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Horror's 'Shock Value' Redefined In The 1960s.

Rosemary's Baby, Night of the Living Dead and Targets all came out in 1968. Theater critic Jason Zinoman says the three films redefined Hollywood horror in the aftermath of the Vietnam War — and influenced the genre for the next several decades.

21:36

Other segments from the episode on July 6, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 6, 2011: Interview with Jason Zinoman; Interview with Ray Romano.

Transcript

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Horror's 'Shock Value' Redefined In The 1960s

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Not everybody likes to be scared at the movies, but for those who do,
the late '60s through the early '80s was a golden age, with films like
"Night of the Living Dead," "Rosemary's Baby," "Halloween," "Last House
on the Left," "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "A Nightmare on Elm Street"
and "Friday the 13th."

My guest, Jason Zinoman, is the author of the new book "Shock Value: How
a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood and
Invented Modern Horror." Zinoman is a critic and reporter who covers
theater for the New York Times.

We're going to talk about three films he says launched the modern horror
film. Let's start with a relatively obscure one, the 1968 film
"Targets," which was directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Bogdanovich also co-
stars in the film as a film director. In this scene, he's trying to
convince an old washed-up horror-film star, Byron Orlok, to take a new
role, but Orlok wants out of movies. Orlok is played by the real horror
film star Boris Karloff.

(Soundbite of film, "Targets")

Mr. BORIS KARLOFF: (as Byron Orlok) Everybody's dead. I feel like a
dinosaur. Oh, I know how people think of me these days: old-fashioned,
outmoded.

Mr. PETER BOGDONAVICH (Actor): (as Sammy Michaels) Not after this
picture they wouldn't.

Mr. KARLOFF: (as Byron Orlok) You can't change a whole lifetime with one
picture.

Mr. BOGDONAVICH: (as Sammy Michaels) Well, what have you got if you
quit?

Mr. KARLOFF: (as Byron Orlok) Oh, Sammy, what's the use? Mr. Bogeyman,
King of Blood they used to call me. Marx Brothers make you laugh, Garbo
makes you weep, Orlok makes you scream. (Unintelligible) an actor. Oh,
it's not that the films are bad. I've gone bad. I couldn't even play a
straight part decently anymore. I've been doing the other thing too
long.

Mr. BOGDONAVICH: (as Sammy Michaels) Of course you could.

Mr. KARLOFF: (as Byron Orlok) And even that isn't the point. Do you know
what they call my films today? Camp, high camp. Wait a minute, I want to
show you something. My kind of horror isn't horror anymore. There they
are. Look at that. No one's afraid of a painted monster.

GROSS: That's Boris Karloff and Peter Bogdanovich from Bogdanovich's
1968 film "Targets." Jason Zinoman, welcome to FRESH AIR. Now, you see
this movie as a eulogy for the old horror film. Why?

Mr. JASON ZINOMAN (Author): Well, in the clip that you just heard, you
get a sense of Peter Bogdanovich, who made this movie, his point of view
about the horror film in 1968, when it's made. He didn't like horror. He
didn't even like "Dracula" and "Frankenstein."

And he thought that in an era where you had all this political tumult,
and you had, you know, assassinations in the news, that these old
Vincent Price and Boris Karloff movies were no longer scary.

And when Roger Corman, who produced this movie, gave him a chance to do
his first movie, it was under the condition that he use Boris Karloff in
the movie. So this was a real problem for Bogdanovich, because he didn't
think that Karloff was relevant anymore and wasn't frightening.

So he came up with a pretty kind of ingenious solution, which was that
he broke up the movie into two halves, one which is Karloff playing a
Karloff-like figure, an aging horror star who no longer is very relevant
and who delivers this speech which says that, you know, no one's afraid
of a painted monster anymore. And then in the second narrative, he
articulates, you know, what he thinks is truly scary, which I think
anticipates the new school of horror.

GROSS: And the real horror in "Targets" is a serial killer.

Mr. ZINOMAN: It's a serial killer, and it's essentially - you see this
guy who's inspired by Charles Whitman, the sniper, in Texas, and it's a
very realistic, almost mundane portrait of him buying bullets to a gun,
going about his daily life, seeing his family.

We learn very little about his psychology, his motivation, and then he
goes to the screening where the Karloff character, Byron Orlok, is
introducing his movie, and he goes behind a screen and he starts
shooting at people in a drive-in movie theater.

The only thing we know about this guy in terms of what his motivation
is, is you get one shot of him in Vietnam. So you know he's a Vietnam
vet, and these movies in '68 have a kind of counter-culture edge to it.
But what I think is more important is the fact of what we don't know.

You know, I think what Bogdanovich is saying is that the real world, you
know, sort of a realistic portrait that allows for some uncertainty
about what is evil, where it comes from, is much more frightening than
the sort of old Victorian notion of horror, which has all these
atmospherics: spooky old houses, this kind of expressionistic lighting,
which has become a little campy.

GROSS: So are there other things that you think separate the modern
horror film from the older horror films?

Mr. ZINOMAN: Yeah, I think - I mean, several things. I think that as you
look at this period from '68 to the end of the '70s, generally, first of
all, you see a lot more unhappy endings. There isn't this kind of
catharsis at the end that you see in a lot of movies before that.

The central kind of monsters are no longer werewolves and vampires and
the supernatural. The central monsters are - or I guess I would say the
central monsters become serial killers and zombies. And of course
there's still a lot of vampires in the '70s as well, but I think the
most significant one is probably the serial killer.

And I think the other thing that marks it is there's a certain kind of
moral ambiguity about these movies and just generally a sort sense of
confusion and disorientation that marks most of these films.

GROSS: One of the films you write about is the 1968 film "Night of the
Living Dead," a zombie classic, directed by George Romero. Before we
talk about it, let's hear the opening scene. And in this scene, a
brother and sister have reluctantly driven a long way to their father's
grave, at their mother's request, for their annual visit to lay a wreath
on the grave.

And the brother and sister have been quarreling in the car because he's
been grumbling about having to drive so far. He doesn't want to go. And
she's annoyed with him. Meanwhile, it's a very bleak day. It's starting
to thunder as they get to the cemetery. And once at the cemetery, the
sister is kneeling at the grave in prayer.

As the scene goes on, the brother tries to scare the sister because he
knows she gets a little skittish in cemeteries. She gets really annoyed.
And then he says: Oh, look who's coming now? And it turns out the person
coming now is a zombie. So let's go back to the beginning of the scene,
where it's starting to thunder, and she's kneeling at the grave praying.

(Soundbite of film, "Night of the Living Dead")

(Soundbite of thunder)

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (as character) Hey, come on, Barb, church
was this morning, huh?

(Soundbite of thunder)

Unidentified Man #1: (as character) Hey, I mean praying's for church,
huh? Come on.

Ms. JUDITH O'DEA (Actor): (as Barbra) I haven't seen you in church
lately.

Unidentified Man #1: (as character) Well, there's not much sense in my
going to church. Do you remember one time when we were small, we were
out here? It was from right over there. I jumped out at you from behind
the tree, and grandpa got all excited and he shook his fist at me and he
said: Boy, you'll be damned to hell. Remember that? Right over there.
Why, you used to really be scared here.

Ms. O'DEA (Actor): (as Barbra) Johnny...

Unidentified Man #1: (as character) Well, you're still afraid.

Ms. O'DEA (Actor): (as Barbra) Stop it, now, I mean it.

Unidentified Man #1: (as character) They're coming to get you, Barbara.

Ms. O'DEA (Actor): (as Barbra) Stop it. You're ignorant.

Unidentified Man #1: (as character) They're coming for you, Barbara.

Ms. O'DEA (Actor): (as Barbra) Stop it. You're acting like a child.

Unidentified Man #1: (as character) They're coming for you. Look, there
comes one of them now.

Ms. O'DEA (Actor): (as Barbra) He'll hear you.

Unidentified Man #1: (as character) Here he comes now. I'm getting out
of here.

Ms. O'DEA (Actor): (as Barbra) Johnny...

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of scream)

Ms. O'DEA (Actor): (as Barbra) Johnny, help me!

GROSS: Once the zombie appears, they're trying to eat the sister. The
brother grabs him, grabs the zombie, and then the zombie starts eating
the brother and kills the brother. The sister gets away but dies before
the movie ends.

It's a really incredible opening scene. It's very atmospheric. It's
really spooky and, you know, very surprising the first time you see it.
So how do you think George Romero's zombies, his now-famous zombies,
compare to all the zombies that preceded "Night of the Living Dead"?

Mr. ZINOMAN: Well, first off, every time I go to a cemetery, I think
about this scene. I mean, this scene is just terrifying.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ZINOMAN: And I mean the impact - you know, my day job is I'm a
theater critic, and just last week I reviewed a zombie Western, which
was - had zombies which were like Romero's zombies. And today I got an
email telling me there's a play which is "Our Town" with zombies. And
I've seen a play called "Twelfth Night of the Living Dead."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ZINOMAN: So, I mean, it's just - you cannot imagine how influential
this tiny little movie in Pittsburgh has been, and so these zombies - I
mean, in the horror world there's this huge, angry, polarized vibe
between people who love slow zombies and people who love fast zombies,
and these are obviously the quintessential slow zombies.

And I mean, what you hear in that clip, I mean it's great that you
played this clip after "Targets" because when he is doing the voice, the
creepy voice of the old horror, that's a voice which is meant to evoke
Karloff, who is one of the great voices in the history of movies, and
Price, and...

GROSS: This is when he's saying: They're coming to get you, Barbara.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ZINOMAN: Exactly, exactly, that kind of echoing voice. That's - I
mean, these movies in '68, you have to - the horror movie was really
having a tough time in 1967. I mean, there weren't many horror movies
that Hollywood was putting out that were successful. And so these movies
were really grappling with what to do about the horror movie, and they
all are kind of - you see in that movie, again, Romero evokes the old
horror, and then the new horror comes lurching towards us, and...

GROSS: The new horror has so much more blood, guts, gore, intestines. I
mean, one of the producers of the film was from the meat-packing
industry, and he loaned a lot of innards for it.

Mr. ZINOMAN: He's a key figure in the history of horror. I mean, the
fact - I mean, this was the movie that kind of made gore mainstream. It
wasn't the first movie that included a lot of gore, but it used it
incredibly effectively and it became, you know, part of the kind of
artistic palette of horror movie.

And, you know, there's a scene, probably the most memorable scene in the
movie is when a daughter who's a zombie eats her father, and it's messy.
And you know, since then, of course, movies have gotten more and more
gory.

But I mean, the interesting thing is that the intentions of George
Romero were one thing, but how the movie was received was something
else.

GROSS: What was the difference between the two?

Mr. ZINOMAN: Well, a lot, but the key thing was that the main character
of "Night of the Living Dead," the hero, there was this sort of defiant
hero who was an African-American actor named - played by an African-
American named Duane Jones. And you know, at the end of the movie you
had this very strong African-American actor who at one point slaps a
blonde woman and who faces off against all these zombies and is, you
know, just a wonderful horror hero.

And he gets gunned down by the law in this very ridiculous way after
defeating all these zombies. It was viewed as a statement about civil
rights and a kind of anti-authority statement.

Now, the fact is, is that I talked to every - you know, a lot of people
who worked in this movie, and they said that this guy, the part was
written for a white truck driver, and he just happened - you know, they
didn't have a lot of money. They didn't have a lot of good actors, and
this guy auditioned, and he was the best guy for the job.

He insisted - he sort of didn't want this - his character to be a truck
driver and to be kind of a gruff guy. So he played him with this great
dignity. And it was sort of by accident.

And a lot of these - I mean, one of the things I'm fascinated by, by
these movies, is how they - a lot of their greatest elements happen
through a combination of, you know, strong vision and happenstance and
accident.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jason Zinoman. He writes
about theater for the New York Times. His new book is about modern
horror films. It's called "Shock Value." Let's take a short break here,
and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of theme from "Halloween")

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jason Zinoman. He writes
about theater for the New York Times. His new book is about modern
horror films. It's called "Shock Value."

So we've been talking about how there are three kind of turning-point
horror films from 1968: Peter Bogdanovich's "Targets," which starred
Boris Karloff; George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead"; and the third
that you mention is "Rosemary's Baby," which was a big commercial
success in 1968. Roman Polanski directed it. It starred Mia Farrow as a
pregnant woman who thinks there's maybe something wrong with her baby.
She doesn't feel right.

But her husband, her neighbor, her obstetrician all reassure her. Of
course it turns out they're all part of a devil-worshipping cult, and
Rosemary has been impregnated with Satan's child.

So let's hear a scene with her husband.

(Soundbite of movie, "Rosemary's Baby")

Ms. MIA FARROW (Actor): (as Rosemary Woodhouse) Guy?

Mr. JOHN CASSAVETES (Actor): (as Guy Woodhouse) Yeah?

Ms. FARROW: (as Rosemary) I'm going to Dr. Hill Monday morning. Dr.
Sapirstein is either lying or he's - I don't know, out of his mind. Pain
like this is a warning something's wrong.

Mr. CASSAVETES: (as Guy) Rosemary...

Ms. FARROW: (as Rosemary) And I'm not drinking Minnie's drink anymore. I
want vitamins and pills like everyone else. I haven't drunk it for the
last three days. I've thrown it away.

Mr. CASSAVETES: (as Guy) You what?

Ms. FARROW: (as Rosemary) I've made my own drink.

Mr. CASSAVETES: (as Guy) Is that what those (bleep) were giving you in
there? Is that their hint for the day?

Ms. FARROW: (as Rosemary) They're my friends. They're...

Mr. CASSAVETES: (as Guy) They're a bunch of not-very-bright (bleep) who
ought to mind their own (bleep) damn business.

Ms. FARROW: (as Rosemary) All they said was get a second opinion.

Mr. CASSAVETES: (as Guy) Rosemary, you've got the best doctor in New
York. You know who Dr. Hill? He's a Charlie Nobody. That's who he is.

Ms. FARROW: (as Rosemary) I'm tired of hearing how great Dr. Sapirstein
is.

Mr. CASSAVETES: (as Guy) Well, we'll have to pay Sapirstein, we'll have
to pay Hill. Well, it's out of the question, uh-uh, uh-uh.

Ms. FARROW: (as Rosemary) No, I'm not changing. I just want to go to Dr.
Hill and get a second opinion.

Mr. CASSAVETES: (as Guy) I won't let you do it, Ro. I mean, because it's
not fair to Sapirstein.

Ms. FARROW: (as Rosemary) Not fair to - what are you talking about? What
about what's fair to me?

Mr. CASSAVETES: (as Guy) If you want a second opinion, you tell
Sapirstein and let him decide.

Ms. FARROW: (as Rosemary) No, I want Dr. Hill. If you won't pay, then
I'll, I'll...

Mr. CASSAVETES: (as Guy) Ro? Rosemary? What is it? What?

Ms. FARROW: (as Rosemary) The pain stopped.

Mr. CASSAVETES: (as Guy) Stopped...

Mr. CASSAVETES: (as Guy) What was in that drink you made?

Ms. FARROW: (as Rosemary) Eggs, milk, (unintelligible)...

Mr. CASSAVETES: (as Guy) What else? What else? Tell me, Rosemary. For
Christ sake, what else was in that drink?

Ms. FARROW: (as Rosemary) It's alive. Guy, it's moving. It's alive. It's
all right. (Unintelligible). Don't be scared. It won't bite.

Mr. CASSAVETES: (as Guy) It's wonderful. It's really...

Ms. FARROW: (as Rosemary) I feel it kicking. It's alive. It's moving.

GROSS: So that's a scene from "Rosemary's Baby," which was released in
1968. My guest is Jason Zinoman, the author of the new book about modern
horror films called "Shock Value."

So how do you think "Rosemary's Baby" breaks from the past?

Mr. ZINOMAN: Well, "Rosemary's Baby" adopts this strategy that became
very common, which was - in the horror movie, which is to set up a very
kind of normal, realistic, mundane landscape and then introduce the
supernatural to get the audience to suspend its disbelief for a little
bit.

And you know, I think what you see with "Rosemary's Baby," what Polanski
wanted to do was to really - and it's a little hard to see now because
we've seen so many movies like this since then, but he really wanted to
keep the audience guessing on whether or not Rosemary was crazy and
imagining this, the fact that she was about to have the devil's child,
or that this was really happening. And he did it by shooting it -
emphasizing how subjective the movie's point of view was. And that's the
real suspense of the movie, which is, you know, is this really going on?

It's this very paranoid movie. And I think you see in a – say, like
"Black Swan." You know, it's one of the many movies today that uses a
similar tactic.

GROSS: Now, you point out that there's a decision that the filmmaker
made to not show what the baby looked like, what Satan's child looked
like, and in a more conventional film, you might have seen this, like,
monstrous little creature. You don't.

Mr. ZINOMAN: Right, right, because in Polanski's mind, this is a movie
that really wanted to be more about suggestion and wanted to be in the
mind of Rosemary, and that if you saw the monster - first of all, I find
it hard to believe that whatever special effects they had at the time
wouldn't date rather fast. So to not show it in this case was probably a
smart move.

GROSS: I want you to know that I recently interviewed Nick
Pomgarten(ph), a writer for the New Yorker, who wrote a piece about
online dating, and he says one of the people who works at one of the
online dating sites told him that a good way to find your match is to
answer the question: Do you like horror movies? And if you answer yes,
and somebody else answers yes, it's an indication you're probably a good
match.

Now, I tell you think this because I think your marriage might be in
trouble...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Because you mention at the end of your book that your wife
doesn't really like horror movies. So I thought I owed it to you to warn
you.

Mr. ZINOMAN: Trust me, I know. I know. It's on thin ice. I mean, I put
this in the end of the book, but when my - I have a two-and-a-half-year-
old daughter, and when my wife was, I don't know, eight-and-a-half
months pregnant, I was finishing up the book, and I was watching, you
know, "Alien" over and over again, and "The Brood," which are movies you
really don't want to watch when you have a pregnant woman in the house.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ZINOMAN: But yeah, I think my wife is at first sort of puzzled by
how much I love these movies, but she's game. I mean, I think she
actually likes them a little more than she used to. But no, they're
definitely not her cup of tea at all.

GROSS: Well, before we end, I want to apologize to any listeners who
feel that their most loved, their most despised, horror film was not
mentioned in our interview. But I will say there are many, many more
films mentioned in your book "Shock Value." So they can find some more
there. There was only so much time to get to so many movies.

Jason Zinoman, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. ZINOMAN: Thank you, it was a real pleasure.

GROSS: Jason Zinoman's new book about the modern horror film is called
"Shock Value." You can read an excerpt on our website, freshair.npr.org.
Zinoman also writes about theater for the New York Times. I'm Terry
Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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Ray Romano: Standup, Sitcoms And Real-Life Humor

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Ray Romano has made career of exploring the humor and the neuroses of
his personal life. His latest series, TNT's "Men of a Certain Age,"
which presents its second season finale tonight, is a drama with lots of
comedy about a divorced man and his friends who are working their way
through various sorts of middle-aged crises. Romano's previous TV
series, "Everybody Loves Raymond," was a hit sitcom about a married man
with his own small but endless problems. Ray Romano won an Emmy for
starring in "Raymond," and this year won a Peabody Award as the co-
creator with Mike Royce of "Men of a Certain Age."

FRESH AIR contributor and TV critic David Bianculli spoke with Ray
Romano. They started with a scene from "Men of a Certain Age."

(Soundbite of TV show, "Men of a Certain Age")

Mr. RAY ROMANO (Actor): (as Joe Tranelli) Yeah, all right. I'm in. I'm
in for your little weirdo weekend.

Mr. SCOTT BAKULA (Actor): (as Terry Elliott) Great.

Mr. ROMANO: (as Joe Tranelli) Good. You know what we should do? We
should play golf out there. They've got great courses out there.

Mr. BAKULA: (as Terry Elliott) Definitely. Yes. Yes.

Mr. ANDRE BRAUGHER (Actor): (as Owen Thoreau Jr.) Nope.

Mr. BAKULA: (as Terry Elliott) Oh, come on. After the procedures we can
go to that steakhouse in Palm Springs that you're always emailing us
about. You know, the one that brings the skewers of meat right to your
table.

Mr. BRAUGHER: (as Owen Thoreau Jr.) Renaldo's.

Mr. BAKULA: (as Terry Elliott) Yes. Think about it. You can't eat
anything for a whole day, right? Just imagine all that meat waiting for
you.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BRAUGHER: (as Owen Thoreau, Jr.) All right, I'll go.

Mr. BAKULA: (as Terry Elliott) Of course you're going.

Mr. ROMANO: (as Joe Tranelli) All right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: (as Joe Tranelli) We'll be the Three Muskerears(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAUGHER: (as Owen Thoreau, Jr.) I'm not going if you're going to be
making all these stupid ass jokes, okay? No puns. None of that nonsense.

Mr. ROMANO: (as Joe Tranelli) There's going to be a lot of those.

Mr. BAKULA: (as Terry Elliott) Half the reason to go.

Mr. ROMANO: (as Joe Tranelli) I'm excited.

DAVID BIANCULLI: That was Scott Bakula, Andre Braugher and our guest,
Ray Romano, in a scene from last season's "Men of a Certain Age." Ray
Romano, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. ROMANO: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

BIANCULLI: It must be fun playing these scenes. But it's so different
than what you did on "Raymond." So what do you lose and what do you gain
by switching to drama rather than for camera so there's no audience,
there's multiple takes?

Mr. ROMANO: The only thing I miss from the sitcom format is that
immediate gratification of when you're, if we're talking about comedy,
of the live audience. And as a former - as a standup, I don't want to
say former standup because I'm still a standup...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: Yeah. You know, I live off of that. It's my energy source,
so to speak, and there is none of that when you're doing a single
camera.

BIANCULLI: You talk about the surprises and the energy that the audience
gave you in a sitcom.

Mr. ROMANO: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: How many surprises and how much energy do your co-stars give
you in the filming this way? I mean Andre Braugher, for example, as far
as I'm concerned, is an amazing dramatic actor. And I was stunned...

Mr. ROMANO: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: ...by how funny he can be in this.

Mr. ROMANO: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: And the flip of that, which is a compliment to you, is how
good you are as a dramatic actor acting opposite these guys. So what's
that like from your perspective?

Mr. ROMANO: Well, as far as Andre being funny, that's an interesting
thing because when we wrote it, we wrote the part for Wendell Pierce.
And the character was this guy who had a little bit of the weight of the
world on his shoulders and was overweight, a little bit overweight, had
let himself go a little. He was a diabetic and he was under his father's
shadow and he was kind of lost a little. And of course we knew there was
going to be comedy in it and there were many times when Wendell Pierce,
where there was some light, funny moments in "The Wire." And Wendell met
with us, by the way, and loved it and was really almost ready to commit
when the show "Treme" came up. And you know, we totally understood when
he said he had to go do that, he's from New Orleans and...

BIANCULLI: And that's another David Simon show, who did "The Wire."

Mr. ROMANO: Right. Right. Right. But he was very nice and he had to
politely decline. But somebody pitched Andre Braugher and, you know, our
immediate reaction - I'm being totally honest – was no – well, thanks
but no. It's not Andre Braugher because we pictured "Homicide."

BIANCULLI: Yeah.

Mr. ROMANO: We pictured the guy coming in the room and just owning the
room and his power and we definitely didn't think he was overweight or
anything or let himself go a little. And then it's funny because the
agent being the agent said, well, you know, you know, I don't know if
you've seen Andre lately, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: Yeah.

Mr. ROMANO: But so we agreed to meet with him for sure because he's
Andre Braugher, and he came. He flew across. He lives in Jersey. He flew
to LA and we sat down. We had a meeting and we talked and he loved the
script and he loved the idea of playing a character like this, so he
left and we were very oppressed. And all we had to think of was what
about the comedy, because there really was no comedy in that scene we
did together. But - and we searched the Internet...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: ...for Andre Braugher being funny, and let me, he...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: If you try to Google that, he - that's the only time Google
has failed. He beat Google. Put in Andre Braugher comedy and Google has
to shut down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: But we just said, you know what? Let's just go with the best
actor in the room and, you know, I'm sure he could take a note. If he
does, if he pushes too hard, we'll talk to him, and we never had to say
anything. You know, we briefly had a little comment because he was
concerned about it. He was concerned about doing the comedy part of our
show.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ROMANO: And we just, you know, basically said something like real,
'cause, you know, it's just all real. And he amazes me because we write
it, we write it in the room and we have our, we know, you know, the
comedy rhythms that - where how something is funny and what, and how it
isn't, and we write it with this rhythm in mind. And you know, there are
a couple other former comedy writers in our room also, and we all say it
out loud and we know exactly how this is going to be funny, and he says
it just the opposite, and it's still funny. It's just, it's even
funnier. He, you know, he does it like an actor and he comes with a
built-in Emmy nomination. That's good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: You know, Andre, you got nominated for the Emmy the first
year. Thank God or we would've got shut out.

BIANCULLI: If you're just joining us, our guest is Ray Romano, co-star
and co-creator of "Men of a Certain Age." Its season finale is tonight
on TNT. More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Our guest is Ray Romano co-star and co-creator of "Men of a
Certain Age," which concludes its latest season tonight on TNT.

In looking up your bio stuff for this interview, one thing that I didn't
know about you is that you initially studied to be an accountant. And I
thought immediately of Bob Newhart, who was an accountant and then out
of nowhere did standup and got this huge career out of just having the
nerve to go onstage for the first time when he made people laugh
privately. So was Bob Newhart an influence on you?

Mr. ROMANO: Well, yes, not for the reason that he was an accountant and
became a comedian. But - and by the way, when - studied accounting is
kind of stretching it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: I often wonder about the things that I read. Okay. Let's
clear this up...

Mr. ROMANO: No, I took, I took, I was always good in math, so when I was
flailing around and not knowing what to do, I figured, well, I guess
accounting is math. And I took maybe two semesters of accounting - like
Accounting 101 and Accounting 102, and then I just dropped out of - I
almost, I mean I practically dropped out of school, really. So I have
some classes in accounting but I don't know anything about accounting.
I, you know, when my accountant tells me all the things he does, it's a
foreign language to me.

But my mother used to tell me exactly what you just said - you know, Bob
Newhart was an accountant.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: She kept pushing that to try to keep me going. But Bob
Newhart...

BIANCULLI: In which direction? In accountancy or in...

Mr. ROMANO: No, no. In accounting. In school. Yes, in school.

BIANCULLI: Yeah.

Mr. ROMANO: And she would, you know, in my early days of standup,
instead of saying standup, she would make sure she brought up that I was
studying accounting instead of standup. But Bob Newhart was just an
influence on me on his - I mean I just loved to style, his subtlety. Him
and Bill Cosby was a big influence on me.

BIANCULLI: Growing up, was it the comedy albums or the TV shows? What
were your comedy influences?

Mr. ROMANO: Well, I will say my first comedy album and probably - I
guess I knew about standup but I think it was 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 an album. It was back in the days when it was a, you
know, it was a record that spun around. It was called, it was called -
it was Bill Cosby. It was "To Russell, My Brother Whom I Slept With."

BIANCULLI: Yes.

Mr. ROMANO: That was the name of the album. Yeah. And I was blown away
by it. And then I ran to his house and we listened to it together. And
I'm not saying I tried to emulate him, but that's what appealed to me.
This guy just talking - you know, it wasn't setup and punch line, it
wasn't jokes, it wasn't, you know, and that's, those are fine. Rodney
Dangerfield style was hysterical also, but this seemed more organic to
me, this guy just talking about his brother and then the father and this
and that.

BIANCULLI: How did you get the nerve to get into standup in the first
place?

Mr. ROMANO: "Saturday Night Live" was starting. It was 1975 was
"Saturday Night Live"? Is that right?

BIANCULLI: Yup, yup. That's when it started.

Mr. ROMANO: Yeah. And it's like nothing we've ever seen. "Saturday
Night," 18-year-olds, we'd stay in to watch it, and a group of us
started our own little sketch troupe. These are like five 17-year-olds
and we just joined together and we did it and the kids all came in and
it was kind of my first taste of what standup was like. So that was kind
of where maybe the bug of performing standup came. But it was until I
heard about the improv having audition nights and I called up and they
told me, well, it's every once a month we have audition night where you
come down on Sunday afternoon and you pick a number out of a hat, like
there's usually like 50, 60 people there trying to get a number out of a
hat, and they have 25 spots. So if you get a blank, you get nothing. If
you have one of the numbers you go on that night. And I went down and I
took somebody with me, a girl with me, a friend of mine, to pick a
number also so I'd have a better chance.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: And I told her if you get the number and I don't, just tell
them your name is Jackie Roberts. I made up a name that would be a -
what's the word?

BIANCULLI: Androgynous.

Mr. ROMANO: Yeah. Thank you. Androgynous. So she, of course, she got the
number. I didn't. She tells them Jackie Roberts, so that night I go on
as Jackie Roberts. I'm number 23 of the night, and I do well. And if you
do well they - she calls you back for the next month and I got a call
back, but I had to go on as Jackie Roberts, I wasn't about to tell her.
So - and I got a call back again. So for the first three months of
standup I was Jackie Roberts.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: Until I gave it up then, because I - once you experience
bombing, you realize how hard the business is and it scared the hell out
of me and I gave it up for like two years. And when I went back two
years later, I was, I just - I was Ray Romano. They didn't remember
Jackie Roberts.

BIANCULLI: I'd like to go back to your post-standup sitcom career. You
know, we've played something from your drama. Now to play something from
the sitcom for which you're acclaimed and famous and made a bunch of
money. "Everybody Loves Raymond." It ran for nine years.

Mr. ROMANO: Mm-hmm.

BIANCULLI: 1996 to 2005. And the clip that I'm going to play has you
with your mom and dad, played by Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle. And I
don't think I need to set up anything more than that. We can just run
it.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Everybody Loves Raymond")

Mr. ROMANO: (as Ray Barone) Dad told Ally that I am going to hell.

Ms. DORIS ROBERTS (Actor): (as Marie Barone) Frank.

Mr. PETER BOYLE (Actor): (as Frank Barone) He never goes to mass, Marie.
It's an open and shut case.

Mr. ROMANO: (as Ray Barone) You see? You see, Ma?

Ms. ROBERTS: (as Marie Barone) No, you should go to mass, Raymond.

Mr. ROMANO: (as Ray Barone) I don't want to go.

Ms. ROBERTS: (as Marie Barone) Why do you hurt me?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: (as Ray Barone) Look, I don't mean to hurt you, Ma.

Mr. BOYLE: (as Frank Barone) Stop hurting your mother. Go to church.

Mr. ROMANO: (as Ray Barone) No.

Ms. ROBERTS: (as Marie Barone) Ooh. Ooh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOYLE: (as Frank Barone) Look what you're doing to her. Go to
church.

Mr. ROMANO: (as Ray Barone) No. No. I don't feel like.

Mr. BOYLE: (as Frank Barone) I don't feel like it. That's the problem
with you kids today. Everything has to feel good. You think World War II
felt good?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOYLE: (as Frank Barone) You think Korea felt good? In my day
nothing felt good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: (as Ray Barone) Why don't you go back to your day and stop
ruining mine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOYLE: (as Frank Barone) Twelve years of Catholic school down the
toilet. Go to church.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROBERTS: (as Marie Barone) Frank, you can't just scream at someone
to go to church.

Mr. BOYLE: (as Frank Barone) Well, 40 years of your guilt hasn't worked.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROBERTS: (as Marie Barone) I need more time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: That's Peter Doyle, Doris Roberts and our guest, Ray Romano,
in a scene from "Everybody Loves Raymond."

Mr. ROMANO: I know the title of that show was the "Prodigal Son," if I
remember correctly.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ROMANO: Yeah. And I know how it ends up and all that. I mean I
remember the actual lines of the scene. It was just making me laugh.

BIANCULLI: What was it like bouncing off of them? I imagine you go from
standup, you go into the sitcom that you are learning in a university in
pretty high stakes week by week with these guys.

Mr. ROMANO: I was scared and I was coming off a not good experience of
being fired from another sitcom, "News Radio." I was wracked with
insecurity. And then I remember when we were rehearsing our first
episode, the pilot episode, and this is my show now, and this is a show
built around me, and there's Peter Boyle, and I hadn't really talked to
him that much and I was - his reputation just scared me. Who he was, you
know this, he was this hulking, strong presence.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ROMANO: And he was an actor. And during day one of rehearsal in
between one of the scenes, we - our paths crossed backstage and he just
stopped me, and to this day I remember him saying it and I remember it
because it was - I don't even know what it meant but it was such a
gesture of his. He just stopped me and he goes, it's just like water,
just let it flow. And that was it. And I, you know, of course it's a, I
know what he meant. At that moment I was just blown away that he would,
you know, be - this kind gesture of trying to make me feel comfortable.
And then we became great friends after that. So we used to hang out. He
used to take me out to dinner and he would say let's go to this place.
There's a lot of celebrities there. You'll have fun, to dinner. And we'd
go to dinner and he would be like the celebrity that everybody would be
coming around.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: Yeah. But he was a great guy. He was so, he was a
renaissance guy. He was - he knew everything. He could have a
conversation about anything - politics, government, this, you know, art.
Then with me - that was the great thing about him, he would dumb it down
with me. He'd talk about sports and Hooters, you know, with me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: He was just a great guy. And just the opposite, you know,
I'm only saying this because he's the opposite of the character he
portrayed on the TV as far as that goes. Yeah.

BIANCULLI: We're discussing Peter Boyle, who played your dad on
"Everybody Loves Raymond." If this isn't too personal a question, your
real dad died last year and...

Mr. ROMANO: Yeah, yeah. A year-and-a-half ago...

BIANCULLI: And if it's okay for me to ask this, how your relationship
with him changed over the years and was at the end. And I ask it mostly
because you mined so much humor out of the father-son relationship on
the sitcom as exaggeratedly played for comedy.

Mr. ROMANO: Yeah. Well, my joke used to be about my father and Peter
Boyle that anything you see Peter Boyle do on TV, my father has done in
real life without pants on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: So, yeah. We would take what my father did and censor it
down for the sitcom. And that's not to say - you know, our relationship
was actually really good at the end. But growing up he was, he came from
a family, his father left him when he was two or three and came back
into his life much - when I was an adult. I remember visiting his father
when he came back into the picture. So he grew up - you know, it wasn't
the best of situations for him emotionally and he was very
undemonstrative - that's just the way he was. I knew he loved me but we
never heard it. He had a hard time saying it. He had a hard time - I
never heard him say my mother's first name. Lucy is my mother's name and
I've never heard him say that because that was too intimate for him. And
this is how we grew up.

And as a kid I don't know. Look, I'm not going to make a big deal out of
it, but you know, when you go to standup, there seems to be a common
denominator of some form of need or want for validation from the
audience that maybe you were lacking as a kid or whatever.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ROMANO: As I got older, he had a very dry sense of humor, though. I
realize that this kind of is where I got it from - a super dry. And I've
told this story before, but he - and we did it on the show. We did it on
the pilot episode. He...

BIANCULLI: Of "Raymond." Of "Raymond."

Mr. ROMANO: The pilot episode of "Raymond" - he in real life, he would
drive my wife crazy in the smallest, subtlest way. He - the one thing
they did was he learned to play back our messages, you know, when we had
answering machines that actually recorded and you had to push a button
and play them back. He learned the code that you could call in and push,
you know, beep, beep, and it would play back your messages. He learned
our...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: I don't know how he - so he would listen to our messages and
then leave a message after saying, you know, hey Anna, your friend Linda
went to the gynecologist today, you know, you should check up on her,
and hang up, you know. And this was his little dry way and he thought it
was funny and I thought it was funny. And my wife would go nuts and say
that's like reading our mail. What's he doing? And she's like you have
to talk to him. You have to talk to him. And I'd say, dad, please,
don't, don’t do it. She's - and he'd go, ah, what. Whatever. I'm joking,
you know. And I go, I know, it's not funny to her though. And then he
trumped himself. It was about a week later, where he found out from an
outside phone how to change the outgoing message.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: You can change your outgoing message when your outside
(unintelligible) beep, beep, beep.

BIANCULLI: That's wrong. Yeah.

Mr. ROMANO: Yes. And then we call up, my wife and I call up from
somewhere outside to listen to our machine and instead of hearing me
saying hey, you've reached Ray and Anna, you hear my father's voice.
You've reached Ray and Anna. Yeah, they're not here now. You can leave a
message. If you want me, Al Romano, I'm at 718-268, whatever. And, you
know, it’s...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: ...funny on paper. On paper it's funny. And my wife, she, I
really think she started to cry. She almost started crying.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: And that was, this is who he was. He was like - kind of his
way of connecting. It was his way when he wasn't, you know, bothered by
something or angry, of showing any kind of affection, was just to do it
through these - through comedy, this silliness that we all got a kick
out of the women didn't. And then as we got...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: Yeah. And then as we got to, you know, as I started doing
standup and everything and he got a big kick out of it, and then there's
this bond we had through, just through comedy, through comedy. You know,
he, I would kind of make him laugh and he would always make me laugh.
And so we did connect. As an adult I had this connection with him that I
never thought I would have as a kid.

BIANCULLI: If you’re just joining us, our guest is Ray Romano, co-star
and co-creator of "Men of a Certain Age." Its season finale is tonight
on TNT. More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: We're talking with Ray Romano, co-creator and co-star of "Men
of a Certain Age," the TNT drama that present its season finale tonight
on the TNT cable network.

Your character in "Men of a Certain Age" is a golfer with senior tour
aspirations and gambling problems. And you in real life are a very good
golfer. And for the last four years, I guess, unless it's five, you've
competed in the World Series of Poker. How good are you at these sports?

Mr. ROMANO: Very not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: That's what's great about acting. That's the most acting I'm
doing out there, is when I pretend to be a scratch golfer or a golfer
who could make it on the senior tour. I am, I don't know if you golf or
not, but I'm a...

BIANCULLI: I have golfed. I'm not a golfer.

Mr. ROMANO: Right. Okay. Well, I'm a 14 handicap. Anyone who golfs knows
what that means. I shoot 90 to a hundred or once in a while 85. And as
poker, I, you know, we have a monthly game we play but I don't play a
lot. I'm acting and CGI-ing a lot on the show. But it's fun. I mean
that's what's - it's fun to pretend, you know? It's a fantasy of mine.
It's always been a fantasy of mine.

BIANCULLI: So in the season finale, which I have seen, and I'm not
spoiling anything. But there are many shots that are photographed at a
long shot where you make some really nice chips and some really nice
putts. And I was thinking either that was CGI or it's a different kind
of money pressure putt, because the money's on the line with production
stuff, so did you sink those shots or did you...

Mr. ROMANO: Well, here's what it is, here's what it is. It's - for the
putts, it's not that there's a different kind of money pressure. It's
there's many opportunities to make it. It's putt. Miss. Do it again.
Putt. Miss. Do it again. Cut. Cut. Cut. I will say this, though, if
anyone watches. There is a chip in the - there's a montage of me making
shots.

BIANCULLI: Yeah.

Mr. ROMANO: And there is a chip from off the green and then it rolls
about - I got to say 30, 40 feet maybe into the cup. First take, first
shot actually happened.

BIANCULLI: Wow.

Mr. ROMANO: And yeah, we...

BIANCULLI: That and the Peabody the same year.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: Yeah. But otherwise, most of the time I'm swinging the club
without the ball there because my swing without a ball there is much
better than when you put the ball there. Golfers will know that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROMANO: Once you put the ball down, yeah. And then we CGI the ball.
We CGI the ball going in the - this is for the long shots where we need
it to go. I mean I couldn't make a good shot but we don't have that much
film or money to waste that time. Yeah.

BIANCULLI: I think all my illusions have just been destroyed.

BIANCULLI: Oh no, don't say that.

BIANCULLI: Okay. All right, I won't say that.

Mr. ROMANO: It's not that I'm not a golfer. I could - I'll still beat
you in golf.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: Yeah. Yeah. There's no doubt of that. I could score 100 maybe
then have to play the second nine.

Mr. ROMANO: Yeah. Exactly.

BIANCULLI: Well, you're season finale is tonight and good luck to you.
Ray Romano, thanks for being on FRESH AIR.

Mr. ROMANO: Is that it?

BIANCULLI: It's pretty much it.

Mr. ROMANO: Oh, thank you. Thank you very much.

GROSS: Ray Romano spoke with FRESH AIR TV critic David Bianculli. The
season finale of Romano's series "Men of a Certain Age" is tonight on
TNT.

You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
137630206

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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