Tonight at 9pm EST, sitcom fans will welcome back three-time Emmy winner Brad Garrett (Eddie Stark) and his co-star Joely Fisher (Joy Stark) for a third season of their "old married folks" sitcom ’til Death.
True, their on-screen next-door neighbors Jeff and Steph Woodcock are no longer in the ‘hood following the departure of actors Eddie Kaye Thomas and Kat Foster after two seasons to pursue other projects. That’s why there’s a new guy around the way in the form of Eddie’s new best bud Kenny, played by fellow standup comic J.B. Smoove.
Garrett recently took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss the Fox sitcom, his upcoming online series Dating Brad Garrett, which premieres next week on September 15, and his already infamous rectal exam on live TV during last Friday’s multi-network Stand Up to Cancer broadcast.
The Q&A regarding Garrett’s new Web series will follow in a separate article. So, for now, read on to learn more about the actor and comedian’s familiar TV work.
Is there anything we should know about the new season? I hear your neighbors are not going to be around.
BRAD GARRETT: The neighbors have moved on to different projects, to be honest, and sometimes when you start a television show, you really don’t know what it’s about until you get into it. We have discovered the strength of the show really seems to be the chemistry that Joely and I, fortunately, have been able to captivate over the last couple of years.
Joely and I had never worked together; we didn’t really know each other. When she came in to read for the part, it was really, really instant. And we’re just trying to focus on that marriage, and then have characters that kind of come in and out of our lives, like J.B. Smoove, who has been a wonderful addition who is back for a full season this year as well. Our daughter has just been cast as Lauren Storm, who is terrific. Tim Sharp is coming back as her boyfriend.
We’re doing a lot of exploring, but at the end of last season, at the end of year two, I think we really started to kind of get our momentum, and we’re really trying to see what the show’s about.
J.B. Smoove has been a really great addition to the show. How did it work out that you were lucky enough to get him? What do you think of him as an actor, as a comic, and as a person?
BRAD GARRETT: Lucky is the word. We all fell in love with him on [Curb Your Enthusiasm], and we thought he would be a great foil for my character, Eddie. When we saw him, we just thought, boy, how could we incorporate him in the show? It was a bit of a real tactical move to really land him here, and Sony aggressively went after him, and we were very excited about it.
Then one of our head writers came up with idea of the Big Brother. This guy was caught in the Big Brother program and never got his brother. We thought, what a funny way to get into it. The minute J.B. showed up, he hit it out of the park from the get go, and he’s been doing it ever since.
He has an amazing likeability about him and he still has that edge, which is the kind of edge that’s such a great counterpoint to these white folks growing up in Philly. He was just a great friend for Eddie because he’s a schemer and a dreamer like Eddie Stark, so it was just a great fit. We got very lucky.
As far as offstage, he’s just a terrific guy. He’s a standup like me and like a lot of the writers on the show, so we can very easily get to the funny.
In between seasons, is there anything you do to get to know Eddie a little more? Or by the end of the first season, did you know him inside and out?
BRAD GARRETT: I have to tell you, it took me a couple seasons to really get to know Eddie. How I played him early on, I wasn’t in love with it. I felt he had to be tempered a little bit, and I felt he had to be a little more vulnerable and a little more open. So, I’m always tweaking him. It’s funny, he’s closest to myself as anything I’ve ever played, and if I could just keep that into it and spice him with a little bit of humanity.
I feel that the last part of Season Two, the last part of last year where I had that swimming episode where I learned to swim because I wanted to do something great for Joy, take her to Hawaii where she always wanted to go, that’s really where the guy lives. He’s really just a big kid with crazy ideas and schemes to get to that next place in his life where he thinks he belongs, where he can make a better life for Joy.
Do you think Eddie and Joy will always be together? Is there going to be any exploring of them maybe splitting up and doing a little single life with both of them?
BRAD GARRETT: I don’t really know if that’s what we want to do on the show. I’m sure we’re going to address how a marriage can evolve or doesn’t evolve, and I think we may have a bump or two along the way.
I don’t know if we’re really going to get to where we’re exploring single life, per se, but you never know. They do have a lot of interesting stories coming up, and I think maybe one of us may. But I don’t know if it would be where we’re both out and about. I think we have more of a kind of relationship with that.
We’re very vocal about it, we’re very expressive, and even though we seem to be yapping and nipping at each other’s heels a lot, we do express it and get it out. And I think it’s the couples that don’t do that that really have the biggest risk of looking outside the marriage.
Most actors go their entire career looking for a single long-running series, and now you’re on your second. How gratifying is it to know that you’ve been able to play a part in two shows that lasted for so long?
BRAD GARRETT: I feel very, very grateful. I’m a lucky guy. You need a lot of luck, and then when the cameras role, you have to have this group of writers, directors, and actors that just gel, and it seems to literally be happening more and more. I’m blessed to be surrounded by the people I’m surrounded by. There’s so much strength and talent and that has a lot to do with it.
I feel very grateful. There are folks with a lot more talent than I that are not on the air, so it’s a crap shoot. But what was exciting for me was to take on a role that was very different than my Robert Barone role [on Everybody Loves Raymond]. This guy’s a lot like me, and it’s fun to play someone close to yourself, so I’m having a ball.
Even before Raymond, you played a pretty legendary sitcom character as the mechanic on Seinfeld. What was that like to be a part of that show?
BRAD GARRETT: Coming up in standup, Jerry [Seinfeld] was really one of my heroes, and it was just great to be part of it. It was their second to the last season. I went in and auditioned and read for Jerry and thought, this would be great.
It’s just amazing the amount of people that remember that role. I’m a bit of a car guy myself, so I am burdened with the personalities of mechanics all the time, and I just kind of took one of a guy that I knew. It was a lot of fun just to be involved with anything on Seinfeld; [it] was really a treat.
From your early days of standup and appearing on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, is there anything that stayed with you that helps you on ’til Death?
BRAD GARRETT: Sitcoms are great for people with standup roots because you’re in front of that live audience. I think the fear I had when I was on The Tonight Show at 24, you get through a night like that, regardless of how the set goes, and the set was okay, you get this feeling of "Wow, I could almost do anything."
I walked out on Carson, I did this, and it’s all a matter of— To this day, I have anxiety. To this day, I get worried or nervous. It never, ever leaves you. But you just get better at it. That’s what I learned. I look at what I did on Carson when I was 24, and I thought, "Oh, my god. I couldn’t do those jokes if there was a gun to my head today."
The key is to always grow and always get better, always risk and do things that scare you, like the prostate thing. I know it sounds crazy. I was scared, nervous to death. But you know, you get away from something like that, and it’s literally about conquering the fear, which makes you just a better performer, whether you’re a painter, a singer, or an actor, really.
You’re doing dating, and you exposed yourself last Friday with Stand Up to Cancer, with the prostate exam. How do you feel about doing the role since you’re really putting Brad Garrett out there.
BRAD GARRETT: As far as the prostate thing, I have to tell you, when [producer] Laura Ziskin called— First of all, you take Laura’s call, that’s for sure. I knew how passionate she was about this.
Phil Rosenthal, who was the creator of Raymond, wrote the bit, and they both called me and said, look, there are very few people that can get away with this on a humor level and there are probably very few people who would even do this. They said we want to bring up awareness through humor. A prostate exam is obviously something that is not the greatest four minutes of your life. They said is there a way we could gingerly do it, push the envelope, and make some awareness?
The exciting thing about it is when it aired, there was a company that manufactures prostate drugs for rehabilitation, and they wrote Laura a check for $10 million after the spot. They said it’s the first time anyone has taken this to a place where it’s accessible, where it’s humorous, where it’s real, and then there was a message. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.
Unfortunately, cancer has touched my life. I lost my father to it last November. He had battled it on an off, various cancers, for twenty years, and I’m involved with children’s charities. Actually, I have my own charity that I started that helps supplement families with terminal children.
I’m very, very passionate about the battle against it, as millions of people are, and it showed that night with raising over $100 million. Even though I am a guy, even with my crazy rhetoric and whatever I do, at the end of the day, I’m pretty darn shy. So, it was not easy, I will tell you that. I had to just put myself out there. I was hoping they would go down there and find my career.
Were you sure of the doctor? Was he a real doctor?
BRAD GARRETT: Yes, it was a doctor I was able to see, meet, and greet. I was going to use my guy, but he wanted too much money, which isn’t a joke. I think only in Hollywood would that happen.
Real quick, why do you think people keep tuning in to watch ’til Death?
BRAD GARRETT: I think because it’s, hopefully, they see themselves in this relationship. The majority of people that are married, or in a relationship, are trying to make it work. The majority, I’m going to say 90% of people that are involved with someone.
It takes a certain amount of work, and I think when viewers can see themselves in a relationship or different colors that their relationship has, I think it’s a feeling of comfort. It’s a feeling of, "Yeah, this is okay. This is what I’m going through" [or] "Oh, my gosh! My husband just did what Eddie did," or "My wife did something that Joy did."
That’s why we keep— The mantra I learned from the Raymond people, which I’ve tried to bring over here, is can this really happen? And if we keep the writing and the performances within the realm of everyday reality with relationships, then whether something is funny or not, if it’s real and believable, we’re halfway home. I’m hoping people find themselves in these characters.
‘Til Death airs Wednesdays at 9pm EST on Fox, starting with tonight’s third-season premiere "The Buffer."