For nearly a decade, you almost couldn't turn on a television set without seeing Ray Romano. His self-created sitcom, Everybody Love Raymond, dominated network television from 1996-2005, garnering 69 Emmy Awards nominations, including ten wins, and making the stand-up comedian a household name. Since then, Romano has taken on a number of diverse roles, including Martin Scorsese's Vinyl and his own Men Of A Certain Age. This year, Romano hit the big screen with a star turn in The Big Sick. Here, the actor talks hitting it big, romancing his wife, and explaining on-screen threesomes.
When did you start doing stand-up?
The first time I was ever on stage I was 23. And then I started and stopped a couple times, so I count my start at stand-up as about 25-and-a-half.
Were you always funny?
I thought I was funny in school. I was always getting in trouble for being stupid. When we were teenagers, there were about five guys in my neighborhood who were funny and we loved sketch comedy. When Saturday Night Live started, we were 17. We put on our own sketch comedy show for the neighborhood. We called ourselves No Talent Incorporated and we put on no-talent shows. The neighborhood had a church teen club where the teenagers could meet in the basement on Sunday nights and play ping-pong and this and that, and it had a little stage. We wrote and did our own sketch comedy. We did parodies of kids in the neighborhood. So I was always into comedy somewhat.
Did you have any other backup plan?
I went to school and took accounting because I was good with numbers. I went to Queens College and then Queensboro, but I would register and then not go to class. I did that for about three years. My parents thought I was going to college, and I would get a student loan, but then not go. Then the extra money from the student loan I would just use to screw around with. I would just leave the house and go hang out in the school lounge and play pinball. I did get a little serious for like a year, year-and-a-half, and then I just stopped completely. I was delivering futons for my best friend, Claude, who had a futon company. I was delivering futons when I started doing stand-up comedy.
DId you audition for Saturday Night Live?
I did not audition for Saturday Night Live. I wasn’t that kind of person. I didn’t do impressions. That would have scared the hell out of me.
Did you feel at home doing stand-up right away?
I got the bug the first time I went on because I did well. And that’s how they get you. It’s kind of like golf where you suck forever, but you hit one good shot and that’s what makes you come back. The first night I did well. It was audition night at the improv in New York, which doesn’t exist anymore, on 44th Street and Ninth Avenue. My girlfriend at the time was in the audience with my brother and his girlfriend. I went on late and the audience was very generous, because I did horrible material. I had one or two maybe slightly funny things. And I caught the bug. But then you realize it’s not easy and it’s at some points horrible. I gave it up for a year because I bombed then. And then I tried it again, and I bombed again. You need to hone it and you need to practice and work at it. And the only practice ground you have is the worst conditions. You’re the new guy so you go on at two in the morning in front of five drunks. And that’s how you have to learn how to do stand-up.
Since then, you've really branched out with your roles in things like Vinyl and Men Of A Certain Age.
Men of a Certain Age I created that with my writing partner, Mike Roye, so I was outside of my comfort zone, but I was also in control. Vinyl was scary. When we came back from the pilot, ten months later we got script two. And it said I go in a car and I contemplate killing myself. I was like, “What?” And then it said I had a wife and kid. I didn’t even know this in the pilot. I called up my agent, I go, “They want me to consider suicide in this first episode back. I don’t know if I can pull this off.” And my agent was, “You’d better pull it off.”
And you had a nude scene.
I had a threesome. After I did the scene she goes, “Tell me what happened.” And I go, you know, “One girl straddles the other one. But it’s over. You know?” We were in New York, and she's flying back to Los Angeles, so I called her after and said, “How was the flight?”And she said there was an actor sitting next to her who started talking to her and gave her is card because he heard about me. So now I’m getting jealous and I’m grilling her. "Who is this guy? What guy? What did he look like? What was his name? And she stopped me and goes, “What was the name of the girl that sat on your cock?” And I said, “Okay, no further questions.”
Going back, how did Everybody Loves Raymond, which David Letterman produced, first come about?
Five months before my first Letterman spot, I was cast in News Radio. Paul Simms saw me on an HBO comedian thing, had me come in and read. I got lucky, and they signed me to $8,000 an episode. I told my wife and we were like, “We’re rich!” Day two of rehearsal, they fired me. But I was oddly relieved because I could feel I was just in over my head. Five months later, I had my first Letterman spot. At this point, I've been doing stand-up for eleven years, and everyone was getting development deals and I wasn’t. After my Letterman set, this guy called my house on a Saturday. I’m not kidding—on Saturday, Rob Burnett called my house and I spoke to Rob Burnett, probably in my underwear. And he said we’re interested. He said, "Don’t sign with anyone, we’re interested in a development deal." And I said, "You don’t have to worry. There’s nobody else."
Did you like doing a sitcom?
I mean, it was my show. I did enjoy doing it and I was very proud of it. And I still am. Having said that,I am past doing a sitcom now. I don’t want to follow my legacy in the sitcom world. Bu it was a lot of fun. And it was a lot of work. And it was talking about my whole family. After a couple of episodes, my mother was like, “Raymond, do you have to make your brother so goofy? Because the guys in the precinct are teasing Richard.” She was worried his fellow cops were teasing him. But my brother was single at the time, and he reaped the benefits.
I'm sure you were offered plenty of other shows after it ended. Was it hard to say no?
It wasn’t hard to say no to the offers that came after to do another sitcom—and this sounds horrible, but I won’t say I have all the money I need; my wife has all the money she needs. And creatively, I wanted to just do other things. Yes, I was lucky not to have to make any decision because of financial reasons. But it was also hard. When the sitcom ended, it was kind of like you come out of this submarine and all of the sudden, I live in L.A., and my kids are 12 years old now. You’re excited because all of the sudden you have time, you have money, you have a little bit of fame how. And then after three months, it wasn’t fun anymore. I had a little emotional breakdown. I remember when my show was ending, my my therapist says, “You want to start coming twice a week?” I go, “No. Why? I hardly have stuff to say to you once a week.” And then three months later I was going twice a week. He kind of knew it was going to be a big, a big change. And it was. And it was for a while until then we created Men of a Certain Age. I can’t stay idle creatively. I have to keep moving or I catch up with myself.
Moving on to some fun questions. What movies make you cry?
I cry very easy.Once you hit middle age, I don’t know, I seem to cry more. I cry at commercials. YouTube commercials that can make you cry. You know what else makes me cry? National anthems. Ours, I mean. I know the capital of every country, but I don’t know the national anthem of every country. It is me being afraid of getting older and of Alzheimer’s. My shrink told me, “Because you know the capitals it doesn’t mean you’re not going to get Alzheimer’s. It means you don’t have it now. That’s all it means.”
When was your first kiss?
It was probably a spin the bottle game. I don’t even think it gets credit for a first kiss because the bottle pointed at that girl and she had to kiss me. Otherwise she’s a party pooper. But my first kiss with my wife she remembers because we were in a car. We drove home from the movies, and she goes, "Lean over. You kiss me. We’re parked outside. You kiss me and then you stare out the windshield. You don’t look at me again for the rest of our conversation." There was no eye contact after. You know, I’m not good with women. We worked in a bank together, and that is how we met. She was the third girl I asked out at that bank. The first two turned me down. She took a gamble. I was 25, I was riding my bike to work. And now she has a 2,200 square foot closet.
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