It’s been almost 15 years since Everybody Loves Raymond ended its nine-season run and since that time, Ray Romano, the show’s star and creator, has mostly stayed out of the limelight. But before he was a sitcom star, Romano got his start in comedy as a stand-up and last week, he aired his first stand up special in 23 years with Netflix’s Ray Romano: Right Here, Around the Corner. The hour-long special features Romano returning to the Comedy Cellar, the club in New York City where he got his start. Unsurprisingly, the comedy vet has no problem owning the stage and Romano proves that he is at his best when he is joking about two things: facing his own mortality and making fun of his kids.
As a 61-year-old, it would be easy for Romano to play the role of old man yelling at cloud but instead, he seems content with being over the hill. Romano isn’t a bitter old man airing his grievances and the entire special is so much funnier for it, as the butt of the jokes tend to be himself. He knows his “best days” are behind him but instead of having a midlife (or three-quarter life) crisis onstage, Romano just wants to laugh at how weird getting older is, like the fact that he recently needed to take a knee during a sexual escapade with his wife. There’s also a killer joke about his dealing with his dog dying that we won’t spoil here but serves as a brilliant reminder of Romano’s top-notch joke-writing skills and fantastic deadpan delivery.
The second half of the special moves away from aging and focuses solely on parenting, a topic where Romano really shines. He has some solid jokes about the general parenting experience, including napping and yelling at kids, but he is at his best when he is taking shots at his kids, especially his 16-year-old son Joe. He notes that like all teenage boys, Joe’s perspective on the world is equal parts bizarre and idiotic. Romano muses with disbelief about Joe bragging that he has not showered for four days while also struggling to figure out whether or not he’s run out of gas when his car stops in the fast lane of the 101 freeway.
Romano’s twin sons, who are fully grown adults at this point, are discussed less but are nonetheless mocked with a merciless affection, primarily as the subjects of a hilarious story involving a traffic cone that perfectly captures the insanity of trying to raise boys. The only kid who escapes Romano’s jokes is his only daughter, who he refers to as “the good one” who actually “does things”, as opposed to his sons who he claims all delight in doing nothing. It’s clear that Romano loves all four of his kids because even when he spends five minutes mocking Joe, he does so with a specificity that only a dedicated and loving father would have. Comedians often tease because they care and it’s obvious to anyone that Romano cares a whole lot about his kids.
The only time the comedy icon struggles is when he talks about his wife, as he takes the easy route by falling back on lazy tropes instead of making any original insights about his long-lasting, seemingly stable marriage. He can’t seem to resist making joke after joke about his wife wearing the pants in the relationship and making tired one-liners about the lack of sex married couples are having, especially couples who have been married for several decades.
Are most of these jokes based in some truth? Probably and Romano is funny enough to make even the thinnest premise work. But considering how fresh the rest of the special feels, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed at him phoning it in with such a potentially rich and massive topic. For whatever reason, Romano seems much more comfortable making fun of himself and his kids than diving into his marriage. Even when he is arguing the merits of morning sex, it still is based on the same dynamics that feel like they belong in a sitcom that went off the air more than a decade ago.
Still, the jokes in Right Here, Around the Corner land far more often than they miss, as Romano proves that he still has an unparalleled ability to make small, simple observations that resonate with his legions of fans. Like any self-respecting dad, the only thing Romano loves making fun of more than his kids is himself. And as long as his jokes stay this funny, Romano will continue to be one of the best dad comics in the game.