Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Albany Daily News. Posted by Ryan Frost
Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Frost
Everybody Loves Raymond, Men of a Certain Age, Ice Age
Currently Known For:
Actor, Comedian, and Screenwriter
1990s - Present
December 21, 1957
Everybody Loves Raymond, Men of a Certain Age, Ice Age
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“If my father had hugged me even once, I’d be an accountant right now.” Ray Romano is an actor and comedian who rose to fame on the long-running CBS sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond, which aired from 1996 to 2005. For his performance on the series, Romano earned numerous Emmy Award nominations and one win for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series while the show itself took home numerous Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series. Apart from his work on primetime, Romano has also proven his talents as a voice actor and screenwriter after voicing Manny in the Ice Age film series. He also created and starred in the TNT dramedy, Men of a Certain Age, from 2009 to 2011. Adding in credits in Parenthood, The Big Sick and Get Shorty, let’s take a look at Romano’s Hollywood career!
A New York Native at Heart
The middle of three sons born to an engineer and a piano teacher, Raymond Albert Romano came into this world on December 21, 1957 in Queens, New York. Raised alongside his brothers in the quiet neighborhood of Forest Hills, Romano attended Archbishop Molloy High School before transferring to Hillcrest High School where he was classmates with none other than Fran Drescher, an aspiring actress who would later rise to stardom on the hit television series, The Nanny. Coincidentally, it was during this time that a new show made its way to late night television, Saturday Night Live, which piqued Romano’s interest in comedy.
“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,” Romano said. “And Saturday Night Live was starting in 1975. I was 17 years old and it was like nothing I’d ever seen.”
After high school, Romano briefly studied accounting at Queens College and later took a job at a local bank where he met Anna Scarpulla, whom he married in 1987. During this time, Romano dreamed of becoming a comedian but couldn’t find a way to make those dreams come true. Instead, he stuck with his regular nine-to-five job to provide for his wife and their growing family as they added four children into the mix. “My first big introduction to standup 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,” Romano recalled. “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 punch line, it wasn’t jokes—and this seemed more organic to me.”
Romano and four of his friends started their own sketch comedy group where Romano honed his talents at smaller venues throughout the city. “It was kind of my first taste of what standup was like because I was talking to the audience and getting laughs,” he recalled. “So, that was where the bug of performing standup came.” By 1989, Romano had enough confidence to enter the Johnny Walker Comedy Search directed by SNL short film producer Neal Marshad. The competition earned him an appearance on Comedy Central, which is how he ended up snagging a guest voice role on the network’s animated series, Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.
Throughout the next decade, Romano fought hard to gain exposure in the entertainment industry and even signed on for Star Search. In 1995, he auditioned for and won the part of Joe on NBC’s newest television series, NewsRadio, but he was soon fired and replaced by Joe Rogan. Refusing to give up on his dream, he took his standup routine to the Late Show with David Letterman on CBS where his jokes were an instant hit among late night audiences. As a result, the network offered Romano a deal he couldn’t refuse—his own series, Everybody Loves Raymond.
Making His Way to Primetime Television
Taking inspiration from his own life in creating the series, Romano worked tirelessly on the pilot episode of Everybody Loves Raymond that introduced audiences to his on-screen family—his wife Debra (Patricia Heaton), brother Robert (Brad Garrett), and parents Marie (Doris Roberts) and Frank Barone (Peter Boyle). On September 13, 1996, the pilot aired to widespread critical praise as Romano’s nerves gently settled.
“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,” Romano said. “And during Day 1 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.”
Embracing Boyle’s advice, Romano let the jokes flow as Everybody Loves Raymond became one of the network’s standout sitcoms as Romano himself became a household name in Hollywood. In fact, his sense of humor was embraced by millions of viewers and critics alike who argued Everybody Loves Raymond “might now be the best sitcom on the air” thanks to a stellar cast and plotlines that “shed light on the universal human insecurities, such as doubting that your spouse still finds you attractive as you grow older.” Of course, those insecurities and the characters themselves stemmed from Romano’s real life—from his older brother, Richard, a sergeant with the New York Police Department, to his dad, a man with a dry sense of humor much like Romano himself.
“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,” Romano said. “I realize that this is where I got it from… We even did it on the show, in the pilot episode of Raymond, [my dad] in real life would drive my wife crazy in the subtlest way. The one thing he did was, he learned how to play back 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?’”
Comedic bits like that made Everybody Loves Raymond a massive hit on CBS over the next nine years as the series was nominated for 69 Primetime Emmy Awards with 15 wins and 21 Screen Actors Guild Award nominations with one win. Romano himself earned six Emmy Award nominations and one win in addition to two Golden Globe Award nominations and five Screen Actors Guild Award nominations. By 2001, Romano was a staple in comedy and in Hollywood as the E! Network named him one of the Top 20 Biggest Entertainers of the Year. By the show’s end in 2005, he was the highest paid actor on primetime television, which isn’t bad for a total unknown just a decade prior! Even then, Romano was in disbelief of his overnight fame saying, “I have to say, it’s all relative.”
Life Beyond Everybody Loves Raymond
“When the show ended, I thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be nice now after nine years. Kick back. I got money. I have fame. Blah, blah, blah.’” While Romano was almost certain he could kick back and relax after Everybody Loves Raymond wrapped up in 2005, that wasn’t the case for the self-described workaholic who had loads of free time for the first time in over a decade. “The bottom fell out after like three months,” he admitted. “I realized I need to work. I need to be creative. As much as I have angst and anxiety, when I’m idle, it’s even more. I have to keep moving. Otherwise, I catch up with myself.” So, what was next?
With Everybody Loves Raymond going into syndication and earning Romano even more money, he could afford to be selective with his next projects, which led him to films like Welcome to Mooseport and Eulogy, the latter of which pushed him even further as an actor. “I remember I did the movie Eulogy and there was a dramatic moment in it. It was pretty heavy and I went for it,” Romano said. “It was… I didn’t feel that comfortable doing it.” Although it was awkward at first, Romano kept pushing himself and even reprised his role as Manny in Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006) followed by roles in Grilled (2006), The Last Word (2008), The Grand (2008), Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) and Funny People (2009).
Romano returned to television in 2009 when he teamed up with Everybody Loves Raymond writer Mike Royce to create the hour-long TNT series, Men of a Certain Age, starring Romano, Andre Braugher, and Scott Bakula as three best friends facing the realities of being middle aged. Although the series won a 2010 Peabody Award, it was only moderately successful and was canceled after two seasons in 2011. From there, Romano made cameos in The Office and joined his former on-screen wife, Patricia Heaton, in an episode on her hit series, The Middle before landing a recurring role as Hank Rizzoli on the popular NBC series, Parenthood.
Spending the next three years with appearances opposite Craig T. Nelson, Lauren Graham, Peter Krause, and the rest of the Parenthood cast, Romano proved his talents at tackling more serious roles with the series. Along the way, he also reprised his role as Manny with credits in Ice Age: The Great Egg-Scapade (2016) and Ice Age: Collision Course (2016) before returning to the silver screen as Terry Gardner in The Big Sick in 2017. Most recently, he worked on two film projects—Untitled Alex Lehmann Project and The Irishman, both of which are in post-production. As for television, he recently returned as Rick Moreweather in Get Shorty. “He’s a bit of an underdog, a bit of a wannabe, and is trying to prove himself,” Romano said of his new character. “I don’t know if this sounds weird, but I’ve constantly got that going. There’s a bit of that guy in me all the time. Whether or not it’s true or not, he’s the guy who doesn’t feel like he’s done what he could do or what he set out to do.”
As for his stand-up routine, the 60-year-old Romano continues to hone his talents on stage and practices his new material anytime he ventures into late night television or when he returns to New York where he takes the stage at his favorite venue, the Comedy Cellar. “I feel like I have honed it for years and I have figured out how to do stand-up,” Romano says. “Acting, I’m still learning. I’m still learning, and learning, and learning. But I never want to give up stand-up because I still get a thrill out of it.” Ironically, part of his stand-up routine is his self-deprecating air, which isn’t a schtick at all since Romano has a hard time embracing his success. “I have to say, it’s all relative. The joke I used to say was, ‘Before I used to think my cabdriver hated me, and now I think my limo driver hates me.’ I’m just in a different tax bracket,” he says, “but what I’m going through internally is still the same. If you put a gun to my head, I’d say I’m successful.”