WASHINGTON — He won three Emmys on the CBS sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
“My act is a little raunchy, so people have to know they’re not getting Robert from ‘Raymond,'” Garrett told WTOP. “I get into a lot of midlife stuff, a lot of audience stuff ’cause I’m an improv guy by nature. Things that people like to think about. I’ve got no filter, my brother! No filter.”
Garrett will share the stage with Rita Rudner, a veteran comedian of numerous HBO specials.
“She’s awesome,” Garrett said. “She’s an old buddy of mine. We did this about three years ago last time, and we were talking and we were like, ‘Let’s do it again!’ She’s a blast.”
Born in Los Angeles in 1960, Garrett got his big break on the TV reality competition “Star Search,” becoming the show’s first $100,000 grand champion in the comedy category in 1984.
“A year before I auditioned on ‘Star Search,’ I was waitering at TGI Fridays,” Garrett said. “I was pretty new and I can barely look at that set today without wanting to put my head in the oven. But it was a great time. It was the first year ‘Star Search’ was on and I got lucky. I went up against a very funny guy and I did some hacky impressions and the country went for it.”
At age 23, he debuted on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” further elevating his career.
“He really did,” Garrett said. “It’s very odd to stand on the other side of that curtain you grew up watching. I guess that explains the dry heaves! It was wonderful. He was the king, and to get that opportunity, I was 24, it was great. I’ve worked hard, but I’ve also been lucky.”
After that, he began landing parts on TV sitcoms as a hit man trying to kill Will Smith in “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and a deranged car salesman in “The Bottle Deposit” episode of “Seinfeld.”
“I auditioned for Larry David and Jerry and I was a wreck,” Garrett said. “We knew at the time that it was the greatest sitcom ever and always will be. Nothing will match it. I loved it! Just coming up in standup, we would go watch Jerry. … He was like that at 21. He was brilliant. That [episode] was fun. We had trouble getting through some of the [lines]: ‘You’re not taking care of your car!’ He would try not to laugh, I would try not to laugh, and we’d have a blast.”
He became a household name on the CBS sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond” (1996-2005).
“The writing was amazing; that’s really the key in a sitcom,” Garrett said. “Having a cast like that had a lot to do with it, but it was great writing. The writers were all brothers, sisters, husbands and wives, and they wrote from that dynamic. … I don’t know how they every week wrote a play for 211 episodes that just hummed. … We miss those days, but we’re grateful.”
His role as Ray Romano’s older brother Robert earned him three Primetime Emmy Awards.
“Ray has two brothers; I have two brothers,” Garrett said. “We brought a lot of that dynamic.”
He remains in awe of his on-screen sister-in-law Debra, played by the great Patricia Heaton.
“She is a brilliant actor,” Garrett said. “She was one of the first comedic wives on TV that refused to play the victim. From an actor’s perspective, it was really a brilliant choice. She’s surrounded by this daily circus that just plops in her house. She could have played it like this ho-hum, put-upon wife, but she was just always swinging for the fences [as] the alpha in the show. I mean, [Ray’s mom] Marie was the alpha too, but she was passive aggressive about it.”
Speaking of whom, the late Doris Roberts (“Christmas Vacation”) and Peter Boyle (“Young Frankenstein”) delivered two of the most iconic grandparents in TV history. Garrett misses both actors after their recent deaths and cherishes the memories of working with them.
“I had a few failed shows and guest spots by the time Raymond came along,” Garrett recalled. “Ray was pretty much brand-new. We were sitting around and Ray was like, ‘Man, I can’t believe Peter Boyle is playing our dad! … It’s perfect casting because he was ‘Young Frankenstein’ and you look like Frankenstein, so everyone’s gonna think we’re really a family.'”
These days, Garrett is fresh off a guest spot on the CBS legal drama “Bull,” created by Dr. Phil McGraw and Paul Attanasio (“Quiz Show”) based on Dr. Phil’s early days as a trial consultant. The show follows Dr. Jason Bull (Michael Weatherly), a psychologist at a jury consulting firm who selects jurors for his clients and helps lawyers craft arguments to win over those jurors.
“I play Michael Weatherly’s wife Kimberly; if you haven’t seen me in heels, I gotta tell you, I’m like 9 feet,” Garrett said facetiously. “What happens in this episode is that Bull is being sued for the first time. The tables have been turned by a high-profile celebrity and he needs to hire a defense attorney. He comes looking for me, one of his mentors [back from] law school.”
For fans, it’s great to see Garrett landing fun roles, just like Romano in “The Big Sick” (2017).
“Wasn’t he amazing in that? I’m so happy for him,” Garrett said. “Ray’s growth as an actor if you go back to ‘Vinyl,’ which I thought he was genius in, to ‘The Big Sick,’ it’s just remarkable to see his range and ability. He’s always been able to play that humanity card, which is a tough thing to play, especially as a stand-up because we’re so used to hiding. He’s always been wonderful, but especially in ‘The Big Sick,’ I’m just sitting there going, ‘My boy has arrived!'”
The two TV brothers still keep in touch to this day.
“We still hang out; we still bust each other’s balls,” Garrett said. “We took our wives on a vacation in New Orleans. I love hanging with Ray because we’re very different, he’s so funny, we love food and we love poker. We went shopping in the bowels of a casino and he was like, ‘I don’t know if I should eat this shellfish because of Katrina!’ I’m like, ‘Ray, just eat the friggin’ oyster.’ ‘Why do I smell propane?’ ‘Ray, we’re at an airport. … Get cozy on your bag of money.'”
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