First things first: What's the funniest thing you've done so far today?
Nothing! It's not even eight-thirty in the morning here in L.A.! I don't punch in for funny until nine o'clock. I guess the funniest stuff is about to happen.
Then let's talk about Ice Age. How does working on an animated film compare with acting in a TV sitcom?
Technically, it's harder. You stand in front of a microphone with no other actors around. But it's also easier: You don't have to wear any pants.
The plot of Ice Age revolves around a little boy who gets separated from his parents. Have you ever lost any of your children at the mall or anywhere else?
Fortunately, no. I once got totally lost when my wife and I were out shopping, though. She finally found me by the women's-garment section.
Do your kids [Alexandra, 11; twins Matt and Greg, 9; and Joe, 4] like your new movie?
Yes. It's a cartoon, it has their father's voice in it -- it's blowing their minds! They say I have to do Ice Age 2.
You worked as everything from a gas-station attendant to a bank teller before becoming a comic. Which job best prepared you for parenthood?
I once washed trucks at a truck yard. They were parked so close together that I'd have to shimmy in between them and choose beforehand which way I wanted to turn my head. I'd hold a water gun and a broom over my head, and soapy water would run down my face.
That's exactly like parenthood. You're in a dire situation, but you end up with something beautiful -- in that case, it was a beautiful truck!
That's funny. Are your children comedians?
My 4-year-old's teacher says he's becoming the class clown. Whenever she asks what the children want for lunch, he says, "Frogs!" The other kids laugh, and then he launches into a story about the joys of eating frogs.
Do you ever turn your real-life family experiences into plots for your TV show?
About 70 percent of the stories come from things that happened in my family or the families of my writers.
Is your wife ever bothered by seeing you play house with your television wife, Patricia Heaton?
Anna sees that Patty thinks I'm an idiot, just like she does, which helps.
How about your kids -- do they ever get jealous of their TV counterparts?
I don't see it outwardly, but I'm always worried. I constantly think, What am I doing to my kids? I can sense when they want me to pay more attention to them, and I try to make them feel included. One of them comes to show night each week and takes a bow when I do my intros.
Have you ever let your children fill a role of any kind on the show?
Yes. They have cameos from time to time -- like if there's a scene involving a school play, one of them might be one of the kids onstage.
Are there any particular cameos of theirs that we should look out for in reruns?
If you're ever watching the wedding-flashback episode, pay attention to the ring girl -- that's Alexandra.
Are you the same kind of father that you are on television?
Not really. On TV, you don't see Ray Barone's kids that much. In real life, I'm a lot more involved with my children.
What are your big discipline issues at home, and how do you resolve them?
The main problem is when the kids don't listen to Anna and me. We'll tell them it's time for them to brush their teeth or read, and they'll mess around instead.
Our 4-year-old is the troublemaker now. He calls people names sometimes. The other morning, Anna said to him, "We have school today," and he said, "I'm not going, butthead." That got him a time-out. We're into those.
It's hard to imagine you ever disciplining your children.
I know, I know! I'm pretty much the softie in the house. Anna constantly complains to me that I let the kids get away with too much.
You've become a heartthrob among the mommy set . . .
I am? Really?
It's true! Why do you think women like you so much?
They think they can push me around and I won't do anything bad back to them.
Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the April 2002 issue of Parents magazine.