Pittsburgh in the early 1980s had about as much in common with Hollywood as Kansas had with Oz, but the Steel City nonetheless had a profound effect on the life of Paul Reiser, a budding young comedian who would go on to star in movies and on television.
It was here that two brothers operating an unassuming comedy club on Route 51 decided to play shadchan and make Reiser a shidduch with a nice Jewish girl from Pittsburgh.
Reiser, who is known for the critically acclaimed NBC series “Mad About You” as well as his stand-up, will bring his keen observational wit to the Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall in Munhall on Friday, Feb. 19.
It is because of that life-changing shidduch, Reiser said, that he will always have a warm place in his heart for Pittsburgh.
“It’s a crazy story,” recounted Reiser, speaking from his home in Los Angeles. “I was performing in this dirty little club on Route 51 [the Funny Bone]. It was next to a metal works plant, with a tire repair shop on the other side. It was the opposite of show business. It was owned by these two brothers in their 20s who picked me up themselves from the airport.”
It was on that ride from the airport to the club that the brothers started in on Reiser.
“I was 26 years old,” Reiser said, “and they started telling me they had lots of cute waitresses that worked at the club. They said, ‘There is one in particular. You’ll like her. She’s earthy.’
“I didn’t know what that meant,” he said. “Does she smell of soil? I thought it was weird. But unbeknownst to me, they had told her, ‘You’re going to like this young comic we have coming in.’ They were making a shidduch.”
The waitress, Paula Ravets from the South Hills, was working at the club putting herself through college. Although she was not on shift that first night, she came to work the second night that Reiser was performing, and she introduced herself to him.
“She was beautiful,” Reiser said. “It’s worked out well.”
For two years, Reiser and Ravets dated long distance. He even visited her while she was studying for six months at Tel Aviv University. She moved to L.A. when she completed her undergraduate studies and earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Southern California.
Reiser has been married to Ravets since 1988, and they have two children.
“I never figured out why those club owners had any interest in putting us together,” Reiser said. “Jerry Seinfeld says that this legend will keep comics meeting girls on the road for 50 years to come. I’m happy to help out the generations behind me.”
Reiser and Ravets were married at a “sweet little country place” in Coraopolis, he said. It was a small affair with just immediate family.
“I honestly would have trimmed it down,” he added.
Ravets still has family in Pittsburgh.
“We root for the Steelers,” Reiser said. “We root for the Pirates. We’re invested, although you let us down sometimes. So, I’m liquid in my loyalties. If I go to Yankee Stadium, I root for the Yankees. It doesn’t make me unethical.”
The last time Reiser was in Pittsburgh was in October 2014, for the filming of the movie “Concussion,” in which he plays Dr. Elliot Pellman, the chair of the NFL medical committee, who attempts to stop Dr. Bennet Omalu from releasing his study about the effect of head injuries on football players to the public.
“It was a small role,” Reiser said. “If you didn’t know I was in it, you wouldn’t know I was in it. I let Will Smith get the bigger screen time, because he’s needy.”
Although Reiser got his start in stand-up, he took a 20-year hiatus from the craft, first to work on “Mad About You,” and then to stay home for a while with his family.
“But it was my intention always to go back to stand-up,” Reiser said. “I went back to the clubs exactly as I did when I was 19. It was the same feeling. There is nothing more fun than getting on stage and making people laugh for an hour and a half.”
The art is extremely satisfying, said Reiser.
“You just talk, and they laugh,” he said. “It’s not easy, but it’s so simple.”
Reiser was recently voted one of Comedy Central’s “Top 100 Comedians of All Time.”
For more information or for tickets to Reiser’s Feb. 19 show at the Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall, call 877-435-9849.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.