By Belinda Luscombe
February 21, 2019
IDEAS
Luscombe is an editor-at-large at TIME and the author of Marriageology: The Art and Science of Staying Together.

The stand-up comedian and actor on money, family, success and death, as well as some important subjects

After Everybody Loves Raymond ended in 2004, viewers didn’t see you as often. But now with Get Shorty, your Netflix stand-up special and new movie Paddleton, our screens are wall-to-wall Romano. What happened? I’ve been working constantly since Raymond ended. It’s just stuff that some people see, some people don’t. I never stopped doing stand-up. And I’ve continued to do as much other stuff as I could–or as much as people wanted me.

You were reportedly making $1.7 million an episode by the end of Raymond. Does being rich make you more choosy? Yes. Yeah. I enjoyed watching Parenthood, and I called the showrunner Jason Katims up. I left a message: “Hey, I’m loving what you’re doing and I’m unemployed, and whatever my agent tells you it’s going to cost, I will do much better than.” And sure enough, they took me up on it.

Is there a threat to your dignity doing that? I wasn’t a no-name begging for a part. Although I’m very insecure, so there’s no way I thought I belonged on Parenthood. And when I was on it, I learned my lesson about looking on the Internet, because for all the people that loved me, there was just as many who said, “What the F is he doing there?!”

Have you ever noticed that a lot of the roles you play are guys whose lives didn’t quite work out as they’d hoped? I guess I’m attracted to that kind of story: the insecure guy, the underdog. I’m not going to be playing the super-macho stud. I’m realistic. Yeah, now that you mention it, a lot of these characters are guys who haven’t really gotten what they wanted, and are still searching and reaching for something.

After such success, how can you still be that guy? Insecurity is relative. Before I thought my cab driver hated me, and now I think my limo driver hates me. Look, I think I’m good at stand-up. Am I a great actor? No. I’m learning. Every time I get a new role, I’m petrified and I break out in some kind of rash.

Paddleton is named after an invented ball game. What is it with guys and pointless physical feats? I don’t know, but I’m very competitive. When I golf, I make little bets: If I don’t break 90, I can’t watch TV for two days.

At one point in the movie, your character waits too long to say “I love you.” Why is that phrase so hard to say? I grew up never hearing it from my father, but it doesn’t flow out of my mouth either. My brother and I played on the same softball team, and we had a hard time even high-fiving each other. I always say if my father hugged me once, I’d be an accountant right now.

In your special, you joke about your genitalia, your sex life, your wife and kids, all in front of them. How do they feel about that? To be honest, they’re sometimes a little jealous when they’re not in the bit. I’d never do anything they felt uncomfortable about. My wife gives me a long leash; I have to give her credit. She knows it’s comedy, and she knows it pays. She’s got a movie theater in her backyard. That doesn’t pay for itself.

You’ve been married for 30 years. Is “a long leash” the secret? Listen, here’s the thing. I’m in show business. You can’t not be a bit of a narcissist and not need attention to be in that business. So the reason this works is because she is a person who (a) doesn’t need attention and (b) can understand how I feel about her, even though it’s hard for me to outwardly express that. She’s the hero here.

Your new movie is about death. How would you like to die? Sniper. A very good sniper. I don’t want them to have to come down and check me out.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

This appears in the March 04, 2019 issue of TIME.

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