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Ray Romano: Stand-up, Sitcoms And Real-Life Humor

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
July 6, 2011

For nine seasons, Ray Romano played Ray Barone on the CBS hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. The show, loosely based on Romano’s real life, earned the comedian millions of dollars and numerous accolades, including three Emmys and four People’s Choice Awards.

After Raymond ended, Romano took several years off from TV. While “semi-retired,” he played golf, spent time with his family and appeared in several movies, including 95 Miles To Go, a documentary film which followed his 2006 stand-up comedy tour.

In 2008, Romano decided to head back to the writer’s room with Mike Royce, a writer and executive producer on Raymond, to create a new show for TNT. Called Men of a Certain Age, the drama-comedy stars Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher as three former college buddies, now middle-aged men, who are working their way through various sorts of middle-aged crises.

Romano joins Fresh Air’s TV critic David Bianculli for a conversation about working on Everybody Loves Raymond, switching from the sitcom format to TNT, his early comedic influences and his standup career, which began in high school.

“In school, I wasn’t a very good student — I was very irresponsible and never did the studying but always liked to get the laugh,” he tells Bianculli. “And Saturday Night Live was starting in 1975. I was 17 years old and it was like nothing I’d ever seen.”

Romano and four friends decided to start their own sketch troupe, where he then got his first laughs in front of an audience. “It was kind of my first taste of what standup was like because I was talking to the audience and getting laughs,” he says. “So that was where the bug of performing standup came.”

After performing in New York clubs for several years, Romano won a standup comedy competition, which led to appearances on Late Night with David Letterman and a deal with Letterman’s production company for Everyone Loves Raymond.

But Romano says that he was extremely nervous during the first days of filming, particularly because he had to work with actor Peter Boyle, who played his father.

“I remember when we were rehearsing the pilot episode and [I was thinking] this is a show built around me and there’s Peter Boyle — and I hadn’t really talked to him that much [because] his reputation just scared me — he was this hulking strong presence,” he says. “And during day one of rehearsal, in between one of the scenes our paths crossed backstage and he just stopped me … and he goes ‘It’s just like water, just let it flow.’ … At the time, I was just blown away by this kind gesture that he would make me feel comfortable.”

Boyle and Romano became good friends and would often go out to dinner together during breaks from filming.

“He could have a conversation about anything — politics, government, art — and then with me, this was the great thing about him, he would dumb it down for me,” says Romano. “He would talk about sports and Hooters with me. He [was] the opposite of the character he portrayed on TV, as far as that goes.”

Interview Highlights

On his introduction to comedy from a Bill Cosby album

“My first big introduction to stand-up was a comedy album that a buddy of mine got and he gave it to me and it was called To Russell, My Brother Whom I Slept With [by Bill Cosby.] And I was blown away by it. I ran to his house and we listened to it together. And I’m not saying I tried to emulate [Cosby], but this guy just appealed to me — this guy just talking. It wasn’t setup and punchline, it wasn’t jokes — [and] this seemed more organic to me.”

On what he misses about Everyone Loves Raymond

“The only thing I miss from the sitcom format is that immediate gratification … [of] the live audience. As a stand-up, I live off of that. It’s my energy source. And there is none of that when you’re doing a single camera. You get it in the writer’s room … but when we’re filming, you just have to trust that what you’re doing is funny.”

On stand-up and his sense of humor

“When you go to stand-up, there seems to be a common denominator of some form of need or want for validation from the audience that maybe you were lacking as a kid. And [my dad] was a guy who just worked hard and had a hard time expressing himself and as I got older, he had a very dry sense of humor. I realize that this is where I got it from — super-dry.

“We did it on the show, in the pilot episode of Raymond, he — in real life — would drive my wife crazy in the subtlest way. The one thing he did was, he learned how to playback our messages when we had answering machines that actually recorded. He learned the code. So he would listen to our messages and leave a message after saying, ‘Hey Anna [Romano's wife,] your friend Linda went to the gynecologist today, you should check up on her.’ And hang up. And he thought it was funny and I thought it was funny and my wife would go nuts and say ‘It’s like reading our mail, what’s he doing?’” [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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