15 April 2024

Phil Rosenthal Reflects on TV, Family Ahead of Norfolk Tour Stop 

If You Go
What: An Evening With Phil Rosenthal of “Somebody Feed Phil”
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, April 20, 2024
Where: Harrison Opera House, 160 W. Virginia Beach Blvd., Norfolk, VA
Cost: $25-$55 before taxes and fees
Details: Ticketmaster 

Phil Rosenthal is not only the luckiest guy you’ll ever meet, he’s probably also the happiest. 

Rosenthal, the creator of ‘90s TV juggernaut “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and the host of Netflix culinary travel series, “Somebody Feed Phil,” has no apparent dark side; no skeletons hidden deep in his closet … all of which is exceedingly rare in a business where nice guys are supposed to finish last. 

In fact, if the very real Phil Rosenthal were pitted against fictional Ted Lasso in a contest for the most authentically kind person around, Phil would probably win in a knockout. His enthusiasm for life is the real deal and he’s bringing it to the stage of Harrison Opera House in Norfolk on Saturday, April 20. There, he’ll talk about helming one of the most popular sitcoms of all time while sharing tales of his time exploring unique cuisines around the world. 

Rosenthal was gracious enough to speak with VisitNorfolk ahead of his evening in Mermaid City. A Q&A follows. 

Question: You’ve recently started this 25-city tour in your hometown of New York City. How is it going so far?
Answer: It was just lovely. I love it everywhere we play. I love meeting the people who watch the show and like it enough to come out and see me. I’m just so touched by it. My favorite part is the Q&A with the audience. 

Q: There’s lots of questions from fans on social media about the content of the show. What can we expect? 
A: What I tell people is, you pay your money, you come in, the lights go up and I walk out onstage and eat a sandwich and then I leave. “Thank you, everybody!” (laughs) No, actually they show a highlight reel and I come out with a moderator and I tell funny stories about all the stuff that’s happened to me, all the way up through “Raymond” and trying to get a food and travel show and all the stuff that’s happened behind the scenes on the show. Then the Q&A is more than half the show because every new question can spark a story. 

Q: You’re playing in our Harrison Opera House. I know your mother (Helen, who was the inspiration for the Doris Roberts character on “Everybody Loves Raymond) was a big opera fan.
A: She would be very proud of me playing in an opera house, and she would be very ashamed of me that I wasn’t singing!

Q: You recently worked with your daughter, Lily, writing a children’s book. How was that experience?
A: It’s hell! (laughs) No, I couldn’t love it more. She texted me about a year and a half ago and said, “kids love your show, so why don’t you write a children’s book?” I texted her back and said, “that’s a good idea. Only if you’ll do it with me.” So, we came up with the idea for a story about a dad who will eat everything and his little girl who won’t eat anything and it’s called, “Just Try It.” 

Q: Lots of people want to know if your brother Richard (who was the inspiration for the Ray Romano character) will be part of the live show. 
A: He will not. I forbid it! (laughs) Actually, he’s gonna join me later in the tour. He came with me to New Haven (Connecticut) and The show at the Beacon. He lives around the corner. He came and he heckled. 

Q: You have run a TV show, hosted a podcast, written books, performed live and you host an incredibly popular Netflix show. Which is your favorite role? 
A: I love every aspect of show business except the business. The business gets in the way of the show. But the travel show (“Somebody Feed Phil”) is the ultimate. I’m the luckiest person you’re ever going to talk to. The rest is great, I love the variety, I love doing that … it’s all great. 

Q: After seven seasons on Netflix, how do you pick where to travel to next? 
A: It’s primarily based on where I want to go. Either I’ve been to a place and can’t wait to show it to the world or I haven’t been there — which is most of time — and we discover it together. It’s really fun. I Google, “where should I eat?” I have a production company in New York that used to be Anthony Bourdain’s production company. They have pictures all over the walls from the places he went all over the world from his 18 years on TV. There’s still a lot more left to do if they’ll let me. We’ve done maybe 40 shows, and there’s 197 countries, let alone cities, so there’s a lot to do still. 

Q: You famously do a “happy dance” when you eat something on the show that you really enjoy. Is that voluntary? Do you notice yourself doing it? 
A: It’s somewhat involuntary, but the moment I start and see that people around me start to enjoy it, I do extend it a bit. Because it’s fun. There’s no acting. My reactions are for better or worse spontaneous. I can’t really hide my feelings. I’m both blessed and cursed with this face. 

Q: Do you have a death row meal? 
A: All my childhood favorites. All the things I loved as a kid that I still love. Pizza, hot dogs, sandwiches, french fries, fried chicken, roasted chicken. I love chicken. A hot, open faced sandwich. Lots of chocolate. And I would finish with a bowl of my mom’s matzo ball soup. 

Q: Are you a fan of the Hulu culinary drama “The Bear?” 
A: I think it’s brilliant. It’s a great show, and it got even better the second season. 

Q: Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a place you’ve visited? 
A: I wasn’t (initially) excited about going to Vietnam because I grew up in the ‘70s and what did I know? All I knew was “Apocalypse Now” and “The Deer Hunter,” so that was my frame of reference. And I got there and it’s this magical, beautiful place. Now it’s like a dream. The food is great, the people are really sweet and friendly and it’s fantastic. 

Q: A lot of people weren’t sure that a food/travel show could be a hit after Anthony Bourdain passed away. But yet a lot of people have found their way back to the format thanks to your show. There are a lot of obvious contrasts between you two, so how does it work so well? 
A: Thank you for mentioning me in the same sentence as him. All of us who do these shows owe a tremendous debt to him because he revitalized and reinvented an entire genre. Everyone who does this is merely doing a take on what he did. I would watch him and go, “I’m never doing that because he’s like a superhero and an adventurer and I’m decidedly not.” And I thought, “maybe there is a show for people like me who love the whole idea of travel and are a little nervous to get out there.” Just getting off the couch for some people is a step outside their comfort zone. So I thought, “what if there was a show for us?” And if people look at me and they go, “if that putz can go outside, maybe I can, too!”

Q: Where does your relentless positivity come from? 
A: I’ll tell you where it comes from: it comes from being the luckiest guy in the world. If you wake up feeling a little grateful, then everything else is gravy.  

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