The funnyman extraordinaire talks about his show, poker and comparisons to Everybody Loves Raymond.

Brad Garrett is one of the funniest men in the biz and he has three Emmys during a successful nine-season run on Everybody Loves Raymond to prove it... for starters. He continues to bring the laughs in his series 'Til Death, which is coming back with all new episodes on Wednesday, April 16 at 8 PM ET on Fox. I was lucky enough to be in on a conference call with the actor and here's what he had to say.

Can you compare Eddie to Robert from Everybody Loves Raymond, in terms of how they're similar and how they're different?

Brad Garrett: I think they're just about as different as can be, and that's what attracted me to the role originally. Also, Eddie is, and this is something I may not want to reveal but I will anyway, Eddie is closer to anyone that I've ever played as far as to myself. I thought it would be fun to play someone that is as close to me as I can, because it's just a great opportunity for an actor or a comedian to do that. He's very, very different than Robert. I couldn't imagine them being more different, and mainly, he's very outspoken. He's really the alpha dog. It's pretty much his way in his life, or he thinks it's his way, where Robert knows that nothing is his way and he has succumbed to that. Eddie, I believe is more of a fighter, whether he believes it or not deep down.

When you signed on with this show what were your expectations? How big were you allowing yourself to dream? What were you hoping for, and have you met or surpassed those expectations for the show?

Brad Garrett: Well, I don't know if you ever meet the expectations. I think as any artist you always want to grow; you always want to get better. I think that most recently, especially right before the strike, I think the show just really started to kind of hit its own groove. We started to see the characters kind of develop in the direction we wanted. And to be honest, it took me a little over a season to find the guy who I really thought Eddie was. But as an actor you have to constantly reinvent yourself and you have to constantly try to raise the bar and do the best show you can every week. And I think we're going to get there. I think the writing is bumped up. I think the cast is starting to get more of a cohesive feel to it. So I have good expectations for the future.

Was there a lot of pressure on you when you were deciding what the next thing would be after Raymond, even it was all self-imposed?

Brad Garrett: I'm the type of guy that feels pressure when I have to order dinner. I'm just that type of guy but that's my fuel. I work well with pressure. I looked at coming off Raymond as an amazing gift. I knew what I was working on was a chance of a lifetime and I also knew that I wanted to work as an actor there. It's like whether you're in a huge movie or you've just recorded an incredible album you've got to do the next thing, and that's part of being an artist. So I feel grateful to have an opportunity, and this is really also the first time I get to be a lead in a show and that was very exciting.

Was there an important time in your life when you came to the realization that you could be funny for a living?

Brad Garrett: For a living? I know it sounds cheesy to say, but it's something I just always knew. I mean, when I was young I would make adults laugh, and that's something that's rare when you're nine or ten. When I was really in high school, and I was working some of the open mike nights while I was in high school because I looked 21. I had sideburns when I was 11, so I think I knew then that-I was never sure if I could make a living, but I knew I would have to do it.

Quick question about your character. Do you have any input, or how much input do you have into what they do? And what would you really like to see Eddie do in the future?

Brad Garrett: Well, I have quite a bit of input, more and more as time goes on. I think we're all starting to trust each other more, and I think that's a normal track for a sitcom as it evolves. I trust the writers more, they hopefully trust me more. I just want to keep my guy interesting. I want to keep him more dimensional. I've tried to move him in the direction of more introspective in a bullheaded way, as opposed to just really a bitter guy. I mean you're always tweaking your character. I just want to keep him interesting but I want to keep him real. I want to do all I can to facilitate the ability that this is really a real 20-year marriage, and that's-I'm just coming from the school of "can this really happen?" every time I read a script and, "is this something married people would do?"

Is there anything specifically that you would love to see him do?

Brad Garrett: I'd love to see him start dancing. No, really nothing. I mean, to me it's just to me the show lives in the world of compatibility or the lack of it. There's really, I mean, as far as what I want to see the character do, no, not really.

You've worked in both movies and TV, which is your favorite?

Brad Garrett: Well, I have to tell you I love television. I think I'm better wired for television. I love variety as far as a project. I'm easily bored and the schedule of a television show, it just keeps you going. I mean there's not a lot of waiting around. It's different every week. I love theater and I think doing a sitcom in front of a live audience is the closest you can get to theater, and it's really the best mix of like standup and theater, is really a sitcom. I started as a standup and I still continue to do that as well, so I think I'm just a TV guy and happy for it. I think my movie career is kind of like my social life, I'm picky and not in demand. So it perhaps is working out.

What other projects are you working on?

B. Garrett: Well, let me see, I'm working on a show called 'Til Death and really nothing else going on. I'm doing a standup tour this summer, and I still continue to do that and that's really my first love, and it also keeps it very real. I still think it's the only thing you can do in this industry where you truly solo. I mean, you're your own writer, director, audience at times. I mean, it's really something that's never the same twice no matter how many years you work in it, and it's something you never perfect, because when you think you have it down all of a sudden you have a very tough night in Tulsa.

What TV do you personally watch?

Brad Garrett: I was a huge The Sopranos fan. I didn't miss an episode in all those years. I just thought it was really possibly the best television as far as drama. I love Curb Your Enthusiasm; I was a big The Larry Sanders Show fan; Seinfeld. I don't have much time. Between the show and being a dad of two little ones it keeps me going, but I don't do a lot of TV.

Can you talk about any guest stars that you might have coming up for the rest of the season? And then a second part of that, will we ever see anybody from Everybody Loves Raymond on your show?

Brad Garrett: Well, Ray (Romano) did a tiny, tiny, tiny cameo last year. Actually, he had one line in a restaurant at the end of a show, and really, to be honest with you, that's probably going to be it. As far as guest stars coming up, there is an episode we recently filmed where we met my parents that were played by The Sopranos' Jerry Adler, and Valerie Harper plays my mom. They were both just amazing, and we'll probably see that episode before the end of the year.

Do people freak out when they see you on stage (doing stand-up), like do they expect you to be Eddie or Robert, like people that don't know your act?

Brad Garrett: All the time. I even joke about it in the act. Ray and I just finished a nine-city tour, we just finished Sunday night. We pick about nine, ten dates a year that we do together, just really for fun. We're old buddies, obviously, but we're very different on stage and we think that's why the show kind of works. When they see Ray, I mean, he's a wonderful standup and his humor is very homogeneous and very family-oriented. Then when I come out they expect kind of a version of that, but it's really it's very ethnic humor. It's very improv-oriented, I bring in the audience a lot to it and it's edgy, I mean, there's no question that it's edgy. I just have to do what I do and that's something I've always done and I did it way before I played Robert, but people are surprised, and most people dig it because I think when they come to see you in a live show they want to see something that's different than what they've watched for nine years, hopefully.

Do people like go up to you and talk to you like you're the Robert character almost a little bit?

Brad Garrett: Well, people call me Robert. They yell Robert, and I look at them and I go, 'Hello, viewer.' But it's a good thing, and I know I was lucky to fall into that part and I'll always be grateful for it for sure.

You said earlier that there's a lot of Eddie in Brad, and a lot of Brad in Eddie. Tell me more. Tell me what you see as similarities between you and the character.

Brad Garrett: Well, we're both very candid people. We probably talk before we run things through our brain. We're emotional, but we're sardonic at the same time. I have a sarcastic twisted view on most things, but a very realistic view, I think, or at least what is really realistic to me. It's like I always say, if you're going to be honest with your wife you might as well pack up half your stuff while you're doing it. So that's why I'm presently living in a van. But I would say those are the main similarities.

I was wondering with the-when the strike was going on, like what did you do to like to kind of fill in the hours?

Brad Garrett: Well, I did quite a bit of standup on the road and did a bunch of casino dates, and hung out with the kids a lot. I have an eight and nine and a half year old boy and girl, and that's really kind of when I'm at my best. I love being a dad, and it gave us a great opportunity for some quality time. And there were a couple writers that I followed with my headlights off at night, but that was really it.

I've seen you on the World Series of Poker before. Any cards during the strike?

Brad Garrett: I played a lot of poker, too. I love it. I'm going to be in the World Series next year. I mean, I have no right to be there, but it's something that I love. I love cards and I've played poker a long time, way before it was cool. I'm not that good at it, it's like golf, I'm so bad at both of these things that it takes me away from the things I should be thinking about, if that makes any sense.

Well, maybe I'll see you at the World Series this year.

Brad Garrett: Are you going to be there?

I'd love to be there if I could get in a satellite or something.

Brad Garrett: How's your game?

It's not too bad. I'm sick of playing online though.

Brad Garrett: Well, come up and say hello if you end up there.

Absolutely.

When we were on set a couple years ago, or when you first started I noticed a menorah sitting there. Was that intentional, and how religious are you?

Brad Garrett: It was intentional. I'm Jewish in the show, as I am in my real life. I'm really not religious. I'm hoping I'm spiritual, I mean, I think I am. I don't do a lot of temple, actually. I pray with my children. I believe in God. I don't mind saying that, I'm proud to say it, but I do have problems with man's religion, and I try to kind of just go with the spirituality. If I could raise my kids about a higher power and doing the right thing, then that's really pretty much my religion. It's just too secular, religion for me, no matter what end you're into, it's only about this is the only way, and for some reason other people get held out of it, and it's not my thing. But I love being Jewish.

Being that there is a menorah there, are there any plans do you think to bring up any religious issues at all for any of the story lines?

Brad Garrett: Absolutely. And Joely's character, she's Catholic Italian, and we will be getting into that, just the same way the episode that airs Wednesday night we deal with racism and the new character who has been added to the show, J.B. Smoove, who everybody fell in love with from Curb Your Enthusiasm, is now a regular on the show. We literally delve into racism and what is racism and what isn't, and how it's seen in a white guy's eyes and how it's seen in a black guy's eyes. The writers came up with a brilliantly funny way, and a realistic way, to address that.

So I do want to address things that are mainly not addressed in most sitcoms. So I think the religious thing, I always like my ex-wife was Catholic and we're great friends today and we raise our kids like mom is Catholic, dad is Jewish. I used to say on the holidays, we didn't know which way to go, so I used to build a Jewish nativity scene and it was nine attorneys overlooking a small auto accident.

Oh, there you go.

Brad Garrett: So there's a way to mix it up and keep it real and fun. And at the end of the day, there's going to be one woman to answer to up there. That's how I look at it. That's my Bar Mitzvah speech.

'Til Death comes back with all new episodes starting on Wednesday, April 16 at 8 PM ET on Fox.

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