Though Everybody Loves Raymond is ostensibly the story of sportswriter Ray Barone (Ray Romano), the CBS sitcom’s signature message, title, and — arguably — the bulk of the show’s comic high points derive from his quirkily downtrodden brother, Robert, the NYC cop played by Brad Garrett.
Based on Romano’s real-life brother (also a police officer and divorcé who lived with his parents), Robert has taken on a ticking-time-bomb tension, thanks to Garrett’s heavy-lidded mien and leaden baritone. ”He’s beaten, very beaten,” says Garrett of his character. ”For him, the light at the end of the tunnel is the refrigerator.” The 6’8”, 270-pound actor, who shares a self-deprecating bent with his alter ego, is more of a fast-talking yuk-meister in person (think Rodney Dangerfield meets Lurch), but just as imposing. The part, he admits, ”keeps me eating. My vet said, ‘Stay under 300, or we’ll have to rebrand you.’ ”
Garrett’s biggest laughs stem from a bizarre compulsion that requires Robert to touch objects to his chin before using or eating them. (A telltale Cheerio on Ray’s kids’ chins is evidence that Robert has visited.) When Romano’s real brother joined the cast for dinner, Garrett resisted asking him to reenact this ritual: ”I figured we’re humiliating him enough, poor guy.”
The L.A.-based Garrett began doing stand-up at 18 and dropped out of UCLA after six weeks when he landed a 7UP commercial. A 1984 Star Search appearance netted him the show’s first grand championship and $100,000. Prior to Raymond, he appeared in two flopped sitcoms (including last year’s The Pursuit of Happiness) and did a noteworthy turn as a crazed mechanic who kidnaps Jerry’s car in a 1996 Seinfeld episode. At 37, he’s living single. ”I don’t know how to do [relationships]” he says. ”Commitment for me is walking as far as the ice machine.”
As the show’s prospects have improved (it made a staggering Nielsen jump — from 73 to 12 — when CBS moved it from Friday to its current Monday-night slot), so have Garrett’s. In addition to a beefier part on Raymond, he’s snagged his first big-screen lead, playing another tightly wound civil servant in a ”very, very dark” film called The Postal Worker (due out in 1998), which the actor describes as ”Sling Blade Goes to the Post Office, but without the talent.”
Garrett’s costar would beg to differ on the talent score. ”I call him Mr. Spin-off, ’cause he’s a year away from having his own sitcom,” says Romano. ”Brad comes in, says one line, and gets the biggest laugh. Sonuvabitch.”