It’s unlikely that Paul Reiser will receive an honorary degree on the occasion of his stand-up comedy debut at Stony Brook University. Still, Reiser, regards his Saturday, Feb. 6, Staller Center appearance as sort of a triumphant return.
“Stony Brook is the school I didn’t get into,” says the Manhattan native and graduate of Binghamton University. “Now I sneak in the back door 40 years later.”
But seriously. Well, that’s probably not an option for Reiser, 57, who laughs at the mention of his rank — No. 77 — in Comedy Central’s “100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time”: “I drive around thumbing my nose at 78 and 79,” Reiser quipped, chatting by phone from his Los Angeles home. He’s looking forward to doing stand-up again near his former hometown. “My jokes are 20 percent funnier in New York.”
Reiser is hesitant to call his intermittent traveling show a tour. “I was never a guy to go out on the road two or three weeks at a time,” he says. “Then I took a break for 20 years.”
The interregnum was a result of the smashing success of the 1992-99 marital sitcom series “Mad About You,” co-starring Helen Hunt. Subsequent projects included a troika of books, “Couplehood,” “Babyhood” and “Familyhood.” (Reiser and his wife, Paula, have two sons.)
“I didn’t realize how much I missed stand-up until about three years ago,” he says. “I started from scratch, working new material at local clubs.” Soon he had enough for a half-hour club set, then an hour and now a two-hour show suitable for theaters and college performing arts centers.
“I found it intimidating at first,” Reiser recalls. “People with programs in their laps staring at you. None of the nightclub interruptions — drinks being served, constant chatter. But then I started to like having no distractions.”
The stories have changed, but Reiser’s show is still about relationships. “The other day my wife and I were having an argument in the car. In the middle of it,” he recalls, “it strikes me that this is funny. Audiences love that stuff. ‘Yeah, the same thing happened to me,’ they say.”
Reiser’s first break, a role in the 1982 film “Diner,” was “totally a fluke,” he says. “I showed up with a buddy who’s auditioning and they asked me for my photo and resume. That was my first showbiz job. It opened a lot of doors.”
After “Diner,” he landed roles in “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Aliens” before “Mad About You” came along. Recalling the casting of his TV wife, Reiser says, “Paula and Helen Hunt had a mutual friend. When we met her, I said to my wife, ‘She’d be a great you.’ ”
Since Reiser returned to stand-up he’s appeared in “Whiplash” (2014) and the current movie “Concussion.” He’s also about to shoot season 2 of Amazon’s “Red Oaks.”
Meanwhile, about that honorary degree . . .