A multi-hyphenate talent who earned acclaim and awards both in front of the camera and behind, actor-writer-director Mike Binder rose from the world of stand-up comedy to become an insightful creator of introspective dramas. After landing his first break doing stand-up on "Star Search," Binder headlined his own HBO comedy special "One Night Stand: Mike Binder" (1989), before making his writing and producing debut with Joe Roth's comedic drama "Coupe de Ville" (1990). From there, he wrote and directed the superhero parody, "Blankman" (1994) before starring in his own indie comedy "The Sex Monster" (1999). Following a supporting turn in the highly-acclaimed political drama "The Contender" (2000), he created the popular, but ultimately short-lived series "The Mind of a Married Man" (HBO, 2001-02), which divided critics but attracted a loyal audience. After another supporting turn in a high-profile film, "Minority Report" (2002), Binder was back in the director's chair with loftier dramatic films like "The Upside of Anger" (2005), "Man About Town" (2006) and "Reign Over Me" (2007), which earned him some of his most vocal critical praise. Despite a varied career, Binder had always followed his own path and remained one of the more unique talents working in film.
Binder was born in 1958 and raised in Detroit, MI where he was sandwiched in between an older brother, Gary, and a younger brother, Jack. Binder had a laid back childhood, relishing nine summers at Algonquin Park's Camp Tamakwa, where he was both a camper and a counselor; it was an experience that would later factor into his work. Binder's father, a successful house builder in Birmingham, was a huge comedy buff and offered Binder a taste of comics such as Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks. The younger Binder was particularly drawn to Woody Allen, studying his routines and even copping them for his own act in various Detroit comedy clubs before honing his own material. Binder heavily pursued stand-up while attending Birmingham's Seaholm High, graduating in 1976. After high school, Binder's father took the liberty of nudging him into community college, but was unable to convince him to stay. At age 17, after a two-day stint in school, Binder decided that what he wanted to do was drive to Los Angeles and pursue his comedy dreams. He made the move with his father's blessing and quickly began hitting the city's comedy circuit. At age 18, he was working as a doorman for the Sunset Strip's famed Comedy Store, a job that frequently allowed him to perform on the venue's stages. Nurtured by its owner, the legendary Mitzi Shore, mother of Pauley Shore, he was introduced to television executives, including "All in the Family" (1971-79) creator Norman Lear. Lear utilized Binder's talents onscreen for a subsequently unaired comedy pilot called "Apple Pie."
In 1979, Binder began to make his mark through television gigs, appearing in 60 episodes of "Make Me Laugh" (1979), a syndicated comedy game show hosted by Bobby Van and, at the age of 18, made his way onto "The Mike Douglas Show" (1961-1982). That year, he was offered a stand-up slot on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1962-1992). It was a comedian's dream gig, but Binder thought he was too young and unbelievably declined. He went on to appear instead on HBO's "Young Comedians" special in 1980. Around that time, Binder, ready for the next level, moved back to Sylvan Lake, MI and decided to really craft a set that reflected the humor of America, once more pounding the pavement at local clubs before returning to L.A. in September 1981. By the mid 1980s, Binder later made inroads with his first produced screenplay, "Coupe de Ville" (1989), a sweet road trip comedy which future Disney chief Joe Roth directed. From there, Binder decided to direct his own written efforts and continued his association with Disney for Touchstone's Detroit-based coming-of-age drama, "Crossing the Bridge" (1992). He quickly followed things up with a trip down memory lane, heading to Algonquin Park to film his script for "Indian Summer" (1993), about former campmates who return for one more summer of fun as adults. Binder even found a place for his old campmate, film director Sam Raimi, in the caretaker's role.
Binder's directing career took a step backwards with a job-for-hire as the helmer of "Blankman" (1994), pal Damon Wayans' poorly-received superhero satire. Aside from episodes of CBS' cult favorite "American Gothic" (1995-96), Binder largely stayed out of directing until 1999, when he returned with a comedy farce, "The Sex Monster" (1999), a film about a married couple's ménage a trois gone bad. Premiering at the U.S. Comedy Arts festival in Colorado, Binder used the film as a calling card of sorts to regain his creative foothold. His childhood hero Woody Allen offered his seal of approval on the movie, as did the festival, which honored Binder with a Best Actor award. With "The Sex Monster," Binder was reintroduced to the HBO fold, and its interest in a collaboration yielded "The Mind of the Married Man" (2001-02), which besides creating and writing, allowed him to tap into his inner Woody as one of the series lead characters, Mickey Barnes, a tormented husband caught between the urge for sexual freedom and faithful monogamy. Binder's comedic confidence continued to soar as he dove right into making his raucous comedy "The Search for John Gissing" (2001). "Mind " ran for two seasons before cancellation, but Binder's ambitions were widening.
In 2003, he recruited actress Joan Allen, with whom he had met while acting in "The Contender" (2000) several years earlier. Binder had conceived "The Upside of Anger" (2004) - about a beleaguered widower raising four daughters - specifically for her. Allen and Kevin Costner took the gamble, and the movie's strong critical raves turned Binder into a serious contender as an American film director. He would also use the opportunity to take small roles in the film, as well as in his subsequent films. In 2004, Binder tapped Ben Affleck to play a harried, unraveling Hollywood veteran in the comedy "Man About Town" (2007). The film languished in its finished state until early 2007, when Binder was already releasing his subsequent project theatrically. That film, "Reign Over Me" (2007), an intense drama about the emotional fallout of a man (Adam Sandler) affected by the events of 9-11 that failed at the box office. After another critical victory with an adaptation of the book "The Friday Night Knitting Club" (2008), Binder had a supporting role in the indie drama "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee" (2009), which starred Rebecca Miller as a bohemian exotic dancer fond of drugs who marries a drug dealer and suddenly becomes the perfect suburban wife and mother. From there, Binder had supporting roles in the Anne Hathaway vehicle "One Day" (2011) and "Fanboy" (2011).
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Acted in the busted pilot for a series based on Barry Levinson's film "Diner"; credited as Michael Binder
Headlined own HBO comedy special "One Night Stand: Mike Binder"
Feature screenwriting and producing debut, "Coup de Ville", helmed by Joe Roth; credited as Michael Binder
Directorial debut, "Crossing the Bridge"; also scripted and narrated
Helmed second film, "Indian Summer"; also scripted
Directed and appeared in the comedy "Blankman"
First feature produced under Sunlight banner, "The Sex Monster"; wrote, directed and co-starred
Starred in, wrote and directed "Londonium"
Acted in "The Contender", helmed by Rod Lurie
Wrote, directed and starred in the feature "The Search for John Gissing"
Was series creator, executive producer, writer and star of the HBO comedy "The Mind of the Married Man"
Had featured role in the Steven Spielberg-directed sci-fi film "Minority Report"
Helmed the indie comedy "The Upside of Anger" starring Joan Allen and Kevin Costner; screened at sundance
Wrote, directed and acted in "Reign Over Me" a drama starring Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle