Nobody loved Phil Rosenthal when he first flew to Moscow to help develop the Russian version of his hit CBS sitcom, “Everybody Loves Raymond” – an endeavor he recounts as both the director and subject of his documentary, “Exporting Raymond,” now in theaters.
Never mind that the original sitcom – based on Rosenthal’s real family life, as well as that of its star, Ray Romano—was one of the most beloved television comedies of all time. During his first meeting with the Russian writers, they told him the character of Raymond was unlikable, essentially because they regarded him as a wuss. “They said, ‘We don’t like this Raymond, this man who is being told what to do by the women in his life. He’s not a Russian character,’ ” Rosenthal told me in my story from the April 22 issue.
Then there was the head of comedy for the Russian network who told Rosenthal he liked reading scripts of “The Nanny” and “Married With Children” – but “Raymond” wasn’t funny. ““I was having dinner with the guy,” Rosenthal recalled. “What was I supposed to say? So I just endured the rest of that meeting.” In private, the American showrunner remarked that the executive didn’t really look like a head of comedy: “He looked like a character from ‘Schindler’s List,’ and not the ‘List’ part,” he said.
How did Rosenthal, the lauded sitcom expert, the maven, feel about being dissed by the Russians? “I found it frustrating as I would here, but I also found the humor in it,” he said. “I knew that I was the butt of the joke and I’m fine with that.”
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While editing “Exporting Raymond,” Rosenthal realized he had become the central character of his own documentary. “People have asked me, ‘How do you edit yourself? How do you look at yourself when you’re in this movie and you’re directing it?’” he recalled. ” Obviously, there are people before me who have done this, but the only way I could get through it after the initial, Uch, look at that guy,’ was to realize OK, calling myself ‘that guy,’ was already a good place to start. I was removing myself personally and treating ‘that guy’ on the screen as a character.
“I think the movie is about a guy who thinks he’s an expert who goes to a land where nobody cares, and therein lies the comedy,” Rosenthal added. “I think we all have experienced that, by the way: We think we’re experts in our own house, but we’re not listened to. In my house, my wife is the expert. And by the way, my 13-year-old daughter is the expert, too.”