LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - You wouldn't know it when he talks because he jokes about it, and even his partner admits she investigated his claim before she believed it.
But comedian Paul Reiser, famous as a stand-up comic and star of 1990s TV sitcom "Mad About You," is a classically trained pianist, composer and recently he released his first album with British singer/songwriter Julia Fordham, called "Unusual Suspects."
The title seems appropriate.
He is an American TV star known for cracking jokes. She is a singer who in the late 1980s made U.K. record charts with songs such as "Happy Ever After." Yet, pair them up and they seem as comfortable as the black and white keys of a piano.
"Sometimes you just have to go with your instinct, and it did look a bit peculiar on paper, but it just had this really authentic and natural flow to it," Fordham told Reuters about their collaboration.
Reiser's characterization is a bit different.
"I wanted to drag Julia's career down," he joked in a joint interview. "She was doing so well, why not sully the water."
She laughs, as does he, and the truth is that, at least in person, the pair -- she the singer and writer of lyrics; he the composer of music melody and rhythm -- seem quite like a fit.
"Unusual Suspects" was released in November, featuring 10 contemporary arrangements for songs with titles such as "You Keep Me on My Feet," "Fine," "Stolen Kiss" and "Minefield."
Fordham showcases her sultry voice and wide vocal range, and Reiser puts his skills on the piano to work. He describes the songs as being melancholy and bittersweet, yet she says that in each, there lingers a sense of hope.
"Unsung Heroes," which is getting some support among fans, speaks to the losses endured by families of military men and women fighting wars overseas.
"Under every funny guy there's a melancholic chap longing to break out," said Fordham.
"And by the same token, in every beautiful chanteuse, there is Shecky Greene inside. Jerry Lewis lives inside," countered Reiser.
All teasing aside, Reiser, 53, studied music in college and learned about composition for the piano, but on summer breaks comedy was his gig. And he soon found himself making audiences laugh at his jokes.
A stand-up career ensued, then acting in movies like "Beverly Hills Cop" and on "Mad About You" in which he played one-half of a middle-class married couple in New York City. The show ran from 1992 until 1999, was a critical hit and earned numerous awards including a Golden Globe.
Yet, through it all, his first love was music.
"I finished 'Mad About You' 10 years ago, and thought, 'I'll finish on a Monday and I'll be back to my music and by Tuesday, I'll be writing a symphony.' Wednesday came around and I said, 'well, maybe it'll be awhile.' Ten years later, I thought, 'you're not getting younger.'
He had been a fan of Fordham and met her once, 10 years ago. Then, last year, he happened to see her at a movie theater. As the pair tell it, they talked about writing one song, followed through by working on two more and then decided to record an entire album.
Fordham, 48, admits she was skeptical of the college composer turned comic, turned composer (again). She Googled him, read about him, then called friends and asked about him.
"If it hadn't gone well and was just a pleasant experience. I wouldn't have done an album with Paul," Fordham admits.
And, while "Unusual Suspects" is definitely a departure for Reiser, Fordham said it marks a career turn for her, too.
"I'm lonely and bored by myself...I'm like, 'oh no, not another album with me and just me," Fordham said. "So, I've been quite excited and delighted by the collaboration with Paul because I need somebody to talk to and bounce ideas off."
Added Reiser: "So the choice, really, for Julia, was working with me or being institutionalized."
Editing by Jill Serjeant