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Friday, June 10, 2005


art


Comic’s love lingers

The writers of ‘Raymond’ join
the comedian in giving an inside
look at the sitcom

Comedian Ray Romano thanks his father for not being affectionate. "If he had hugged me once, I would be an accountant; I'd be doing your books," he says from his Los Angeles home. "Just one hug and I wouldn't have been this insecure comic seeking everyone's approval. Maybe I should thank him."

'Everybody Loves Raymond'

Ray Romano brings his comedy to the stage:

Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Tickets: $35, $45 and $55

Call: Ticketmaster at 877-750-4400

Perhaps.

Romano's sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond" debuted in 1996 and became one of the most successful ever, making Romano the highest paid actor in television history at $1.8 million an episode by the time it ended its run in May.

Not bad for a 47-year-old stand-up comedian from Queens, N.Y., who lived in his parents' basement until he was 29. Romano built his TV show, and his stand-up comedy act, on the everyday, mundane details of his family life.

The aspiring funnyman formed the "No Talent" comedy troupe at age 16. He didn't give stand-up serious consideration until one successful open-mic night at a New York City comedy club in 1984. Romano decided to pursue comedy full time in 1987. After nearly a decade, his career took off when he won a stand-up comedy competition sponsored by a radio station.

He had breakthrough performances on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" and "The Late Show" with David Letterman, who signed Romano to develop a sitcom built around his act; that show became "Everybody Loves Raymond."

ONE WOULD think that after 221 episodes Romano, creator/executive producer Phil Rosenthal and the sitcom's eight writers would be sick of one another, but they're not. Romano and company appear Saturday and Sunday at the Blaisdell Concert Hall to give audiences an inside look at how the stories were created and how TV comedy works. David Wild, an Emmy-nominated television writer and best-selling author, will moderate.

Romano took some time to answer a few questions:

Question: How did this traveling show come about?

Answer: We were being honored in New York at the Museum of Television and Radio and it was the first time we were all on stage together with a moderator. It was great and fun. So Phil got the idea for us to do it on the road.

Q: This is the first time you've been on the road with the show. Was it the Hawaii aspect?

A: Uh, yeah (laughs). All of it. This is really their gig. I go out and perform and play my theaters, but I was one of the writers too, but my time is so limited. This is a cool way to hang out with one another in a great place.

Q: "Everybody Loves Raymond" went out on top. Couldn't it have gone on?

A: It got hard coming up with new stories, though the laughs kept going backstage. ... I have never laughed so hard in my life than the time I spent in the writers' room with these guys. We became this tight-knit group. It's like therapy. In trying to find these stories, you expose everything in your life. I don't know where I'll find that again.

I really had the show because I'm insecure. It's my insecurity that makes me want to be a comic, and that makes me need the audience. This low self-esteem thing seems to be a common denominator with a lot of comics. It's not a rule, but I think it applies a lot that they're missing something. There was some negligent parent, maybe, that didn't give them enough attention.

Q: Why are people coming to listen to the creative team?

A: If you're a fan of the show it's interesting to get a glimpse of how it was done. Some people can't get enough information about a favorite episode. Other people are interested in the process, the writing, how it's conceived, how we work.

Q: Why is comedy so difficult?

A: I've never written a drama so I can't compare. But the first time I tried to write a "Raymond" script was the finale for season one. It was complete torture. I come from stand-up comedy so I wrote all my own material. It was a very weird transition when I had to give over to the idea of these guys writing for me. It was bittersweet that I would get a laugh without my material and it wasn't that fulfilling.

When I wrote my first script with my writing partner I started appreciating how good these guys are. It took four hours on how to just get characters out of the kitchen. In comedy you have to tell a story and get laughs at the same time. There's an expectation for a certain amount of laughs per minute. It's hard.

Q: Would you do another sitcom?

A: Not anytime soon. And I would never do a network sitcom again, but maybe cable or HBO. I'm not throwing that out. But having said that, come next year when I'm sitting in my robe and throwing bologna at the dog and wondering what to do, well, who knows?

Q: What are you going to do now?

A: I have no clue. I do have four kids. Some do stand up; I still love doing that. I'm looking for a film, working on a documentary, playing golf. I've done three films and haven't had much success. But the movie business is weird. It's fun to become a new character. What appeals to me about doing a film is how you can take a moment, let it play out and allow it to breathe. When you do a TV show, you're doing a play, and when you're doing a sitcom, you can only turn three quarters. You've got to face the audience and project and everything is pace and energy. I love just being able to be subtle and use that.

Q: Are you getting hit to do projects with "Raymond-like" characters?

A: I'm getting a lot of scripts and they do have a "Raymond" quality, the Average Joe guy. There's nothing against that but I did it and did it a little in the film "Mooseport" and I don't want to keep doing it. I would like to do a smart comedy, or a broad comedy if it's well written and interesting.

Q: What was the last day doing the show like?

A: Emotional. It got postponed a week. The day of the finale, Patty Heaton's voice sounded a little hoarse in the morning. She went to the doctor and he said, "Don't talk until show time," and he gave her a shot and said it will be OK. And she literally did that: She did not talk until show time, which for Patty is hard to do. The audience was in there and ready to go, she comes into the makeup room and she can't even talk. We had to tell the audience to go home. It was pretty weird, 'cause we come out and they give us a standing ovation, but we're there to tell them, "Not so fast, thanks for coming and goodbye." The bad thing was I had my whole family fly in from New York, and now they had to stay at my house for another week.

During the week, I was kind of very emotional; I would hear a sad song on the radio and I would well up. When I came out for the final bow, I was OK. Then I looked up at my kids who have been coming to the show every week and they were sobbing in their mother's arms, and it just dawned on me that this has been their whole life. They were 3 years old when the show started. They don't even remember a world without "Raymond" in it.

Q: Ray was such a wimp around Debra. He was terrified of her, and she definitely wore the pants in that family. Is that the way it is in the Romano household?

A: Pretty much. We're the same in the sense that I try to just keep the peace. It's much easier for me to just try to go with the flow. But I still try to get away with what I can, but I know when not to go somewhere. I'm the schmuck. I'm the schlub. I'm the one who will come home late because I want to hit an extra bucket of balls and lie about it and tell her I'm at a meeting.

Q: Why do you think the show was so successful?

A: The simple formula was to just make it realistic. As humorous and somewhat outrageous as it got, we always thought before we wrote it, "Could this happen? Would this happen?" We didn't do anything just for the sake of the joke. And these characters are pretty rich, and they're neurotic, they're dysfunctional, but people identify with them. Once people see themselves in there, they always like seeing themselves. If you just rely on jokes for your show and not character, you're only as funny as your last joke.

Q: Was that your father you were playing in "Raymond?"

A: Definitely not. If I were doing that, I wouldn't have pants on.



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