Behind the Laughter Curtain: Image(in)ing Later Life Marriage through Comedy

Curator's Note

It is in laughter that we make meaningful the comic representations of later life romantic relationships such as that of Frank (Peter Doyle) and Marie (Doris Roberts) Marone in the Emmy award winning situated comedy Everybody Loves Raymond. Some argue that we laugh at such representations to render possible images as obscene, such as older adult sexuality, infidelity, and divorce; laughter serves to keep such images buried and hidden. Certainly many, if not most, images of older adult romantic relationship in film and television limit and push frank conversations about the conditions of later life behind closed doors, behind the mocking voice of the laughter curtain.


Yet in some cases we laugh with the stories being told through image. It is our shared laughter and talk about those stories that we imagine the unseen and unspoken possibility for later life committed relationships. The comic narrative, particularly the characterization of Frank and Marie Marone in this montage and the situated comedy at large, offer more for imagination. Comic devices often situate the viewer with the characters, opening opportunities for identification and imagination of that which is both implied and absent in the images.  In such instances serious relational matters framed comically, such as the final clip when Marie confronts Frank for his inability to talk openly and give back those who love him, can enable an opening for critical assessment of relationships, our own and others.

 The comic use of the elongated pause and stare used so frequently by Frank in response to Marie offer a narrative space for viewers to imagine, not only a host of possible punch lines, but also the relationship behind the laughter. That relationship “behind (and in) the laughter” enable the imagination of harmony and playfulness in what appears as humorous discord. In the opening scene, for example, Marie chides Frank for his embarrassing comment about the female radio host who is visiting. When it appears that Marie will not “let” Frank talk, Frank begins singing “I’m not listening anymore do-da, do-da.” Shortly thereafter Marie covers her ears, faces Frank, and begins singing “Frank Marone shut up . . .”, creating synchronous overlapping comic harmony that introduces the characters as lovable mistaken clowns, in the Burkean sense, for us to identify with, see the err in their ways, and even possibly imagine a serious relationship that is behind what is presented.


Thanks for this link, Melissa, and these clips are quite representative of my experience of the Barone marriage as a whole!  Their relationship has always perplexed me, as there does seem to be genuine care for one another - as seen in other moments in the show, such as one where Marie sleeps over with Allie (at Ray's request) and Frank shows up because he's missing his wife OR the rare moments when they hug or kiss, as when Ray, Robert, and Frank pretend to be in therapy together.  The majority of the time their relationship seems to be help up as the "anti-marriage" example, the one Debra fears hers and Ray's becoming.  The conflict they experience is essential to the existence of their relationship, and yet appears to outsiders as evidence of their incompatibility. 

In your clip, Marie's comment, "you take and take and take" actually seems to fit the interpersonal needs approach to relationships - she obviously has the need to give so his need to take makes them quite compatible.

You're probably already doing this, but these clips and others would provide excellent discussion points in any relational communication course.  Isn't there an episode where they explicitly discuss the stability of their marriage, their experience of conflict? and if I remember correctly, this episode poignantly reveals some of the inner workings of their marriage.....

Great selection and analysis - hope you're working on some papers here!

Thank you for the discussion, Melissa. Everybody loves Raymond is one of my favorite comedy shows! Even though most of the times Frank seems to ignore or dismiss Marie's needs for connection, Marie understands how their relationship works. There are three episodes where Frank showed his love for Marie that are quite touching. 1. It is towards the end of the show. Deb and Ray stood outside of Marie's kitchen looking in. Marie and Frank were having dinner. They passed food to each other without saying a word. Their actions were synchronized in a way that they did not need to say anything to understand what each other wants. 2. It is also towrads the end of the show. Marie was laying on bed, sobbing over their sad marriage. Frank, again without saying a word, walked to her side of the bed and put his arm around her. She tried to resist because she had some cold cream all over her face (the scary blue color). But, he did not care and just embraced her close to his chest. 3. Marie got a new pair of eye glasses and everyone commented on this new pair of glasses except Frank. Marie was so disappointed that she believed that Frank did not pay any attention to her and their marriage was dead. Frank got so upset that he grabbed Marie's eye glasses and broke it into half, and walked out of the door. Marie, at that moment, realized that Frank was hurt by what she said and went after him.

In all the three episodes, Marie and Frank were fighting over something, and the conflict situation was framed comically. The punch line here, in all three episodes, is the way Frank acts. It is still within the comic frame but it makes you laugh with some tears. It is in these scenes (probably only lasts for a few seconds each time) that we get to peak in what's behind the closed door, the Marie and Frank world in terms of love and initmacy. I think that's part of the reason why this show is so successful. You see they get bitter with each other but you also see them express love for each other in a funny way (e.g., Marie just loves cooking for Frank, Frank cannot sleep without Marie). It is dialectic, and yet very stable. I appreciate how they depict older adults' romantic relationship on the show. It may not be the most ideal one, but it shows you that it can work.     

I love this clip, and I find the notion of seeing the relationship behind the laughter curtain very interesting. I have never watched other episodes of the show, but even this short clip gives me a feeling of their relationship behind the jokes. Indeed, the use of the elongated pauses and stares gives room for such imagination. For sure, it is great that this situated comedy includes stories about an “older” couple. Now I’m wondering what the portrayal of Frank and Marie says about romantic relationships in later life: Do their storylines suggest that there is something specific about relationships in later life, or are older adults’ relationships similar to those of younger people- same problems, just older people? The stories that they are involved in: Are they specific for “older” people, or could the stories also work with younger characters? Based on this short clip, I would say that the stories they are involved in and their problems are not specific for later life, and that the scenes would also work with younger characters. For example, Frank’s inability to talk openly and to show love isn’t reserved for older men, but is common among men of all ages…or so the stereotype says... (As an aside, the clip includes a nice example of the use of television to avoid interpersonal communication).

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