Stand-up comedian, actor, and screenwriter Ray Romano shared a taste of his creative process in a recent Off Camera Show interview. Being nominated for 16 Emmys and winning three for his work on his long-running sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, Romano certainly is a pro when it comes to comedy.

The 61-year-old performer demonstrates some practical steps on how he prepares for his stand-up acts. While his process will sound familiar to many other comics, it’s fun to hear Romano walk us through his modus operandi. First, he collects snippets of conversations he has with others—a combination of words and circumstances that strike him as humorous. He shared the following example with Graham Bensinger as well, saying:

“If something [humorous] happens, like most recently—this is exactly how it happened—my son just got his driver’s license, 16 years old, and he ran out of gas on the 101—say, a five-lane highway. He calls me up and says, as casually as I’m saying now, ‘Yeah, I’m out of gas.’ I said, ‘Ah, Joe, where are you?’ Even more casual: ‘Oh, on the 101.’ And of course I said, ‘So you must be on the side.’ ‘Nope. Middle lane.’ … I’m panicking. ‘What’s the traffic like?’ ‘Well, behind me it’s bad, but it’s moving in front of me.’ … It doesn’t get better than that.”

When moments like these occur, he jots them down in a notebook. Later on, he reviews his collection and elaborates on any potential jokes, trying to say them in several different ways, sifting out the unfunny from the funny. From there, he tries to figure out how to work the new material into a routine. Next, he fleshes out the joke with others. In this instance, he ran it past his buddy while driving to a comedy club, and he fit the joke into his act once he arrived.

Growing up in Queens, New York, Romano stood out among his peers because he was so tall. Hoping to stand out for something else, he was determined to make others laugh. Being funny became his goal, to the point where he dropped the ball with his studies. “I was a horrible student,” he admits. Aspiring to do stand-up, young Romano got up on stage to put his humor to the test.

“I quit twice in the beginning. I quit for two years, and then I quit for a year … The first time performing, I did well. The second night, did well. Maybe the third night, I started thinking, ‘This is easy, I can do this.’ And then the fourth night, bombed a horrible death, no different from any other comic,” Romano recalls.

Even though he’s experienced tremendous success in his career, whether it be related to his comedic or dramatic performances in both television and film, Romano is open and humble about his insecurities. When it comes to stand-up, it still really gets under his skin when people don’t laugh at his jokes. “I can’t say it doesn’t bother me; it does. And I never learn my lesson … Every time I think I’ve learned my lesson and I’m better, something will come up and someone will say something, and it will throw me.” With that, he turns it into a joke: “Before, I used to think my cab driver hates me, and now I think my limo driver hates me.” But over the years, Romano says he’s improved in keeping setbacks in perspective; he basically averages out his hits and misses and sees he’s still in good shape over all. But it’s his passion that keeps him stepping on stage to see if he can make audiences laugh.

And Romano is busy! His first stand-up comedy special Right Here, Around the Corner can be seen on Netflix. It’s an hour-long special set in two New York comedy clubs located around the corner from one another. He’s on his third season of the Epix series Get Shorty playing the film producer Rick Moreweather. He plays Bill Bufalino in the upcoming Scorsese film The Irishman to be released this year. And he stars in Bad Education, a comedy drama alongside Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney, currently in post-production.

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