95 MILES TO GOR
When comedians make concert films, they tend to lean on Richard Pryor's Live in Concert as a model. But most comics can't sustain their acts for the length of a feature film (even Pryor had trouble filling out his three sequels). A year or so after ending his television series "Everybody Loves Raymond," Ray Romano tries a different approach with 95 Miles to Go, a documentary about his nine-day stand-up tour through Florida and Georgia. The film contains relatively little footage of Romano performing on stage. What it offers instead is a surprisingly unvarnished look at the machinery of show business.
An opening clip finds Romano performing at New York City's Comic Strip back in 1985. Already his herky-jerky delivery, with its pauses and unfinished sentences, the sense that frustration is rendering him almost inarticulate, is in place. Fast-forward 16 years, and he is readying a short tour with Tom Caltabiano, a comedian himself, as well as a longtime friend, "Everybody Loves Raymond" writer, and director of the film. Joining them is former "Raymond" intern Roger Lay, Jr., who shot much of the footage.
Getting to the first show takes some time, due in no small part to Romano's neuroses. Shown in graphic detail, they give a good idea of where the comedian finds his material, as well as how difficult a person he must be to deal with on a daily basis. His fear of flying means that the three have to drive from city to city. He seems to prefer Subway and Cracker Barrel to more respectable restaurants. And he gives himself weird punishments if he fails to meet challenges he calls "mind bets."
Like many of his peers, Romano's comedy seems fueled by guilt and insecurity. "I'm not that funny," he tells one audience. "Inside I know I'm not quite what they think I am," he confides to Caltabiano at another point. On the other hand, he's quick-witted and obsessive, a combination that led to several Emmys in a long career. Watching him and Caltabiano work out lines and discuss audiences shows just how hard comedy can be.
95 Miles... is especially valuable for exposing the unglamorous side of show biz. The endless lines of autograph hounds ("I smell eBay," Romano says while signing a stack of head shots in a theatre parking lot) might be expected, but the other demands on his time seem just as relentless. The interviews, radio shows, promotional spots for local TV, meet-and-greets and post-performance debriefings suck up most of the day. The rest falls victim to fans who insist on connecting with the star. It's no wonder that he spends as much of the tour as he can holed up in hotel rooms.
Of course, Romano's not complaining about his success, and 95 Miles... is too good-natured to be mistaken for an exposé. The film's DIY style proves endearing, just as the constant bickering between Romano and Caltabiano underscores their affection for each other. As long as Romano's fans don't expect a standard concert film, they will find this documentary very entertaining.