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The Paul Reiser Show Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

This is a transcript of an interview with Duane Martin (Fernando) and Omid Djalili (Habib) on April 19, 2011 about the show The Paul Reiser Show.

Duane Martin

Question:
What was it about your characters when you initial read the script for them that really made you want to play them?

Duane Martin:
Omid, since you traveled across the world, why don't you take that one?

Omid Djalili:
Oh, that's a good point. I will. I traveled across time to be with Paul Reiser. What got me first of all I have to say was that I'd read a book called Couplehood by Paul Reiser, which my wife had given me. And I remember a small detail. He wrote that when guys are in the shower, why do we soap sud our chest hairs first and then spread them across our bodies? And I remember thinking I do that and it stuck with me. And every time for the last eight years that I'm in the shower, I've thought of that guy Paul Reiser. So when they said Paul Reiser wants to speak to you, I said, "What? The guy who wrote that." So he called me up and goes, "Hi. This is Paul Reiser." And I said, "You know, I've thought about you in the shower for the last eight years every day." And he said, "Well, it's been nice talking to you," and so that was the main reason. I thought it was a real serendipitous encounter.

But second of all, it was a chance not just to play - you know some people know me as playing kind of a Middle Eastern scum bag. I'm a Middle Eastern scum bag specialist in films like The Mummy and Gladiator. I got upgraded in Sex In the City II. I played a kind of a hotelier scum bag. But it was a chance to play an LA American. And I used to joke about this in my standup saying that I have a cousin who's half American and half Iranian and he spends most of his waking days trying to invade himself, and I think that was something that always made me laugh. And to play a character who was an Iranian-American who's been living in LA. They're a specific kind of people. There were a lot of LA-Iranians came over just after the Iranian revolution, so they've got this kind of American but slightly Iranian accent. And I thought I've never done that before. And I was very fascinated by what Paul was trying to do. He was just trying to represent an LA demographic that hadn't really been dealt with in comedy before and it just excited me.

Question:
For the people who didn't see the first episode of the show, why should they tune in now?

Duane Martin:
You know what? I'm going to say because the show gets gooder and gooder.

Question:
What is it like to work with a guy like Paul Reiser? How does that impact you both as comedians and actors?

Duane Martin:
Paul Reiser is a comedy genius. He's one of the few comics that has made the transition to big films, big TV career, he's a musician, and Paul plays his own instrument. Like when you look at any other comic, there's no one else like Paul. He has his own rhythm and his own brand of comedy. And I've always admired that. And it's sort of like you know, Jordan coming back. You know, when Michael Jordan came back and wore number 45 after retirement? It's like Paul comes back. You want to play with him, and that's how I saw it. It was an opportunity for me really you know, be alongside of somebody that I considered you know, one of those guys that's going to be in the Hall of Fame.

And you know, I've had my own shows and carried my own shows, but to go in and support somebody like that who's got his mojo back. I mean, you see how - you see his timing. He's funny. He's really on top of his game right now. It was an honor for me. I would get stuck sometime in scenes watching him and don't realize like my line is next.

Omid Djalili

Omid Djalili:
As far as I'm concerned, first of all from a standup comedy perspective, Paul Reiser is part of a whole generation of comedians which include Jerry Seinfeld, a comic who is very big in the UK here. A guy called Rich Hall. I actually asked Paul if he'd heard of this line. He said to me, "What's one of your favorite lines in comedy?" And I said, "It's that line when the guy says you know, ???I read in the newspaper that Hitler had really bad teeth. You know the more I read about this guy, the less I like him.'" And he said, "That's Rich Hall." He said, "That's Rich Hall." He goes he's a good friend. And they all started out I think at the Apollo in New York together.

And then with Paul, there's a whole other group of comedians who are connected. Larry David. Richard Lewis. He comes from a very, very special group of standup comedians kind of a generation above me, who I've always looked up to. And he certainly didn't disappoint. You know, 95% of this filming business is socializing, and I have to say he's one of the most generous and one of the funniest, and on top of that he's not - he's the most spiritually generous actor you could work with. He wants everyone to be funny. He wants the show to be funny. He's funny. He's very secure in his own funniness, so it's very good being with a funny guy who then can encourage people to be funny around him, because that's not always the case.

Duane Martin:
Right.

Question:
How well do you think you fit into the Paul Reiser show?

Omid Djalili:
I will say this. I don't think I fit in at all. I watched myself and I thought, "What the hell am I doing?" I see all these great actors.- I watched the first episode. I hadn't seen the first episode and everybody's real. Everybody's you know really grounded. And then there's bald, Tasmanian devil. And I thought, "What the hell is this guy? What's he doing?" I really don't know what I was doing. All I know, I had a really good time. And Duane can tell you, they were playing around with me. There were some times we did - Duane, do you remember that bit with the bobble head? They made me do that take when I walked out I said, "Who wants a Korean corn dog? Who wants a Chilean something." We did about 40 takes and just having a good time. And I don't think I fit in at all. I think I ruin the show and I'd like to apologize to the whole of America, because I'm working with proper actors, and I don't know what I'm doing. And I think Duane can back me up.

Duane Martin:
You know,The way I looked at it was I didn't know what Paul was trying to do until I saw everyone and I heard everyone's voice. Because, he went across the water to get Omid. He didn't want anyone else but Omid, right. And then he went and got Ben Shenkman who's a well know theater actor, film actor. And then there's Amy who's like this knock out. You know very, very smart and charismatic you know woman who's - you know, his wife is a psychiatrist so she had to fit that mold.

Duane Martin:
NBC, I think they know what they have, and I think it's sort of like how Seinfeld was. It's like Seinfeld swam around for awhile before people really got him and go this brand of comedy. And then when they got it, it was magic. And the same thing with Paul. What Paul put togethe, this show has to get an opportunity to gain an audience because people are not going to get it at first sight. They're going to get it and love it and stay. And we have so much to offer, because everyone on the show can carry an episode. So it's a really exciting team, exciting cast. And you know Paul has to get a great deal of credit for putting something together like this. Because, a lot of people in his position would've went on and did the Paul Reiser Show with a bunch of unknowns and people who don't challenge each other for comedy and just kind of like walk through the rest of the next five years, six years on television.

Question:
So Duane, it seems like a family affair when it comes to your career having your wife guest starring on the show also. Will you encourage your sons to get involved in the industry?

Duane Martin:
I've figured it out that I don't have any choice in that matter. Like if he says that's what he wants to do, then I'm going to give him the best resources to do it. You know, if he wants to be you know, a fireman, then I'm going to make sure that he gets all the information and all the books about being a fireman. So, I don't want to choose that for him. And you can see most of the time when someone does something that they love, they excel at it. So, I'm just kind of going to move out of his way.

Question:
Omid, how did you start in comedy.

Omid Djalili:
I feel into it by accident. I was always doing "bits" at weddings. At friends kind of you know parties. "Hey. Could you get up and do your bit about how actors take a bow?" I had this bit about how certain kinds of unaware actors would bow at the end of a show. Like the really bad actor who thinks he Lawrence Olivier. I'd get the audience to applaud very weakly and I'd stand there taking the applause. I always had bits just to entertain, but I think some people said, "You should try standup comedy," and I think of people are encouraged to do it and they go up there and they crash. And I was just lucky. I was one in a thousand people who try it. I was the one that was that - it's like literally the sperm that hit the egg and went up there. I think the chemistry was right in the room that particular time and I got laughs. And I liked the idea.

Although before I even did that, I remember being in a play - a serious play. It was Edward Albee's The Zoo Story. And it had to be - it was a very serious piece, but people were laughing from beginning to end and I came off very depressed and upset, and angry like a real - you know, an actor's actor, saying, "What were they doing laughing? They shouldn't be laughing. This is a serious piece of theater. Laughs are not meant to happen here." And someone said comedy is where you need to be. So I was just encouraged that way by life, but I fought against it. And I'm still unhappy about it. I still see people like Duane and Ben Shenkman. I want to be like them, but for some reason I don't know what happens. Nobody can take me seriously, so I've ended up at a place which is a kind of happy medium between working and making people joyful. I thinkthat was the trick when I realized that comedy is really about joy. That's what made me think it's a happy home to be in.

Question:
Omid, do you have a favorite of Habib's things or his hair-brained schemes?

Omid Djalili:
Yes. He provides secondhand children that don't speak in movie theaters. That's a specialized thing. Do you know that this is based on a true character? All of our characters are based on friends of Paul Reiser's who are very much on the kind of outskirts of society. And there is a real life Habib who literally owns this and is very proud to ascertain literally anything you want, anything. Just like the Internet can provide any Web site? If you stick in the word lace in Google, you'll get you know, hundreds of Web sites from doilies to porn sites. So, he - this is the real live version of that. You want anything, just say it and he will get it, and it has to be secondhand. So it's based on a real character and it's based on truth. And it's based on very much an Iranian kind of trait, which is to always get a good deal. Maybe that's a universal thing, but certainly in the Middle East we do love - because we have the Phoenician spirit of tradesmen. We love getting a good deal. Even if you're a millionaire. It doesn't matter.

Remember Benny Hill? The comedic actor Benny Hill? He had a show on American TV. He used to delight in getting tinned food from World War II ships that had been sunk for years. He would delight in bringing up the tinned food that was stuck for 30 years. And yet, he'd open them up and eat them and serve them and say, "Yes. It was free. I got this stuff." So, I'm being serious. I'm being serious. I mean, I told an Iranian guy that goes, "Really? That's a great market, you know. Ships that have been sunk for 30 years. Will we get some tin food and it's still good." It's based on a very specific demographic and a certain trait which is very much loving a good deal. So I think Paul's very clever in representing that particular aspect of LA life.

Question:
Duane, are a cook at all? If that was any part of the draw of the part playing a restaurateur?

Duane Martin:
I make a mean hot dog.

Question:
Oh, nothing fancier than that?

Duane Martin:
No. Not at all.

Question:
Have you learned anything at all from the role about being in the kitchen?

Duane Martin:
Yes. You know, I learned that I don't need a hairnet. You know when I'm around the food? So that's so that I can still look like me. That's the only thing really.

Question:
MNN is a green site. What do you guys do to be more eco-friendly? Reduce your carbon footprints at home?

Omid Djalili:
Oh, I do a lot. I do a hell of a lot. The first thing I do, I blame India and China for most of the economic waste. I've become very racist. My percentage of anti-Chinese and anti-Indian jokes are up by about 10%. I'm also very eco-friendly. I do have food waste, which is very important. That's a big thing we do. And I drive an electric car, so there you go. You can't get better than that. That's true. That's true by the way.

Duane Martin:
My wife is the stickler for that recycling and all that kind of stuff. We have labeled garbage bins and stuff like that in the house, and she's teaching the kids and my job is to put it on the counter. And then she distributes.

Question:
I know the characters are based you know around actual people in Paul's life. Have you actually met the people that you're portraying?

Omid Djalili:
I actually met Duane's character as well. Did you meet the real Fernando, Duane?

Duane Martin:
No, I didn't.

Omid Djalili:
I did. I met him. I met the real Fernando, and I have to say he's a Cuban guy. Actually, the real Fernando is a Cuban guy who speaks very quickly, who is very hyper, and he was you know an extraordinary individual I have to say. And even the real Habib - when I went to play him, I said, "Do you want me to do an impression of this guy?" And he goes, "Well, how does he speak?" I did this kind of Iranian-American thing. And he goes, "Dude, the guy's not gay." I go, "But that's the way he talks. He talks like that." He goes, "What's the matter?" You know, Paul was saying, "He's not gay? The guy's got five children. What's the matter with you?"

And so, we were not doing impressions of those people, but they are based on the real people. And, the real people are extraordinary people in the sense that they are so random. For example, I do hang around a lot of my kids' friend's fathers. We all play soccer together every Sunday. We actually have a soccer team, and they're a very disparate and very strange bunch of people who I wouldn't normally choose to be with, but I'm kind of with them and you kind of make due. Because, they're guys and you know, guys are guys and you'll be with them. So they are a similar kind of random people who do have a hell of a lot of personality. I think Duane and I are very different from the real ones, but they are based on real people, yes.

Question:
In your opinion, what is the formula for a good comedy? And how does that carry over onto the show?

Omid Djalili:
Well, Duane's been in more comedies than me.

Duane Martin:
I think it's exactly what Paul put together. You know, he put together this orchestra you know. It's like no one's playing the same instrument so it doesn't sound like people are challenging each other for jokes and laughs. It's like everybody is doing their own thing and in harmony. It sounds right. If you didn't look at the show and you just close your eyes and you listen, you would really realize the genius that it took for Paul to put together a crew like this. Because, it hasn't been done yet.

And, I think you know the downside in something like that and being the fast first, is that it takes people a second to catch up because he's so far ahead of where everyone is. I mean, we're seeing there's no other show like this on television. You see a lot of shows that are very familiar to the public you know. You get it. You get the people who are there. You people at home probably would've put these people together as well, or something like this. But Omid was saying, you know there's - you know, they say you can't pick your family but you can pick your friends. But at some point in your life, that's not true. Because your kids go to school and their friends parents you have to hang out with. And you just can't choose them, and that's who we are. We're like this mixed bag of nuts and we are - we like the same things and we address them and see them from different angles. And, our excitement about the same things are - they sound different. So, I think stacked.

Omid Djalili:
For me, I think any good comedy show has a simple premise, like when I did the film The Infidel. The premise was it's a Muslim who finds out he's a Jew. Simple idea. And here, iit's not even about an ex-Hollywood star, it's a simple thing about fatherhood. It's just fatherhood. A bunch of fathers. I know Chris Rock used to have a routine about, "I'm now the guy who stand around at BBQs saying, ???The way to get to work is to take the 405 North, and then you take the...,'" you know, just the sheer in enormity of guys hanging around and the things they do, and trying to find the comedy of fatherhood. And it's fatherhood and the kind of randomness of the friends you end up with. I think that that's - it's a very simple concept, and I like the idea of Paul being a very conscious person. A very savvy person surrounded by people whom apart from one character, the character of Jonathanm- of other people who are not particularly aware who are they much in their own lives, and how they impact on his life. And I like that. I think it's a very simple concept.

Good, good comedies always comes from a very simple place. And from a good place as well, because I think that there's a trend for a lot of mean comedy; whereas, this show is very much in a good place. And I don't think Paul Reiser has a mean bone in his body. I like the fact that the comedy's not there to denigrate or upset anyone. It's just funny. It's just funny. It comes from a good place and has a very simple concept.

Question:
You talked already about how these characters that you're playing are based on real people. But can each of you describe your character and how similar or different he is from you?

Omid Djalili:
Wow. I'm British for a start, so the character is as far as removed as possible. I think the character I'm playing is not particularly educated, whereas I have a very high level of articulation and education. He's got no sense of irony. I'm the kind of person that is very aware of the Iranian community and how you can get lost in it, and Habib is someone who is lost in the Iranian community. And so, I think he's - Paul told me he should be Jewish as well, and I - that hasn't been touched on. I'd like to see where Paul wants to develop that. I think Duane can say the character Habib is very different from me in probably every aspect. The only thing we share is the same shaped head and the big pot belly, which is inevitable. So, that's the only that's about the same I'd say.

Duane Martin:
Well you know, Paul kind of kept Fernando away from me. And Jonathan Shapiro, they figured, "Okay, Duane's not Hispanic, okay. So, he can't be that. But what we," what they did like was, "Let's feed him the information because those guys are kind of sort of like the same." We're both entrepreneurs, and I have several businesses and I'm very driven and self motivated and so is he I hear. And they just didn't want to distract me. They were like, "That's the kind of energy we want. That's the kind of energy we need, but we don't want you to try to get caught up in trying to be that guy. So let's - we'll just feed you the pertinent information and put you in the situation. And then we'll fine tune it as we go along." And that's what we did.

Question:
The Paul Reiser Show was a single camera comedy. I'm just wondering how you feel working in that forum as opposed to working in perhaps three cameras with a studio audience?

Omid Djalili:
Well first of all, what's interesting is when I did Whoopi Goldberg's sitcom a few years ago, I learned about what canned laughter is. In the sense that on the night the laughs, and Duane will tell you having done(off the camera himself, that the laughs are sometimes so big there's no time to put them in. So they shorten the laugh, put a fake laugh on it just for time, and that was the birth of canned laughter from shows being too funny. And actually having the real laugh would be alienating for an audience at home.

So we had reactions from crew members, but they were - they'd have to muffle the laugh because you couldn't do it. But what was interesting when we did have screenings of the show, the laughs coming from the crowd was almost like a multi-camera sitcom. I remember going to see at the Aspen Comedy Festival Curb Your Enthusiasm. I think 2004 they had a kind of the cast retrospective. And it was the first time they'd played it to a room which had a thousand-plus audience. And it played like a multi-camera sitcom. The laughs were just as big and people go the jokes - bang. So, I think that even though it's a different medium, and it's nice to be able to get things right, I think it's just as satisfactory, especially when you see it played back with an audience.

Duane Martin:
It's very different for me because I come from the you know four camera world in the sitcom world and it's a different rhythm. It's - you have to trust your castmates you know. And when you got a cast of - like this with the comedy IQ of this cast, they'll let you know if something's funny or not, or they'll give you a joke, or they'll give you an idea to get you there. And that's why this one was a great transition for me because I would look at Omid or Paul and go, "Was that it?" They were like, "Take out the the. I think it's funnier without the the." And then you do without the the, and you go, "Whoa. That was it." You know, so it was fun and it was a cool transition for me.

Omid Djalili:
It's a science.The great thing is Reiser is watching every scene. There was a scene where me and Duane are alone where he's teaching me about calories and food, and Reiser was there. He was there the whole time and kept coming in and giving us notes and fine tuning things. You know, it's a science. It's a science of what is it that you do? You have the truth of the scene, but what is it that actually creates that involuntary reaction of laughter? And it's scientific almost, and it needs you know not just a director; you need a couple of people to be there. Me and Duane can feel it and then Paul will give us a note and then we shoot a scene; that's it. Bang. And then we do - like to do a few more for fun. And that was the thing. We alwaysgot it, but then had to do five or six takes for fun. And then I asked Paul, "Why are you making us do so many takes?" He just said, "It's fun. Come on. We are having a great time watching this on the monitor."

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