Baltimore will always hold a special place in comedian, actor and author Paul Reiser’s heart. It was here after all, where “Diner,” Reiser’s first movie — and the first of filmmaker Barry Levinson’s trilogy tribute to his hometown — was filmed and took place. In “Diner,” released in 1982, Reiser played Modell, a hilariously neurotic young man who spends most of his time hanging out with his friends at a local diner. Modell and the other male characters in “Diner” were based upon Levinson’s own buddies and his experiences growing up in Jewish Baltimore.
On May 8, Reiser will headline Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s fourth annual Night of the Stars benefit, which honors Dot and Henry Rosenberg and benefits the E.B. Hirsh Early Childhood Center as well as BHC’s religious school and youth programs.
“That was my first job, like ever,” Reiser said of “Diner” during a recent interview. “It was the first time I ever saw a camera. The whole crew of us were pretty green, so there was this shared excitement. I didn’t know it would be such a big deal. For a first break, it was magical, really.”
Reiser said that although “Diner,” which also launched the careers of Kevin Bacon, Mickey Rourke, Daniel Stern, Steve Guttenberg and Ellen Barkin, wasn’t considered a commercial success at the time, it was seen and appreciated by many people in the film industry.
“When I came to L.A. a year or two later, everyone knew me,” he said.
Reiser, 57, was born in New York City to Sam and Helen Reiser. His father was a wholesale health food distributor. He grew up in the Stuyvesant Town neighborhood of lower Manhattan and attended the East Side Hebrew Institute, Stuyvesant High School and SUNY Binghamton, where he was active in the theater department. Reiser began his career as a comedian during the summers of his college years, performing in nightclubs in New York City. After graduating in 1977, Reiser continued working as a stand-up comedian and was eventually discovered by Levinson.
“I had been taking acting classes for about a year, and I said, ‘Give me a scene and I’ll show you my stuff.’ But Barry said, ‘No, we’re just going to talk,’” recalled Reiser. “He had a very clear image of what he wanted.”
After “Diner,” Reiser appeared in such films as “Beverly Hills Cop” (I and II), “Aliens,” “The Marrying Man” and “Bye Bye Love.” He co-starred in the television series “My Two Dads” but is best known for co-starring, writing and producing NBC’s hit comedy “Mad About You” from 1992 to 1999. The sitcom focused on young, urban married couple Paul and Jamie Buchman and their wacky friends and families. It was well-loved for its honest depiction of married life, and Reiser said it was largely autobiographical. “Mad About You” made Reiser and Helen Hunt stars and won Reiser multiple nominations for Emmy, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Satellite awards.
In addition to his acting credits, Reiser is also the author of “Couplehood” (1995), “Babyhood” (1998) and “Familyhood” (2011). Reiser, who is married to a woman he met in the early 1980s — “Sometimes you know it’s right,” he said — has two sons, 13 and 18.
“Every day is a beauty,” said Reiser, adding that the idea to write the first book came from taking his comedy act and committing it to paper.
He likes the last book the most.
“There was a big 15-year gap between the second and third book,” he said. “I had two kids and was in my 50s. It was more introspective. By that time, I had things to talk about that were too complicated to do on stage. It was a little deeper.”
Ranked 77th on a Comedy Central list of the 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time, Reiser has returned to his roots as a stand-up comedian in the past few years.
“I started as a stand-up but didn’t do it for 20 years. I wanted to get back to it. For a year, I just went to local clubs and worked on my material,” he shared. “I said, ‘Whoever wants to see me, I’ll go.’ People are coming to see me because they know me from ‘Mad About You,’ so it feels as if I am getting together with old friends.”
When he performs at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Reiser said it will be like performing for family, or in his words, “like a huge Seder.”
For additional information and to purchase tickets to Night of the Stars, visit bhcong.org or call 443-524-0284.