Exit Interview: Peter Boyle

Perhaps West Philadelphia native Peter Boyle has already eased into semi-retirement, or maybe he’s just tired from counting all that ­Everybody Loves Raymond money. Whatever the reason, on the eve of the show’s final episode on May 16th, the 71-year-old didn’t sound quite as animated as he’s been throughout his long career. At times, Boyle cheerfully reflected on topics close to his heart (John Lennon, Ray Romano, Dirty Frank’s); others (a certain Gene Hackman vehicle) invoked his irritable Raymond character. But he was the monster in Young Frankenstein, and thus can do no wrong in the eyes of Exit Interview.

Exit Interview: Do you still have family here?
Peter Boyle: I have friends there, but I’ve lived in New York since 1960.
EI: I understand you were the life of the party at Dirty Frank’s bar.
PB: Actually, yes. I used to hang out there. When I’m in Philly, I go down there. Dirty Frank’s has become an institution.
EI: Any tales of drunken singing from the bartops, or a boozy knock-down-drag-out?
PB: No, no, no. I wasn’t into that scene. There was just a lot of drinking. Pretty straightforward.
EI: What led you to pursue the Christian Brotherhood?
PB: When I left West Catholic, I studied at La Salle. It’s a hard life, and at a certain point it got too hard for me. I didn’t go from there directly to Dirty Frank’s, but I was curious about life.
EI: Is it true that seeing Sheena: Queen of the Jungle was the last straw in your decision to leave?
PB: Well … it’s highly exaggerated. It might have pushed me over the edge.
EI: I also heard that you passed up the lead in The French Connection because you felt it—
PB: I have nothing to say about that. Next question.
EI: Sensitive subject?
PB: I don’t want to talk about it.
EI: Okay. Well, did you have a philosophy against making films that glorified violence?
PB: No. But I did a movie called Joe and I became identified with right-wing politics. I wanted to get out of that.
EI: Taxi Driver was violent, but not in a glamorous way.
PB: And I didn’t do any of the violence. I’m not against violence per se, but, uh, what can I say. It was a long time ago.
EI: It’s easy to pick out some of your finest movies—Taxi Driver, Monster’s Ball, Young Frankenstein—but is there one stinker you wish you could erase from your résumé?
There is, but I erased it so thoroughly I can’t remember it. I wiped it out. But I’ve been in a few bad ones.
EI: I’ve noticed you’ve been in a few movies with exclamation points—Speed Zone! and Turk 182!—and colons—Kickboxer 2: The Road Back and Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed—in the titles.
That’s completely unintentional. Although I do like punctuation. I believe in it, and I practice it myself.
EI: Should that be a warning for other actors? Too much punctuation in a title, stay away?
PB: Well, I think you’ve got to be wary.
EI: Because Kickboxer 2 …
It’s not a masterpiece.
EI: Another little-known fact about you is that John Lennon was your best man.
We knew John and Yoko. My wife [former Rolling Stone writer Loraine Alterman] and I had a very low-key wedding. At the last minute, I asked John to stand in as my best man. And he said yes. The rest is history.
EI: Did he sing?
: No. But he is John Lennon. And everything he does is memorable.
EI: Was there a heavy amount of recreational drug use at the reception?
No comment. Actually, there wasn’t.
EI: The “no comment” was better, but we’ll get you on the record saying “no.”
Yeah, that’s good.
EI: Any star-studded tales from your heyday in New York during the late ’70s?
I’m sure there are, but I can’t fish one out at this second. The ’70s was an exciting time in New York and in my career. I wish I had been more together to enjoy it.
EI: Together, as far as …
I wish I hadn’t been partying so much. Because I don’t remember all the parties.
EI: Half your memoir has probably disappeared.
Yeah. I’ll have to make up some of it.
EI: When you signed on for Raymond, did you have any idea a show starring a no-name comedian would keep you
employed for nearly a decade?
No, but I was hopeful. Not only was he funny, but he was a very likable guy, which is unique among stand-up comics.
EI: Ray isn’t the usual self-loathing, depressed comedian?
Well, I didn’t say that.
EI: So he’s got a healthy dose of self-loathing.
You got it. Just wrapped in a nice package.
EI: When you see people on the street …
Do I get recognized more after doing the show than
before? Yes. Believe me, being in about 18 million living rooms every week, people think you’re part of their family.
EI: Do fans expect you to act like Frank Barone?
Well, I do say “holy crap” if they ask me to.
EI: Is that enjoyable or just annoying?
Because Raymond is so popular, it’s enjoyable. When it first happened years ago, it made me uncomfortable.
EI: Are you at ease with your celebrity now?
Ahhhhh … yeah. Especially when I get a good table at a restaurant. On a very small, practical level, that really helps.