Burbank, Calif. Ray Romano, comedian, family man and avid golfer, has a twinge in his back.
Ray Barone, sportswriter and family man, feels that twinge as he bends down to look under the couch in search of a missing hamster.
Will that little ache show up on-screen? Maybe, if it adds to the humor. Probably not, if it doesn't.
The fine line between the real Ray and the character he plays has often been so blurry as to confuse even Romano.
"I want to keep it real, keep it organic, but little by little, Ray Barone is becoming his own freak. We originally had a contest of who was stupider, Ray Romano or Ray Barone. Ray Barone is winning now," the comedian says, his slightly goofy "hu-hu" laugh serving as punctuation.
Romano had tweaked a muscle hitting a bucket of golf balls prior to coming to work this morning at Warner Bros. studios, where his sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond" is filmed.
The aptness of the show's title is apparent in the solicitations of cast and crew, who suggest various remedies for his pain.
Audiences also seem to love Raymond. The sitcom about the pressures of close family ties is now in its fifth season on CBS, airing Monday nights at 8 p.m. Central. Nominated for nine Emmys this year, including an acting nod for Romano, it received a best comedy actress win for Patricia Heaton, who plays Raymond's long-suffering wife, Debra.
"What happened at the Emmys is just perfect for me, because I need, especially as, like, a comic, to be recognized, which I think I was there. ... But I also need to be a loser. ... To have both those things going on at the same time," he says, with his patent sheepish grin.
Even before his sitcom was born, Romano edged slowly into the spotlight as a standup comedian.
Originally from Forest Hills, N.Y., he can't pin down the exact occasion he first told a joke, but recalls using humor as early as the fourth grade to gain acceptance at school. "There was a group of cool kids and I wasn't in that group, but they didn't hate me either because I was kind of goofy and funny."
In his teens, influenced by the success of "Saturday Night Life," he joined friends in creating a sketch comedy group to perform at neighborhood community and church centers. "We called ourselves No Talent Inc. and we put on 'No Talent' shows."
Later, he held down various odd jobs, including one delivering futons. That situation worked its way into a flashback episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond," revealing how Barone met Debra. Actually Romano met wife Anna when they were both bank tellers. They now have a daughter and three sons (including twins), one more child than the Barones.
Phil Rosenthal, writer and co-executive producer, admits Romano had moments when he didn't want to do "anything which wasn't actually from his personality." He cites as an example Romano's reluctance to drink coffee in a scene because he doesn't drink coffee and believed it wouldn't look real.
Romano laughs when reminded of that. He admits he had to learn to act. But at least he doesn't have to dress up much to do it, favoring casual sports shirts and shorts whenever possible, on screen and off.
"Little by little, I realized we are doing a show and, yes, I'm sort of playing myself," Romano admitted. "But also this is a character and we are putting on a show to entertain people, and where a situation came up where in reality I would just sit on the couch and go to sleep, you can't do that for 22 minutes!"