February 25, 2020

Phil Rosenthal’s 3 Desires: ‘See Everything, Do Everything, Eat Everything’

Phil Rosenthal is best known as the creator, writer and executive producer of the critically acclaimed CBS sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond,” starring Ray Romano. Rosenthal’s new show, “Somebody Feed Phil,” is now streaming on Netflix, and showcases six cities: Bangkok, Tel Aviv, Lisbon, Mexico City, Saigon and New Orleans, where he eats an assortment of food ranging from high-end restaurants to street vendors. The Tel Aviv episode will be shown on the big screen at Temple Israel of Hollywood at 6 p.m. March 11.

Jewish Journal: How has your Judaism informed your work?

Phil Rosenthal: I’ve inherited a Jewish sensibility and sense of humor from my parents and all those who came before me. All the Jewish comedians, character actors and writers I was exposed to also reminded me of my family in their sense of humor. And with regard to the Italian family we portrayed on “Everybody Loves Raymond” — Italians and Jews do share two traits: all problems are solved with food, and the mother never leaves you alone. But, then again, what culture doesn’t have that? We’d get letters from Sri Lanka saying, “That’s my mom!”

JJ: Why did you want to adapt “Everybody Loves Raymond” for Russian television, despite having little knowledge of Russian culture?

PR: They asked me, and I thought, “Here’s an adventure!” And when I asked the head of Sony if I could bring a camera crew to document the whole thing and he said yes, that’s what really sealed the deal. So we did the show and made a documentary of our experience called “Exporting Raymond.” It turned out way beyond my expectations of a cultural comedy — and it’s available on Netflix, if people want to see it.

“Italians and Jews share two traits: all problems are solved with food, and the mother never leaves you alone.”

JJ: In your two food shows, “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” and “Somebody Feed Phil,” you travel to popular locations worldwide to sample the food. What prompted this?

PR: It stems from when we did an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” in Italy. Ray was not excited about going, so I thought that’s what this show should be about — his character not being excited about going, but once he’s there, he becomes very excited about everything, the food, the people, and so on. And when we filmed it, what happened to his character, I saw actually happen to the person! I thought, wouldn’t it be great to one day have a show where you could do this for other people, turn them on to the magic of traveling? It’s the greatest gift you can give yourself and your family.

JJ: You’ve been married for 28 years. What’s your secret for the longevity of the relationship?

PR: My wife is a saint. Oh, you want more? And sense of humor; I think that’s the most underrated human value. The other stuff of marriage can fade a little bit, but as long as you can laugh with your partner, that’s everything because that’s what remains at the end of the day. I think that’s how we pick our friends and that’s how we ultimately pick who we marry. The appreciation of each other’s sense of humor is everything and connects us in the deepest possible way.

JJ: Any charities close to your heart?

PR: Arts education charities. In fact, we have one run by my wife, Monica Rosenthal, called the Flourish Foundation (theflourishfoundation.org), whose mission is to support and provide opportunities for a complete education for middle school, high school and college-age students in the Los Angeles area, with a primary focus on the performing arts. We also support food banks, food charities and cancer charities.

JJ: What remains on your bucket list?

PR: The world’s pretty big. I have to see everything, do everything, eat everything. You’ll never be as young as you are right now, so while your legs still work, while you still have the breath in your lungs, go. At the end of our lives, we only regret the things we didn’t do.

Mark Miller is a humorist and journalist who has performed stand-up comedy on TV and written for a number of sitcoms.