With Everybody Loves Raymond now regarded as America’s last traditional TV sitcom (they’re all faux-reality shows now, don’t you know), creator and star Ray Romano talks to Paul Byrne about the heavy task of keeping comedy light.
As Joe Strummer once warbled, The Ice Age is coming. Again. With Dawn Of The Dinosaurs, to be precise.
The third in a very lucrative franchise that began with 2002’s Ice Age, and continued with 2006’s Ice Age: The Meltdown, the latest outing once again sees droll behemoth Manny (voiced by the droll Ray Romano) head out on another pre-historic adventure with sidekick Sid, the sloth (voiced by John Leguizamo), and various other furry little friends.
Romano, it seems, is excited.
“Well, as excited as someone like me can get,” the 51-year old New York funnyman deadpans. “I just find these movies fascinating, because, you know, I record my parts alone, without meeting any of the other cast members, and that means, when the movie finally comes out, it’s all pretty new to me too.
“It’s pretty crazy, having rapport with someone you’ve never met – I get to snuggle up with Queen Latifah in this one – but then again, these are the times we live in, right? People are snuggling up with each other over the internet all the time, without ever having actually met face-to-face. So, in many ways, I’m a pioneer of our times…”
Sure. What most people with know Raymond Albert Romano for is the long-running, much-loved sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, a show that regularly topped the ratings in its native America over its run from September 13th, 1996 to May 16th, 2005. Along with winning its leading man oodles of Emmys and the record for highest paid television actor in history, Everybody Loves Raymond also managed to break the record for highest revenue ever for a TV show, pulling in $3.9billion.
PAUL BYRNE: Which kind of begs the question, follow that!?
RAY ROMANO: Yeah, it was kinda silly of me to have such a success under my belt early on, because from now on, everything I do will be measured by the success of Everybody Loves Raymond. If I’d been smart, I would have run the show into the ground towards the end – you know, put some really bad gags in there, some bad acting, corny storylines – so, the next time I stepped out in front of the TV cameras, everyone could call it a comeback. Instead of a comedown.
You are stepping in front of the TV cameras again, Men Of A Certain Age due on our screens in January of next year. Nervous?
Petrified. But I’m lucky in that I don’t really need the money, so, I’m only signing on to stuff that I really, really like. If it’s a hit or not is another matter, but I’ll be able to sleep well at night, knowing I didn’t sign on to a godawful show out of desperation.
Many people see Everybody as the last traditional sitcom, the norm now being the faux-reality comedy spearheaded by The Office over here…
It’s definitely a different world out there now, but I think audiences still want the traditional sitcom too. You only have to look at the success of Two And A Half Men to see that, or even The Simpsons. It’s not easy, getting the balance right, and being light with your comedy as opposed to dark and embarrassing – which is how so many of the reality stuff comes across – is pretty tough. Because you have to come up with killer jokes, basically, as opposed to having someone just look foolish or dumb.
You co-created the show with Mike Royce, who worked with you on Everybody, and it’s about three fortysomethings dealing with, well, being fortysomethings. Some blood on the tracks here?
I think everyone goes through a certain amount of restocking when they hit their forties – you try to let go of some goals you might have set yourself early on, you begin to think about what you’ll do in your old age, what you’ve achieved, what you haven’t achieved. It’s a rich area for introspection, regret, last-gasp hopes and dreams, and that means there’s plenty of comedy there too. So, yeah, I can relate to that…
Do you relate at all to Manny in the Ice Age movies. You’ve described him before as the Shrek of the piece, the straight man who has all the funny little characters bouncing off one another around him…
I guess that is in my nature. I don’t tend to run very often, or get too excited about a problem, but I couldn’t say that I feel like a great big behemoth very often. Unless you’re talking in terms of American comedy history – in that case, I’m pretty much the biggest behemoth around…
You’ve been returning to your first love, stand-up. Jerry Seinfeld threw himself into his former profession with a vengeance when his sitcom ended; you take a more relaxed approach, right?
Yeah, I just do Vegas, and once a year, Brad Garrett and I head out on a week-long tour. It’s purely for pleasure, as opposed to trying to make some kind of living, or mark. I’d like to get into it more, but you have to be inspired, you have to feel a need for stand-up, and, as much as I love it, I don’t feel that fire in my belly that tells me, okay, let’s go out on a 8-month tour, and really burn this mother up.
You don’t strike me as someone who’s ever felt the desire to ‘really burn this mother up’…
Well, that’s true, but I have been known to, you know, get pretty darn worked up about things. Which is where good stand-up comes from. You have to have something you really want to say. How you say it is up to you – you can be all angry and political, or you can be sweet and friendly. I find the latter works best for me.
Given that you only sign on for those projects that truly interest you, how come you ended up in a Hannah Montana episode?
Are you kidding? I have all her albums. And her DVDs. And t-shirts, folders and pencil cases. Actually, I have children. And finally, they think I’m approaching something close to cool by being in a Hannah Montana episode.
Words : Paul Byrne
Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs is now showing at Irish cinemas everywhere