September 26, 2005 12:00 PM

Life Without a Laugh Track: Since his hit NBC sitcom Mad About You ended in 1999, Reiser has opted to stay mostly behind the camera, including writing the screenplay for the new movie The Thing About My Folks, opening Sept. 16. Otherwise he’s been hanging out with wife Paula, a psychologist, and sons Ezra, 10, and Leon, 5, in their Beverly Hills home. He and Mad spouse Helen Hunt “keep in touch all the time,” he says, adding, “She’s a busy mom now.”

Dad, About You: The inspiration for The Thing About My Folks (he costars with Peter Falk and Olympia Dukakis) “came to me trying to understand them,” says Reiser. “Much of the dialogue is verbatim, but the story is fiction: Mom leaves him, and he doesn’t know why.” In real life Sam and Helen Reiser were together 46 years until his death in 1989.

Things My Father Taught Me, Vol. 1: How to use the paper towel dispenser in the men’s room. “First he’d crank the handle. Then, after he washed his hands, the paper was already there. Boom! No water dripping down your sleeve. It was genius.”

Things My Father Taught Me, Vol. 2: “He never actually got too upset,” recalls Reiser of Sam, who ran a health food wholesale business. “His philosophy was: You know, there’s probably a much bigger problem coming tomorrow. So stay calm and get ready for that one. I thought, ‘That’s a pretty smart way to live.’ But I don’t think it’s as good as the paper towel thing.”

And a Pearl from Mom: “In the movie,” says Reiser, “Olympia says, ‘People don’t change, they just lower their expectations.’ I remember hearing my mother, Helen, say that, and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a very loaded statement.’ You can take that either way. It’s either beautiful or sad.”

The Next Generation: “My son Leon has become a genius with Legos. He recently assembled a working nuclear reactor in the playroom,” jokes Reiser. “Ezra has become a baseball fan. If I have to watch Angels in the Outfield one more time, it will get ugly.”

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