Born in Oceanside, NY, Paymer was raised by his father, Marvin, an accomplished composer and pianist who also wrote books on music, and his mother, Sylvia, a travel agent originally from Belgium. In 1973, his parents divorced while he was attending the University of Michigan, where he double-majored in theater and psychology. After honing his skills in dinner theater and summer stock, Paymer graduated with his bachelor's in 1975 and soon landed his first professional gig, playing Sonny Latieri in a national touring company production of "Grease." He spent the ensuing two and a half years in the role, which included a stint on Broadway alongside up-and-coming actors Patrick Swayze and Treat Williams. The play eventually led to his first feature role, thanks to the producers of "The In-Laws" (1979), who were looking to cast an authentic New Yorker to play a cab driver in Arthur Hiller's screwball comedy. Though the role was small, Paymer was memorable. But more importantly, he had established himself as a capable character actor directors wanted to work with.Now living in Los Angeles, Paymer teamed up with older brother, Steve, to write and perform stand-up comedy at noted clubs, including the famed Improv and the Comedy Store. Meanwhile, he worked regularly on television sitcoms, dramas, and cop shows, while alternating between small roles in features and a number of television movies. After making his small screen debut on an episode of "Barney Miller" (ABC, 1975-1982), Paymer had the recurring role of Mr. Wallace on "Diff'rent Strokes" (NBC/ABC, 1978-1986) and as Assistant D.A. Feldberg on "Cagney and Lacey" (CBS, 1982-88). He continued landing small part in loopy comedies like "Airplane II" (1982) and "Best Defense" (1984) before playing the managing editor of a fitness magazine in the critically derided drama, "Perfect" (1985), starring John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis. Following a three-episode arc on "Cheers" (NBC, 1982-1993), Paymer landed his first series role, playing Michael Nouri's boss on the short-lived cop show "Downtown" (CBS, 1986-87). He also had minor parts in the notorious bomb "Howard the Duck" (1986), the Kevin Costner thriller "No Way Out" (1987) and the goofy wrestling actioner "No Holds Barred" (1989), starring Hulk Hogan.Once the 1990s rolled around, Paymer began finding his career on an upward slope. He had his first truly memorable role, playing a mental institution patient who could only say hello in "Crazy People' (1990). In "City Slickers" (1991), his first collaboration with Billy Crystal, Paymer and Josh Mostel played ice cream moguls Ira and Barry Shalowitz, who are guests on an Old West ranch where they meet up with three urban friends (Crystal, Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby) suffering from mid-life crises. Returning to television, he played the nervous, freeloading brother-in-law of Michael Chiklis during the first season of "The Commish" (ABC, 1991-96) and later guest starred as Norman Litkey on several episodes of "The Larry Sanders Show" (HBO, 1992-98). Meanwhile, he had a significant career breakthrough playing the sweet, good-natured and long-suffering brother and manager of a caustic stand-up comic (Crystal) in "Mr. Saturday Night" (1992), which earned Paymer an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.After reprising his role of ice cream mogul for the obligatory sequel "City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold" (1994), Paymer began landing a series of major supporting character roles that helped raise his profile. He earned excellent notices for his performance in Robert Redford's slice of real life drama, "Quiz Show" (1994), playing an unapologetic Dan Enright, creator and producer of the hit TV game show "Twenty One," who rigs the game to deliver telegenic winners, including Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), with the help of his unmannered producing partner (Hank Azaria). He followed with three notable performances the following year, playing a small-time money launderer who makes a big score in "Get Shorty" (1995), a presidential pollster in "The American President" (1995) and beleaguered press secretary Ronald Ziegler in Oliver Stone's underrated "Nixon" (1995). Paymer next supported Al Pacino's charismatic mayor in "City Hall" (1996) as a yarmulke-wearing, poker-playing political fixer. He was less memorable as an assistant medical examiner in John Dahl's "Unforgettable" (1996) and as a workaholic ad-man forced to drive bank-robber Tom Arnold and a van full of kids in "Carpool" (1996). After playing the thankless part of Coach Pederson in the little-watched basketball fantasy, "The Sixth Man" (1997), Paymer was given too little to do in Steven Spielberg's historical drama, "Amistad" (1997), playing Secretary of State John Forsyth. In "Mighty Joe Young" (1998) - the remake of the 1949 action movie - he was serviceable as Harry Reuben in this family adventure about a 15-foot gorilla loose on the streets of Los Angeles. In 1999, Paymer had a banner year, appearing in several high-profile movies. He was a weasely smalltime hood in the relentless crime thriller, "Payback," starring a sociopathic Mel Gibson. As Dr. Ernest Delbanco in "Mumford" (1999), he was a rival psychologist losing business to a young psychiatrist (Loren Dean) newly arrived in a small town. In "The Hurricane" (1999), he was defense attorney Myron Beldock, who helped overturn the triple homicide conviction of former middleweight boxer Rubin Carter (Denzel Washington). Meanwhile, he continued to work on the small screen, appearing in made-for-television movies like "Crime of the Century" (HBO, 1996) and "Dash and Lilly" (1999). In the little-seen and unappreciated action thriller, "The Chill Factor" (1999), Paymer played a chemical weapons scientist trying to live the good life after causing the deaths of 18 soldiers in an experiment a decade before. He next teamed up with famed playwright, David Mamet, for his satire about Hollywood clashing with small town Vermont in "State and Main" (2000). The actor earned good notices as a smarmy producer who will stop at nothing to get the money needed to finish his movie about an old small town mill, including agreeing to product placement for a website in a 19th Century historical drama. The actor returned to television as Dick Goodwin, advisor and speechwriter for the Kennedy clan, in the made-for-television movie, "RFK" (FX, 2002). An inauspicious return to series television came and went with "Line of Fire" (ABC, 2003-04), in which Paymer played Jonah Malloy, a big city crime boss doing battle with FBI agents. Though it made it through its first season, the show did not return for a second.Returning to features, Paymer appeared in "Alex and Emma" (2003), a failed romantic comedy loosely based - oddly enough - on the Fyodor Dostoevsky short novel, The Gambler. He also appeared alongside Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace and Scarlett Johansson in the corporate comedy-drama, "In Good Company" (2004). While appearing in the adult-themed comedies like "Checking Out" (2005), Paymer began a second career as a television director, helming episodes of "Everwood" (The WB, 2002-06), "Medium" (NBC, 2004-09; CBS, 2009-11) and "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC, 2005-). In the multi award-winning movie "Warm Springs" (HBO, 2005), he was the curmudgeonly chief aide and old friend to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Kenneth Branagh). Following a small turn in the mammoth six-part miniseries "Into the West" (TNT, 2005), Paymer resumed his directing career with episodes of "Gilmore Girls" (CW, 2000-07) and "October Road" (ABC, 2007-08). In "Ocean's 13" (2007), he had an amusing supporting role as a casino critic who bears numerous indignities at the hands of Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and company. After turning to smaller features like "Resurrecting the Champ" (2007) and "Redbelt" (2008), Paymer made a rare foray into horror with "Drag Me to Hell" (2009).