre, one of a handful of road gigs he squeezed in between TV projects. He called in recently while driving home from the set of “The Kominsky Method,” the Golden-Globe winning Netflix comedy he’s joining for its second season.
Q: You’re doing “Kominsky” with Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin and also “Fosse/Verdon” with Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams. Is acting alongside movie stars becoming old hat?
A: Nothing is old hat when you’re playing with the big boys. I expected Sam Rockwell to be this really intense actorly type, but he couldn’t have been a nicer, friendlier, easygoing guy. It’s nice to get to work with nice people since you’re shooting 10 percent and the rest of the time you’re just hanging out.
Every actor has those moments when you think, “Do you believe I get to do this for a living?” But it’s heightened in a way when you’re with Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin. As a fellow thespian, you sometimes step back and say, “Hey, I’m working with Gekko from ‘Wall Street.’ ”
Q: Do you ever think you were hired just because the director wanted someone funny around to keep everyone entertained?
A: I don’t think people base casting on someone who can just do magic. “Oh, he’s a terrible actor, but he does some terrific card tricks.”
I’ve got to be honest. Everything’s an accident, the whole thing. After “Mad About You” in 1999, I was just happy to stay at home with the new baby. I wrote a bunch of pilots for other people and I loved being the guy on set that wasn’t in front of the camera. But about five or six years ago, after a lot of stalling, I decided I wanted to start going back to clubs. All I ever wanted to do since I was 18 was be a comedian.
The minute I started doing that, the offers started coming. It wasn’t like someone saw me on stage and said, “Hey, we need to get him.” I think it was just the matter of putting myself back out there in that universe.
Q: You’ve also selected some great projects. From what I’ve seen of “Fosse/Verdon,” it looks terrific. You also got great reviews for “Red Oaks” and the second season of “Stranger Things.” I’m assuming the money you made from “Mad About You” [$1 million per episode in the final season] gave you the luxury of being picky?
A: Yeah, certainly in the beginning that was true. One thing I always wanted to do was make a movie with Peter Falk so I wrote it and got to do it [2005’s “The Thing About My Folks”]. That was a dream come true. I was visiting Ireland and I said I wanted to write a movie about Ireland, so I did. I hope to start shooting it later this year. As for the other stuff, I wasn’t looking to get a lot of acting roles. None of it was by design. I’ve got a sharp agent with good taste who keeps bringing me things with good people. I haven’t had to do something I wasn’t proud of.
Q: Nine years ago, you also recorded an album with Julia Fordham. I don’t think people realize you also co-wrote the theme song to “Mad About You” with Don Was.
A: That record, again, was an accident. I’ve been a fan of hers for years and I just ran into her and we decided that maybe we should write together. It wasn’t like I was trying to become singer-songwriter boy.
Same thing with “Kominsky.” I e-mailed Chuck Lorre [the show’s creator] to congratulate him on the first season and half-jokingly said we should work together. He said, “Funny you should say that. Let’s have lunch.” Next thing you know, I’m in the show. It never happens like that.
Q: You keep saying you’ve had all these happy accidents. Don’t you think that’s going to bum out a lot of people who would kill for these opportunities?
A: That’s fair. The opportunities come by luck, but if you don’t show up and excel when it happens, you don’t get the next opportunity. You can’t get anywhere without working. That’s what I love about comedy. There’s no shortcut to it. It’s all elbow grease and perseverance. It’s the most fun, self-contained, uncomplicated craft.
I really wish I was doing more gigs, but every time I try to clear my schedule, something comes up. I’ve never performed before in Minneapolis. Well, I’ve got to be careful when I say that. I’m forgetting places.