While Netflix’s Right Here, Around The Corner marks Ray Romano’s first stand-up special in 23 years, the happy chaos of a busy acting career (Everybody Loves Raymond, Men Of A Certain Age, Get Shorty, Vinyl) and family life hasn’t kept Romano away from the stage completely. Directed by Michael Showalter (who directed Romano in The Big Sick), Right Here, Around The Corner feels like a slice of life for Romano that, at once, touches on his current place as a marquee name capable of doing a walk-in at any club, and his past life as someone who ran around New York going from club to club to club night after night in pursuit of mic time.
When we spoke with Romano (for the second time in 2019 — check out our Sundance interview with Romano and Mark Duplass for their film Paddleton), we touched on both stages of his comedy career, plotting the unique presentation of this special (which debuted on Netflix this past Tuesday), the high of finding a new bit, and the angst of being offstage for too long.
How did you land on the idea for the special?
Ray Romano: Well, I mean, I wanted it to be unannounced. When I go into the city, I do a drop-in set. And it’s always fun. It’s always exciting. You never know how much the audience is going to be into you or even know your stuff or know that you do stand up. But I like it. I like the energy. I didn’t want to do a big theater. I don’t know, the smallness… I wanted to hear individual laughs. The specials in the theaters sometimes… the laughs just seem like a crowd roar, you know?
I thought about The Comedy Cellar. That’s my home club, and it’s where I started. And then… they own the Village Underground, which is around the corner, which holds twice as many. I thought maybe we’d do it there, but then I was speaking to my director, Michael Showalter, and he suggested we do both. Immediately that sounded great to me. I wanted to make a little behind the scenes, “This is what it’s like on a night” [thing]. You’re talking here, you’re talking there. Back in the day, I would do some work in the city and I’d do seven spots in a night. Then I had to go uptown, downtown, midtown, and all that. The Cellar didn’t own the Village Underground and didn’t have three shows a night every night back then. But I liked the idea of just walking. You get a little sense of the city and all that. I was worried, “Oh shit, do they really want to see me just walk?” [Laughs] But it looks arty, so…
It does! It works. Was this just one night and done, or was there more?
We kind of… I don’t want to say we overdid it, but we did two shows each night. One night, two shows the next night, and two shows in each club. Which is good until you’re in the edit room and you’ve got to look at it… you’ve got to look at everything. I get very anal and very obsessive about that. So the editing was a little bit of, not a struggle, but it was work.
The process of building the material for this, is that something that was a dedicated, “Okay I’m going to do a special so I’m going to take this on the road?” Or is this more just that routine of going to The Cellar, going to The Village Underground?
I didn’t have to really write a lot of new material because I haven’t done it [a special] in 23 years. I had plenty of material. I had to pick and choose, I had to figure out which ones I wanted to do and I had to make it cohesive. I had to figure it out and structure it. I tried to pick the most recent stuff, I mean, I didn’t want to go back too far in my chest. I think we filmed on a Thursday night. The week of, I kind of did it every night leading up to it.
Over that time, over those 23 years, you’ve obviously done a lot of on-screen work. Have you stopped at any point with stand-up, or has it been a constant?
It’s been constant, but not a lot. I would go through streaks. When I stayed in the city and I was filming Vinyl, I would go on every night that I wasn’t working. When I’m not there and I’m just in L.A., I go and do Vegas about seven times a year, and that’s a weekend and it’s in the big theater and then whenever there’s a charity, I do a lot of comedy shows for charity. And then basically its just when I’m in New York. So there could be a stretch of three to four months where I haven’t been on stage, and then when I haven’t been on stage in awhile, I’m like “I’m getting too rusty here.” In L.A. I just go to the Hermosa Beach Comedy and Magic Club and do a couple spots there and just dust it off and also try out some new stuff. But back in the day, I was up every night. Five times on Friday, seven times on Saturday. So it’s a lot different, but I never think, or thought, I was ever going to retire from stand up. No.
How has it changed in terms of your level of affection and interest in doing it?
I get excited when I have new material now. When I go to the city, when I go to New York and I haven’t been there in a couple months, I get excited to go down, even if I don’t have new material. It’s always fun to feel that energy again. It’s like, “Let me see if I still hold up.” You, know? [Laughs] And then, when I’m home… again I don’t sit down and go “time to write new material.” The material just comes to me. My son says something and I think, “That’s a bit!” My wife yells at me, that’s a bit. I have to structure it and write around it. But when that comes and I write it in my little binder, I write it in my book, or the back of my Month-At-A-Glance calendar and I think I’ve got something, I’m like, “Alright lets go down to Hermosa Beach and try it out.” And then if that gets laughs, it’s a high just like it always was.
Do you bomb at this point?
I don’t bomb, but I have shows that leave a bad taste in my mouth sometimes. I think when I was here last time I was doing a charity event — and now look when you do a show, a fundraiser, you never know what the situation [is]. Where’s the stage going to be? Where are the people sitting and are the waiters walking by? So you go up, and the audience is nice and polite. There are some of those where you’re like, “That was not that good.” And you know that saying: “You’re only as good as you’re last show?” That doesn’t go away after 30 years. I remember doing a charity in the middle of Manhattan for a buddy of mine and I came off stage going “mmm, that’s like a 6 out of 10.” And I wanted to go back to my apartment, but I said no. “I gotta go down to The Cellar and do a spot there.” And I went to The Cellar and did a spot there and I’m like, “Alright, that was a 9, so I’m averaging 7.5 for a night. I can go home.”