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More than luck: Phil Rosenthal, the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond, talks to AJL about his new book, Johnny Carson, and life after television's most successful sitcom.

Phil Rosenthal spent nine years writing 210 episodes of the critically-acclaimed TV show Everybody Loves Raymond which was nominated for more than 70 Emmy Awards. So writing a memoir about that experience wasn't such a big deal. In You're Lucky You're Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom, Rosenthal recounts how his hilarious life led to one of the most successful shows in television history.

Q: In Everybody Loves Raymond, you took your own experiences from life to write material for Ray's Italian family. What are the similarities between Jewish and Italian families?

A: Well here's how I figure. All Italian and Jewish families seem to be exactly the same to me. All problems are solved with food, and the mother never leaves you alone. To me this was a source of great humor--the matriarchal rule, which seems to be dominant not just in Jewish and Italian cultures, but as we are finding out from all the letters we get from around the world. We get letters from India saying, "That's my mother."

Q: Do you have a favorite episode of Raymond?

A: I don't. It's like trying to choose from your kids. I spend so much time with these episodes. I do love the Italy show; we got to go to Italy. I combined all the things I love in life; the food, people that I work with, my family, the sights and people of Italy, and I got a network to pay for this, which is a wonderful scam that I recommend. I also love the show "How They Met" and I love the finale.

Q: It seems that food keeps coming up as a common theme in the show.

A: If you go to the craft service table, and there's just sustenance there, you continue with your workday. But if there is something fabulous sitting there, some stone-crab claws from Florida or some deli from New York or some cinnamon buns from Chicago; you take a bite of this and you turn to the person next to you and go "Oh my God can you believe this?" You're bonding with a stranger over something nice. And eating together is one of the things that make a family a family. To me, the quality of the food is important, but what it represents is even more important.

Q: Do you still feel like a family with the members of the show?

A: Just this weekend the writers and wives took a trip to Napa together. Everyone is working on their own shows, but we try to see each other as much as we can and get together as much as possible. Over nine years, almost all of us stayed together, and we became a family, so you know these are some of my best friends in the world.

Q: In the book, you talk about meeting Johnny Carson. What was that like?

A: That was a dream. You know, it's funny. I had worked with the president of the United States on this little comedy video that Bill Clinton did. Johnny Carson had seen the little movie, and he said to his friend, "How can I get a copy of that?" My friend told me about this fellow who had seen the tape and had wanted to meet me and I said, "Who is it?" and when he said Johnny Carson I just about died. I said, "Well can I bring Ray with me?" You know for me, it's meeting a hero, but to a comedian, you're meeting God. So it was one of the great pleasures of my life to bring Ray to this lunch, and we spent two hours with Johnny Carson. He looked exactly the same. Over the course of the lunch, he started to do his different characters and recount stories for us that we would bring up of magical moments from the Tonight Show. It's kind of like you got to have him do your greatest hits.

When I got home, I wrote down everything I could about the lunch. I realized that I wrote more about Carson than I did about a whole week with the president. And I figure, the reason for that was there have been several presidents.

Q: Are the Raymond characters going to be in any movies, spin-offs ... a reunion perhaps?

A: I never enjoyed these reunions shows. I always feel like it was better left alone. It's nice to see people reunited, but they could be reunited on a couch on a talk show, and I could be just as happy. I like the slice of life that we presented for 210 episodes. We started in the middle of their lives and we saw this cross-section of their lives, and then we ended in the middle of their lives. What happens to them, it's like a book. You close that book, and you can have the life of the characters continue in your mind where you can dream up scenarios for them. I like that time for them, and it didn't feel stingy. 210 is a lot of anything.

Q: I read that you had some roles in Curb Your Enthusiasm and Spanglish. What's it like to return to acting?

A: It's exciting, it's a little baffling to me; I couldn't understand why they were calling me to put me in things because right away I thought, "What, did you run out of actors in Hollywood that you're coming to me?" It's so much fun to do! It's what I wanted to do when I was a kid. To now be very very old and returning to it is really fun.

I do it as much as they ask me to. I don't turn anything down really, unless it's truly out of my element. But I'm not giving up the writing; I'm not stupid.

Q: Is it true that your parents told you to "Turn the TV off. What are you going to do, get a job watching television all day"?

A: I didn't put this in the book, but as soon as I got a job in television, I sent them the biggest TV I could find with a note that said "Ha-ha."
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Article Details
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Author:Martin, Molly Beth
Publication:American Jewish Life Magazine
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Words:1036
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