BURBANK, Calif. — Everybody may love Raymond except for Ray Romano himself. The star of the long-running hit sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond" has managed to stay the same guy he was when he was repairing futon mattresses for his best friend and living in Queens.
In Hollywood that's as rare as real blondes.
One of the things that's kept him humble is his 21-year marriage to Anna. When "Raymond" premiered, Anna was in New York with three little kids and Romano was in L.A. He and his friend, Kevin James, decided to celebrate in Las Vegas. Romano phoned to tell her.
"She said, 'Oh, really.' So I just played along and went, 'Hey, my show aired last night. You know what? Millions and millions of people saw me on TV.' I'm just goofing around with this bravado. 'OK? So that's why I'm doing what I'm doing, 'cause I am a TV STAR.' She said, 'You're still the dick I married.'"
Laughing, and leaning back in his black vinyl office chair, Romano says, "That's good for me. There's somebody in my life you get the truth from."
Now the father of four kids (a daughter, 19, twins, 16, and an 11-year-old), Romano is the counterpoint to his character in the endearing new TNT show, "Men of a Certain Age," which premieres next Monday.
The comedian plays a party-store owner with a gambling problem, who is separated from his wife. Scott Bakula as a wanna-be actor and Andre Braugher as a car salesman make up the trio of old pals who are sharing a mid-life crisis.
Romano admits he, too, likes wagering. "I've gambled. I've dipped my toe in there, but it's not as dramatic as what Joe's going through. But I know the world. I grew up going to the racetrack in New York and betting in football pools and this and that. And I work in Vegas, so I know the world. I have a penchant. I am attracted to throwing a bet down here and there, but I control it."
Though "Raymond" catapulted Romano into the highest tax bracket, you'd never know it by looking at him. He's dressed in a white T-shirt with "Kentucky" written on it, an unbuttoned teal-blue suede-cloth shirt and jeans. On his left wrist is a plastic LED watch.
While "Men of a Certain Age" is both funny and touching, it shines with veracity, a quality that Romano (who co-wrote the first episode with Mike Royce) treasures.
"I got a passion for this kind of thing where it's just real," he says, brushing his hand through his salt-and-pepper hair.
"But I don't need to do heavy melodrama. I don't mind doing something that's funny and dramatic at the same time as long as it's real. I think I've had my fill — I love what I did on 'Raymond' but I've had my fill of that type of comedy where it's a little broad and slightly farcical and heightened past the reality level. But I like doing something that people can relate to on a real level."
Another element that keeps Romano, 51, down to earth is his disbelief in his own good fortune. "I don't know if this is true of all comedians, but we don't really believe the success we have. You think at any minute someone's going to expose you as an imposter. You really can't get too big for your britches 'cause you don't believe that. There's both things going on. Sometimes you think you're the best thing in the world, but sometimes you think you're worthless. It's a weird mix, the dichotomy of the perception of yourself. I'm just always so grateful that people want to see anything I do I don't think I have it in me to be too 'dickish.'"
In fact, when he began in standup he quit several times for a year or more. At the 10-year mark he suffered real doubts even though he'd done all the major talk shows. "At the same point these comics were getting development deals for TV shows — Tim Allen had a show, Roseanne had a show, Jerry (Seinfeld) had a show, Brett Butler had a show — so these were happening to all the guys who were up at that level.
"I thought, 'I love standup but I love to progress and
do the next thing, is that going to pass me by?' I was 36. My exposure was out
there. It wasn't like they hadn't seen me. But it just wasn't happening. And I
just thought, 'Well, it's never going to happen,' and I had a little bit of a
lull there where I wondered if I wanted to be doing it 10 years from now."
Finally one Saturday the producer of "The Late Show with David Letterman" phoned Romano. "I was in the backyard yelling at somebody or my wife was yelling at me. He called up and said, 'Hey, we liked what you did (on Letterman's show) would you be interested in a development deal?' They sign you up and have a year to develop a sitcom around your persona, or whatever. They said, 'Just want you to know we're interested. Don't sign with anybody else because we're interested.' I said, 'There IS nobody else."
Letterman's production company produced "Everybody Loves Raymond," which ran for nine seasons. As it turned out, everybody DID love Raymond.