Maybe you remember comedian Paul Reiser from his roles in "Diner," "Aliens" or most likely "Mad About You," where he and Helen Hunt defined sitcom couplehood for much of the '90s. What you may not remember are Reiser's musical talents, which were on display in cowriting the show's piano-pop theme music.
Having studied piano and composition in college, Reiser had been exploring his musical side since leaving his TV character Paul Buchman behind, and the results of that tinkering eventually led him to pass his music along to one of his favorite singer-songwriters - Julia Fordham, who recently relocated from the U.K. to L.A. What began as a casual collaboration developed into "Unusual Suspects," a 10-song CD released last month.
Although Reiser doesn't seem close to making a career change (another NBC sitcom is planned for 2011), his musical side project has been gathering steam, thanks in part to the song "UnSung Hero," a heartfelt tribute to families of troops stationed abroad they recently performed live on "The Tonight Show." Reiser talked about how he came to work with Fordham and the differences between writing music and writing comedy.
How did this collaboration come together?
We were just casual acquaintances and then about a year and a half or two years ago, I happened to bump into her at the movies. And I had been writing music, and bumping into her made me think, maybe some of this wants to be a song? I didn't know what I was writing, I was a composition major in college and had wanted for years to get back to it. So I called her up and very nervously said, "Forgive the presumptuousness, you're a big fancy singer-artist and I'm a comedy boy, but I got this thing . . . would you like to see if it appeals to you?" And she came over and listened to it and she took it away and came back with this stunning song which was called "Walking Shoes." It's the first song [on the album]. There was no design or intent to do anything professional with it, it was just sort of a home project. I thought, well this might be something, we had such a great experience with that, so let's write another one. And the process was just so easy, and we suddenly had three or four and said, well, let's go for 10 and put out a little album for ourselves.
You've probably done comedy collaboratively in the past. How does working on music compare?
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Well, first of all, the biggest thing with this was there was no audience involved, meaning there wasn't, like, this has to be done by Friday, then we have to run it by the network, then we have to service these characters - there was nobody else involved in this at all. . . . This had no purpose and it was very liberating to realize that.
What made you want to explore music the past few years?
Having started with music before comedy, I always just thought I would get back to it. Part of the reason I was able to get into stand-up comedy is there was a structure in place - you go to this club and there's this hierarchy and so on. But with music, I realized I wanted to just give myself the freedom to take any structural demands out of the equation. So, if I came up with a little melody, my brain would go, "Well what is it? Is it a song, is it a symphony, is it a string quartet?" And I thought maybe it's just a seven-second music cue, just let it be what it wants to be.
Have you played music live before?
Not really. I've done it about two or three times with Julia, playing one song at a time.