Tips from Bjork and Lindsay
Sign up for the Blogging Tips newsletter and get (1) a free eBook, (2) free weekly blogging tips, and (3) updates on new FBP blog posts.Get Started for Free
Welcome to episode 144 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork talks with Phil Rosenthal about building his career and his new Netflix-original show, “Somebody Feed Phil.”
Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Jessica and Stacie from The Real Food Dietitians about growing their blog to have over 2 million page views per month. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
This is a bit of an unconventional interview for the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, but if you’re a food fan, we think you’re really going to enjoy it.
You may have heard of Phil Rosenthal. He’s the creator and executive producer of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” an actor, an author, and most recently, the star of the Netflix-original food and travel documentary, “Somebody Feed Phil.”
Phil is a die-hard food lover, and he shares that love as he travels across the globe and makes connections with locals. Building his career wasn’t always easy, but his “yes and…” attitude, fearless personality, and “never give up” outlook are all principles that you can apply to running your own blog and business.
Thanks to our Reviewer of the Week, Katie from BlackFern Kitchen! If you’d like to be featured, leave a review for us on iTunes and include your name and blog name in the review.
If you'd like to jump to the comments section, click here.
Bjork Ostrom: In this episode, I talk about one of my favorite books, and then I interview Phil Rosenthal from the Netflix original series Somebody Feed Phil and the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond.
Bjork Ostrom: Hey there, everybody. My name is Bjork Ostrom. You are listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast, and we are excited that you are here. The Food Blogger Pro podcast is brought to you by WP Tasty, which is the go-to place for WordPress plugins. Right now, we have two plugins. One is called Tasty Pins, and it’s all about optimizing your images for Pinterest and SEO. We also have a plugin called Tasty Recipes, which is for anybody that runs a food and recipe site.
Bjork Ostrom: Every podcast, we do something called a Tasty Tip, and the Tasty Tip is brought to you by WP Tasty. Today’s Tasty Tip doesn’t have to do with anything tech-related, but it kind of ties into some of the things that we’re going to be talking to Phil about today. We’re going to be talking a lot about sticking with it, what it’s like to be a creative, what it’s like to write, storytelling, all of these really important things for anybody that creates content on the internet.
Bjork Ostrom: One of my favorite books on that subject is called The War of Art by an author named Steven Pressfield. We have some copies of that book that Steven gave us. This was a while ago. We asked him to be on the podcast. He couldn’t make it, but he said, “I have some books. I would love to send those to your podcast listeners,” and we would love to send those to you, so we have some books that we can send, 10 different books, The War of Art, and would love for you, if you are interested to enter by either leaving a review on the podcast, which you can do easily from your phone, or a comment on this podcast episode, which you can get to by going to foodbloggerpro.com/144. That is the episode number for this podcast, 144.
Bjork Ostrom: We’ll pick out 10 different people and send them a copy of The War of Art, all about how to stay involved with any creative endeavor over a long period of time, which is exactly the thing that Phil’s going to be sharing today as well as some fun stories explaining what it was like to create this show, the Netflix original Somebody Feed Phil, which I have watched. I super appreciate both who he is and also how he talks about what it was like this, so excited to share this interview with you. Here’s Phil Rosenthal from Somebody Feed Phil. Let’s jump in.
Bjork Ostrom: Phil, welcome to the podcast.
Phil Rosenthal: Great to be here. How you doing?
Bjork Ostrom: I’m doing great. Usually, with these podcasts, we have a long setup time with Skype, fine-tuning, and sometimes people have to set up a user name. For you, it was a little bit different because you have done this many times before. On your show, you are Skyping with your parents every episode. Was that something that you had planned to build in? It’s such a magical time in the show.
Phil Rosenthal: Oh, thank you. I know. People tell me they like the show, but they love my parents, so I’m wondering why I bother traveling. I could just sit in the kitchen with them.
Phil Rosenthal: I did a movie about 10 years ago now called Exporting Raymond. It’s about me taking the sitcom to Russia to try to help them turn it into Everybody Loves Kostya in Moscow. I Skyped with my parents from another family’s house, a Russian family’s house in Moscow, and that became the funniest part of the movie, so when I got this show, I thought, “I’m going to Skype with them from every location,” because, first of all, they’re funny, and you always want that, and second, I feel like the Skype call is the modern equivalent of the postcard home.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a chance for you to connect to say what’s happening, and instead of sending a picture, it is like the actual, realtime footage of what’s happening when you’re there.
Phil Rosenthal: Exactly. I show them what I’m eating. I can point the thing out the window and show them the sights. They see everything. They get everything. I see them. It’s a two-way street, so it’s absolutely fantastic.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. One of the things that’s interesting with your story is that, and this is probably true for a lot of creators, that as they go through the process of creating their art, whatever that might be, there’s little pieces that you pick up along the way and say, “Hey, this works. There’s something here.” For you, I would be interested to go back even before Everybody Loves Raymond. What was your first few steps into creating, into writing, into storytelling?
Phil Rosenthal: Watching TV as a kid and going to movies. That’s it. I fell in love with the world. I’m old enough to say that, when I was four years old, Mary Poppins came out, right? I went to that movie. Maybe it was the first movie I ever saw, and I was just completely enchanted by it, and I said, “I’d like to do that. I’d like to live there,” better than where I was living. I would watch comedy on television. I would watch The Honeymooners, and I wanted to be them. I never knew there was writing, and directing, and producing. I just saw the people, fell in love with the people, wanted to be with those people or be those people.
Phil Rosenthal: In school, I started acting out in class, and the only healthy channel for that is the school play, and then I’m in the school plays, and then I’m in college, and I want to major in that. I never wanted to be a serious actor. I just wanted to be funny because that’s what I valued, humor. I loved it. I loved it. My parents are funny. You can see that. Everybody who was ever on TV or in movies who made me laugh, I wanted to be them.
Bjork Ostrom: In your journey, one of the things that I would say you can compare and contrast with other people who I’m sure saw those same movies, saw the same TV shows, and probably had the same feelings of, “I want to do this. I’m interested in being this person,” you took that path and walked that path, so as you look back at that, are there things that you can point to and say, “Here are the risks that I took or the mindset that I had as I ventured down that path?” Because it can seem easy, right? You are in plays, and then you’re in college and pursuing that, and then you do writing, but there’s also risks involved along with that journey. As a creator, what were those risks that you feel like you had to take, and can you pinpoint those moments if you look back?
Phil Rosenthal: Yeah. Oh, yeah. The risks are you’re going to spend a lot of time not doing what you love doing. In other words, that if we live in a world where everybody wants to do this, you’re in for a lot of competition. To be honest, I couldn’t handle it once I graduated from college, the acting life. It was miserable. I couldn’t even get an agent because I didn’t have the stomach for it. In high school and college, you audition, and if you’re any good at all, you get the part. I was a huge star in my high school. I was a superstar in high school and a star in college. Then I graduated and moved into New York City, and guess what? Nobody cared, right? That’s a bit of a wake up call for any young person. Now you’re in the real world, right?
Phil Rosenthal: I’m auditioning, trying to get auditions. I’m looking for auditions, but you can’t even get them unless you have an agent, and you can’t have an agent until you’re in something and they see you, so how do you do it? It’s just struggle, struggle, struggle, many, many odd jobs for years. I’m not talking about, oh, you have a few months of hard life, years of nothing, years of waiting, years of … and then you get a tiny role in a play in a warehouse in a terrible neighborhood, and your parents come to see how … let’s see how their investment paid off in your theater degree, and you have one line in some terrible Shakespeare thing in the winter, and it’s freezing in the warehouse, and they’re sitting there all bundled up with their coats, and you go, and the play is terrible. Yes, that’s acting. 99% of acting is that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s sound like you’re speaking from personal experience at that.
Phil Rosenthal: Of course, I am. Of course, I am, and I wasn’t until desperation, and I’m talking about desperation that took years in the making, some of us in college got together and wrote something for ourselves to be in. Why it took us years and years and years to get to this point, I don’t know, but sometimes, like they say, necessity is the mother of invention. We wrote a show for ourselves to be in, and that became a hit. Now, it could have been that, after years and years and years, we write a show for ourselves to be in, and it becomes terrible, but this one didn’t. This one worked and suddenly we were working, and suddenly we were the toast of the town. Then another friend of mine came to my house with a word processor in 1987 or 8 and said, “Let’s write a screen play,” and we wrote a screenplay not knowing what we didn’t know, and we sold it to HBO for thousands of dollars. I went from being a hundredaire to a thousandaire.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, which is a big jump.
Phil Rosenthal: I went from eating tuna fish for dinner to eating whatever I wanted, and so the transition into writing was made evident to me, “Oh, maybe this is what I should do.” Sometimes life presents you with what you’re supposed to do, right?
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Phil Rosenthal: So maybe you don’t try to be one of millions and millions of actors trying to make it. There’s only one thing slightly more stable than acting, and that’s writing. Right?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Phil Rosenthal: It’s the only other … Go ahead.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting because one of the things I appreciate with that story is that you are pursuing it and doing it, and I think that’s one of the things that’s hardest to do is to continually show up, but then also being present to the other alternative paths that are presented to you as you are doing that.
Phil Rosenthal: Exactly, exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: For you, that pivot happened with writing, and then you get into writing. You create Everybody Loves Raymond. It’s a huge success. It’s interesting to see you now in this stage of your career, shift a little bit, and then be back in front of the camera little bit more. Do you feel like that, in shooting this series with Netflix, Somebody Feed Phil, that you are able to scratch that itch that has been an itch for a long time, or did that go away, and do you feel like now you are … it is a different thing that you are pursuing with it, or has that always been there and now you’re able to fulfill that, in a way?
Phil Rosenthal: The more I learned about every aspect of the business, first in college where, even though you’re studying to be an actor, you’re taking play writing classes and directing classes, and you’re directing plays, and you’re writing things for yourself to perform, or writing essays, and writing little plays. You are learning all the … and I tell everyone in this field, “If you’re a writer, take an acting class. If you’re an actor, take a writing class. If you’re a writer, take a directing class. If you’re a director, take an acting class,” because they’re all connected. They’re all branches off the same tree, and if you make the branches stronger, the trunk grows stronger, right?
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Phil Rosenthal: When I became a showrunner, I was pretty good at it because I had the disciplines in my head, all of them. I could approach a problem on stage from an acting point of view, a writing point of view, or a directing point of view. It wasn’t always like it had been on other shows where a scene wasn’t working, we went back to the writers’ room and wrote til 3:00 in the morning rewriting a scene that maybe didn’t need to be rewritten if we had just said to the actors, “If you stand over there, and you’re next to the person, then that line works better, and the scene works better.” Maybe it was just a staging thing, right, or an acting thing. “If you say it like this or if this is your attitude in the scene, the whole scene’s going to work.” I got a very well-rounded education.
Phil Rosenthal: To get back to your original question right now, it’s very satisfying for me doing what I’m doing right now because I actually love every aspect of show business: acting, writing, directing, producing, editing. Right? I love it all. I love every aspect of the business except the business. In show business, the business gets in the way of the show, so I don’t like the business part. It’s the actual obstacle to getting to do what you want, right? There’s tons of waiting and miserable, lonely times waiting for your project to go or waiting to learn the fate of any given project.
Phil Rosenthal: It’s agony, but once it’s going, and once you do it, there’s no greater joy for me, but this is a judgment call for everybody, right? Not only do I love all these aspects of show business that I’m getting to exercise in this show, but the show itself, the content of the show, is everything else I love I life, family, friends, food, laughs, travel, so the show is about all that. This is almost the pinnacle of my stupid existence that I’m getting to exercise everything I love in show business and everything I love in life all in one thing.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. One of the things that’s so engaging about the show is you. Obviously, you are the main character of the series and of each episode.
Phil Rosenthal: Thank you.
Bjork Ostrom: In reading reviews, which overwhelmingly positive, and watching it myself, that’s something that you’re drawn to. I know a lot of the people that listen to this podcast are creators as well. They are writers. They are maybe in front of the camera. I’m curious to hear you talk about how you approach that, your character of Phil on Somebody Feed Phil. Is there a character dynamic, and if so, how do you develop that?
Phil Rosenthal: What a great question. I’m older now, so I understand what my personality is. The first time I was in something as myself was this movie I’m talking about, Exporting Raymond, right? Sometimes you’ll be on stage. We would go around the country while Raymond was on and, as writers, we would talk about the show. We devised this show where we would each tell a personal story of something horrible that happened to us at home and then illustrate the story with a clip from Raymond that that story became. Right? As we were doing this, you’re kind of becoming, not a character, but you have a persona that is … and you’re getting laughs with that persona on stage. It’s kind of a performance, but it’s kind of not. You’re just telling a story about who you are, but you’re realizing, “Oh, this is, I guess, the audience is reflecting back to you who you are.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, whether you like it or not.
Phil Rosenthal: Yes. It’s a type of theater. The way I sold this show was with a complete understanding of who I was, and that was this. I said, “I’m exactly like Anthony Bourdain if he was afraid of everything.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, which people can relate to, I think, which is kind of what I was getting at with the original question of the draw to it is … I think, when you watch Anthony Bourdain, you think, “Man, I am so boring.”
Phil Rosenthal: Exactly right. He is a-
Bjork Ostrom: “I wish I could be cooler.”
Phil Rosenthal: Yes. He’s cool, he’s a superstar, he’s an adventurer, he’s a daredevil, all the things I’m not. I watch his show, and I go, “He is amazing. I’m never doing that.” Right? I thought-
Bjork Ostrom: Whereas, with Somebody Feed Phil, you watch it, and I feel like, “I can do this.”
Phil Rosenthal: That’s exactly the point of the show. I thought people at home who were my couch mates would say, “If that putz can go outside, maybe I can too,” and so I found a niche for myself, which is everything, right?
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Phil Rosenthal: I understand. When I edit the show, I have to look at that guy, right? In the back of my head, yes, I’m not crazy. I know it’s me, but I’m also looking at that guy trying to be objective and saying this is funny to do to him. If an elephant hits him in the head with his tail, I understand why that’s funny. It would be funny happening to everybody, right? It wouldn’t be quite as funny happening to Bourdain because he’s not as schleppy as me.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. You’re referring to this great scene in the first episode where … and I think one of the funny things to … complements to building up to this moment is how that’s edited is there’s this really strong contrast where you talk about kind of becoming one with the animal herd.
Phil Rosenthal: Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: They kind of start to come … they are getting close to you, and you feel like a family, and then you kind of get smushed, and then you have to back out, and then one whips you in the head with its tail.
Phil Rosenthal: Yes, so obviously we caught that moment on camera. None of the stuff you just mentioned had been written at all. This was an accident that happened. By the way, you have to get lucky. You’re making a documentary. If that camera is off to the left, or off to the right, or at another angle, or it didn’t get it, we don’t have that comedy moment. That happened to be in the right place for that moment, so you have that moment. It’s hilarious. What is the best way, using everything I’ve learned from doing a sitcom, right, what is the best way to set that up so that you laugh the most? Then the writing comes in.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes. The writing happens … is made easier, I would assume, because of your understanding of who you are communicating yourself to be, not only because of who you are, but also because of who you want to magnify on the show.
Phil Rosenthal: Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: To speak to creators that are thinking about who they want to project themselves to be, who the character is that they want to communicate to other people, what would your advice be to them in order of refining that and understanding who they are better?
Phil Rosenthal: How strong is this point of view? How strong is it? They always say you have to have a protagonist with a strong desire, a strong want, right?
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Phil Rosenthal: Here’s what’s strange. What does Ray Romano, what does Ray Barone want in Everybody Loves Raymond? It’s very odd. He wants to be left alone. That’s a very odd thing for a protagonist. It’s an anomaly that happened to work because, if you’re going to be that, you better be really funny at that, and he is, and you have to be surrounded by very, very strong other characters who will not leave him alone. That was the dynamic, but it’s odd to have the person in the middle not want anything.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the challenges, then, for somebody who is developing a character, whether it be themselves or others, is figuring out what does this person want, and how do they communicate that desire?
Phil Rosenthal: Exactly, so in Somebody Feed Phil, I know what I want. I want you to travel. Every single moment of that show is designed to get you to travel. I’m using food and, hopefully, humor as the way to hook you, as the way in. I happen to be in love with food. I think a lot of the world is in love with food. I know that, when I plan a vacation, I’m planning where to eat first, but I also know that that’s not even the best part of traveling. The best part of traveling are the people you meet, but the way to get me to the country is how good is the food, at first, because first I want to eat. If I’m going somewhere, I want the food to be great because I love it so much, but every single time, every single time, no matter how great the food is, it’s the people that will remain with you forever, and the experience will remain with you forever.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, exactly, and the perspective gained from that experience and those people.
Phil Rosenthal: You got it, so for me, this is the most important show in the world. That’s how I have to view it. To make it any good at all, for it to be important to you at all, I have to see it as very, very, very important.
Bjork Ostrom: There’s a line in the first episode where you’re trying a unique fruit. I forget what it is, but you take it out, and you say, “I’m so glad I tried this because-”
Phil Rosenthal: Durian.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, yes. “I’m so glad I tried this because now I’m not afraid.”
Phil Rosenthal: You got it.
Bjork Ostrom: I feel like that is such a good example of what I understand the show to be about it trying things so you’re not afraid, and I’m curious-
Phil Rosenthal: Yes. You take a baby step out of your comfort zone. That is all of life. That is how we grow in any aspect of our life, “Ooh, I don’t know. Will I be any good at this?” I don’t know. Why don’t you try it? “Will this taste good?” I don’t know. Why don’t you taste it? We’re not two years old. We’re allowed to take a bite of something and not like it. We don’t have to finish it, but we all have this child inside of us like, “What if I don’t like it?” Yeah, so? So what? My wife used to say to my kids, when they said, “We don’t want to eat that,” they said, “You’ll have a no-thank-you bite. You’re going to have a no-thank-you bite.”
Bjork Ostrom: Meaning?
Phil Rosenthal: Meaning you’re going to taste it, and then if you don’t like it, you’re going to say, “No, thank you.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yes. One of the things that I think about whenever I have any type of big change or when I’m contemplating something new is not thinking about it as a permanent change but, “Hey, why don’t I try this for a week, two weeks, experiment and then see what comes of it?”
Phil Rosenthal: Exactly. Exactly right. Exactly right.
Bjork Ostrom: To go back to the fruit, so you try it, you say, “I’m so glad I tried it because now I’m not afraid.” I’m curious to know, for you, within this show itself, are there things that you were afraid of-
Phil Rosenthal: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: … and in doing so are now no longer afraid of them, and what are those?
Phil Rosenthal: Elephants.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, yeah, elephant tails.
Phil Rosenthal: Elephants, to be surrounded by elephants. I mean, you see it in the show. I am not thrilled. I thought, “I’m going to go meet an elephant.” Right? I’m going to go see an elephant, or maybe I’d see a bunch of elephants, but I wasn’t expecting to be suddenly surrounded by elephants walking towards me and surrounding me. It was very claustrophobic and actually felt like the scene in Jurassic Park where things start to go wrong, and so I was nervous. I don’t do this. This is not who I am. I’ve never done this before. They’re still wild animals. By the way, if I was surrounded by dogs, I would feel the same way, but these are elephants. They’re 10 feet tall, so yes, that took some adjustment, but don’t you know, before … I’m with an expert who’s guiding me, and before you know it, I’m in love. I’m in love with the experience. It’s magical.
Phil Rosenthal: Listen, I had to eat ants, right, in an episode. I don’t want to do that. I’m not Mr. Eat Bugs. I don’t want to eat bugs. I really don’t. The whole idea freaks me out, but I was in a restaurant … This is in the I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, the PBS show that is also available on Netflix. I’m sitting in Tokyo. I don’t know if you saw this. Did you see this?
Bjork Ostrom: Not this one, no.
Phil Rosenthal: Okay, so I’m in Tokyo. I’m at a very great restaurant. I’m sitting at a counter. They’re serving you like a sushi bar. He makes a salad, and the salad looks fantastic. There’s a little branch. It looks like a branch of a tree, and one ant is at the top of the tree, and the other ant is at the bottom as if it’s about to climb up. I thought they were plastic. I thought it was a decorative thing. “No, these are real ants.” “Oh, really? That’s funny. They’re decorative.” “No, no. You eat them.” “No. You eat them. I don’t eat them.” “Yes, you eat them. Taste them. They taste like lemon.” “Oh, well, in that case, could I have some lemon?”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. How about just lemon itself instead of something that tastes like lemon?
Phil Rosenthal: Exactly. Yeah, especially a bug that I’m supposed to put in my mouth. I’m with a lady, and she pops them in her mouth, and she goes, “They’re fantastic.” I’m like, “What is happening?” Now, I have to admit, maybe the only reason I did this … No, I think I would have done it, because I’m in Japan, and I’m following my own rule, which is try it. I’ve heard way more revolting things than an ant, right? I was going to say that the cameras are on, and you get a tiny bit braver because the cameras are on, right?
Bjork Ostrom: Right, yeah.
Phil Rosenthal: You’re also feeling like, “What could happen to me? I’m on a television show?” It’s like nothing bad can happen to me.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. There has to be some type of safety. Yeah, exactly.
Phil Rosenthal: Right, which I’m sure people have said right before they died. So I did it, and it took a lot of courage to bite down on that thing. There was a tiny crunch, which sounds disgusting, I know, and damn if it didn’t taste exactly like someone put a drop of lemon on your tongue. Now the questions, “Okay, what did you do, baste these in lemon?” “No.” “Why?” He says, “These particular ants, not every ant, but these particular ants from this particular place taste like lemon.” Absolutely fascinating, absolutely amazing. Now, am I on the search for more ants to eat? No, but that was so interesting and so cool, and I’m so glad I had the experience because now I can tell you about it. It’s interesting. It makes, not just the show better, it made my life a little better. Yes, I have done this. Yes, I was brave enough to eat an ant.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes. Yeah, and it becomes part of the story, and it becomes part of your story. In kind of a goofy, strange way, it makes the world a little bit better, right? Your perspectives are broader. You’ve connected with somebody that you otherwise wouldn’t connect with, and therein lies one of the beautiful things about food and travel. One of the things-
Phil Rosenthal: My favorite scene in that episode is at the end. I go to this family’s restaurant, and they specialize in eel, okay? Also not the food I seek out the most, but they’re grilling different eels in different ways. I’m eating this perfectly fine. Eel is just like fish. It’s fine. At the end of the meal, there’s six of us, and to be honest, the scene was fine. I didn’t really have a great connection with this family, mainly because of the language barrier, and I didn’t have a lot in common, which happens.
Phil Rosenthal: We took a little break, and I spoke to my brother, the producer and the director of the show. I said, “We’ve been here a while. Let’s wrap it up. Not every scene is gold. Maybe we won’t use this scene. Let’s just wrap it up. I’ll say good-bye to the nice people.” Just before we started rolling again, I asked the grandpa, “What do you do for fun?” He says, “We have champagne night,” right?
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Phil Rosenthal: I said, “What’s that?” He said, “I love champagne, and every Wednesday, we take out a vintage bottle of champagne, and we drink champagne.” I said, “That’s fantastic. The whole family together?” “Yes.” I said, “That’s funny. In my family, we have egg cream night,” right, which is a Jewish Brooklyn thing, which is … You know what an egg cream is?
Bjork Ostrom: No, but I’m excited to hear about it.
Phil Rosenthal: Okay, so they looked at me like, “What is that?” Now, this is something that every Jewish household in New York on the East Coast, they know what an egg cream is. I explained to them what it is, as I’ll explain it to you right now. It is some chocolate syrup, usually Fox’s U-Bet, or Bosco, or whatever you happen to have. You put it at the bottom of a glass. You fill about a third of the way up the glass with milk. You stir it, and as you stir it, you add seltzer or sparkling water as you’re stirring it, and a chemical reaction happens in that a head of foam, like a beer, forms at the top. Some pharmacist or drug store in the 1910s or ’20s dreamed up the name for this magical, frothy creation called an egg cream, as if it was luxurious, and all it is is basic chocolate soda, okay?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, with branding. It is a good branding.
Phil Rosenthal: Beautiful branding. They look at me like this is the wildest … Their eyes lit up when I described the foam that forms at the top. They were like, “Oh,” like this, and I burst out laughing. They were so adorable. The women were in their kimonos. These are Japanese women and men. One is a great sushi chef, and one is the grandpa with the eel restaurant. I turned to my brother, and my producer, and my director, and I say, “Oh, my God. What I wouldn’t give to make them chocolate egg creams right now.” They said, “You know, Phil, we’re not in the jungle. There’s a grocery store across the street in Tokyo. We can get these things.” I said, “Get it. Get it right now.” Cut to me making egg creams for this family and them either … Some of them loved it. Some of them thought it was so strange. It tickled their nose. You see it. I want you to watch this episode because it was so joyous and so fun.
Phil Rosenthal: Here’s the thing. We think we go to this land, what do I have to offer anybody, right? I’m there to absorb their culture. You never think you have something to offer them. You’re there for you. You think you’re there to just see how strange and wonderful the other place is. You never think, oh, they might be interested in your culture or you have anything in your background that might be of value to anybody. This is the magical moment. This is the thing where you have the true connection. This is the best scene in, maybe, the whole series because of this connection that was made over something silly and wonderful as a chocolate egg cream.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Sometimes it is those tiny small things. The leap of faith that it takes to say, “Okay, I’m going to go out on a limb a little bit and put myself out there, share this story,” and then also move forward with it and say, “Let’s go out and get this and make this.” For those that would naturally be people that wouldn’t engage in a situation like that, that would be less drawn to put themselves in a situation where they’re outside of their comfort zone or that’s challenging for them, what would your advice be? It can be from a creative perspective or just from a travel perspective, broadening horizons.
Phil Rosenthal: I’m just going to say, right as you started to talk, I forgot to say something. The reason that I’m able to maybe think like that is because the best class I ever took, and that was an improv class. I recommend it to everyone no matter what they do in life because the number one principle of great improv class is two words: yes, and. Have you heard this?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and one of the greatest contrasts of that is there’s on Office episode where Michael Scott’s in an improv class, and he does the exact opposite of it.
Phil Rosenthal: Exactly. Of course he would, but they’re telling you the same thing. Yes, and turns out to be the most wonderful philosophy of life besides, being the rule of improv, so for those of you who don’t know, yes, and means you’re in a scene with someone else, and they say, “Can you believe our car broke down on the side of the road?” and you acknowledge that that’s what the scene is about, and then add to it, so, “Yes, our car broke down, and I … The only thing we have to wat is our dog.” Right? Now you have, maybe a scene, right?
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, yes.
Phil Rosenthal: The next person acknowledges that that’s true and adds to that, and that’s how life goes, not, “Our car broke down on the side of road.” “No, it didn’t.” Now where are you in the scene? You’re nowhere.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, end scene.
Phil Rosenthal: This turns out to be the key to life, the key to life, yes, and.
Bjork Ostrom: And adding to a situation, so let’s say that you are having a conversation with somebody. It’s going along with what they’re saying, building on that, and trying to go deeper with that, so-
Phil Rosenthal: Yes. How are you adding to the conversation?
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, and, as writers, what does that look like? For you, as a writer, let’s say, or even on the editing side of things, as you are crafting things, how do you implement kind of an improv mindset, a yes, and mindset in a way where maybe you aren’t interfacing with a person, but it’s more of the work that you’re doing?
Phil Rosenthal: Okay, so you just naturally gave the best example, the elephant, and you said the way we set it up, that’s a perfect example of yes, and. Yes, we have this funny moment with the elephant. We saw that we captured an elephant hitting me in the head with its tail, so yes, we’re using that, obviously, and how can we maximize that moment? What if we added to that moment by setting you up for the unexpected? Right? I could have said, “Now, watch this. An elephant’s going to hit me with its tail.” That’s not so funny if then we show it to you. It might be a little funny, but if I set it up as, “Yes, the elephants love me now, right? I’m one of the herd,” then you see that, you certainly … that’s the last thing you … You thought maybe you’d see an elephant give me a kiss. No. Elephant hit me in the head.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Part of it seems like becoming acquainted with or aware of and fine-tuning your ability to discover gems and then really drawing those out. I feel like that elephant scene is a real gem. There’s a podcast that I listen to called StartUp, and it’s somebody who’s formerly with NPR, Alex Blumberg was his name. There’s this scene where he’s trying to pitch his startup idea to a venture capitalist investor, and it’s just this really great gem, and building around those. It makes me think about what are the gems in the things that I’m creating, and how can I really draw those out and build around those? I would assume, in a lot of ways, when you are shooting, especially documentary-style film or show, that what you’re doing is intentionally setting up situations to try and unearth gems.
Phil Rosenthal: Exactly right. What we’re doing is, not only do we want to find the best places to eat in each place, we want to have … The show is trying to do many things at once. It’s a hybrid of a show. It’s unusual because most food shows are food shows and they’re deep dives by serious chaps into food, or now Anthony Bourdain has evolved into a true journalist and getting into the political and social aspects of every country he goes to, and he does it brilliantly. David Chang has a new show, which is deep dives into comfort food around the world, and it’s also great. My show is about food, yes, travel, yes, mostly, but it’s also kind of a sitcom. It’s kind of a sitcom, and you totally get that because you talked about my “character.” What we are looking for is, obviously, good situations to put me in, like what if I was on a horse, right? What if I had to take a step out of my comfort zone and maybe take a dance lesson, right?
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Phil Rosenthal: Maybe do things because it shouldn’t … If it’s just me eating, it’s boring.
Bjork Ostrom: Right, yeah.
Phil Rosenthal: If we’re eating, I don’t want it to be a white tablecloth restaurant where I sit there and have a three-hour meal by myself and just describe the food to you. There’s other places for that. That’s not the point of the show. The point of the show isn’t dissecting the food and analyzing every food. Yes, we’re going to have it. I understand that this is the building blocks of these types of shows. You have to have the food porn. I get it, and we have it, but it’s also travel porn, and it’s also, hopefully, comedy porn, that you’re getting all these things at once, so it’s a new type of show. Why exist otherwise if I’m just going to do what everybody else does? The only thing I have that separates me, the only thing I can bring to the table is, maybe, this sense of humor that I have.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. One of the things that’s interesting that I’ve heard you talk about before is this reality that the show itself had been something that you had thought about and kind of dreamed about for a really long time. I think this would be a good subject to wrap up on because I know there are a lot of people that listen to this that have an idea of a thing, they have an idea of what they want to create, and they feel discouraged because they haven’t been able to give life to that.
Bjork Ostrom: I know, for you, the concept of Somebody Feed Phil had been a concept that had been bouncing around in your brain for a really long time. I would love to hear from your experience and to have you speak to the people that have had that same feeling. They have this idea, might be a restaurant, it might be a certain type of blog, it might be a podcast, some type of creative endeavor, and they know that they want to do it but it’s still in their … it’s in their head. How do you either keep something alive and know when to act on it or, after you’ve acted on something, give it life so it actually sees people and meets the light of day?
Phil Rosenthal: I would not give up. I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this, but the perseverance. Listen, we knock our heads against the wall trying to get a job, right? Any job. Then we knock our heads against the wall trying to get a job in the field we want, but sometimes that’s not satisfying either because this isn’t what you dreamed it would be. After years of doing that … When I say years, I’m talking about the years after Everybody Loves Raymond, after I had some success. I’m knocking my head against the wall trying to get another sitcom going, trying to do something else, trying to write screenplays, trying to do everything. Yes, I had a little success with the documentary I made. Yes, I had a little success with the book I did. Yes, I had a little success doing other things, but the dream was always, boy, wouldn’t it be nice to have this food and travel show because I got so inspired by seeing Ray Romano go to Italy when we shot the Italy show, and I saw that what happened to the character that I wrote of a guy getting woke to the magic of travel I saw happen to the person.
Phil Rosenthal: Since the year 2000, I wanted to do this for other people because I realized there’s no greater high than turning people on to what you love. Right? That’s everything. That’s what we do in life. All we try to do is connect with other people. Hey, if I like this, and you like this, then we’re friends. That’s it. This was always in the back of my mind. Now, how did I get it to manifest itself? Well, I tried it out a little. I sold the idea to somebody, a very cheap company that just filmed a couple of scenes with me and a buddy. I thought maybe if I had a buddy and we went around … and that was okay, nothing great. Nobody wanted it.
Phil Rosenthal: Then some chef said, “Hey, you want to come with me to this place, and we will have a show?” Said to me. I’m like, “Yeah. This is what I’ve been dreaming of. Yeah, great, chef,” and we went and filmed a 10-minute test reel. Nobody wanted it. I learned from that. Then another company said to me … I’m giving you all the steps because I think it’s important for people to know that it takes-
Bjork Ostrom: I think it’s extremely valuable, yeah.
Phil Rosenthal: Right?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Phil Rosenthal: Okay. I never stop talking about this. Yes, I’m working on other things, but I never stop talking about this, so now, okay, we’re going to do a week in London with a famous chef, and we’re filming it for American Express. Okay, I thought this was the show. I thought this was going to be the show. It wasn’t the show. They had no intention of making it a show. They were going to take scenes from what we shot and have card member experiences for rich people. I’m like, “What the hell is that?” I did like 27 restaurants in 7 days with a famous chef, and it was a torture.
Phil Rosenthal: Guess what? From all these three or four other experiences in the food world, I got a very good idea of what not to do, which turned out to be extremely valuable in pointing me towards what to do. We learned just as much, if not more, from what not to do as what we do when we hit it, and so by the time I got to PBS, I knew exactly what the show should be. This show, Somebody Feed Phil, is exactly the other show. It just has higher production values being on Netflix now, and I have a theme song. That’s the big difference, and hopefully, I got a tiny bit better at doing this because now I’ve had some experience.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think it’s so valuable to hear those steps because what happens for the average consumer of media is we’ll see a new show on Netflix, and you pull it up, and you’re like, “Oh, this is good.” That must be really cool to be able to suddenly do the show without having any of the context of what it took for you to get there. I think the other thing that sometimes happened is you’ll see in the trailer as it starts, “Oh, from the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond. That must have been super easy for him because he did Everybody Loves Raymond, and then … so then he just does this if he wants to,” but to hear-
Phil Rosenthal: 10 years. 10 years to get this, this little thing that seems like, oh, just a whim. Right?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Well, and I think what it is is like…Right. You work hard for 10 years, and then you’re an overnight success. I think that can happen when you don’t have the context of the full story. It’s one of the things that we try and talk about often on this podcast is the amount of time, dedication, and energy that goes into it, and that’s why it’s so important that it is something that you love, which you can hear so clearly in your voice, Phil, as you talk about this, that not only is this a creative outlet for you, but it’s also a passion project in that it makes the world a better place by encouraging people to travel, or for those who can’t travel, it gives them a tiny little portal to get to those places, to see other people, and to see the smiles on other people’s faces, and to connect in a way that we maybe wouldn’t otherwise, which I think is immensely valuable.
Phil Rosenthal: Well, yeah. Again, we spend our life knocking our heads against the wall to get the job. Do it for the job you really, really, really want.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think that’s a great note to wrap up on, but before we do, Phil, can you talk about where people can follow along with you online and then, obviously, checking out Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix, which they can do just by a simple search on Netflix?
Phil Rosenthal: Right. Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix. I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, the PBS show Netflix also happens to carry, so there are six additional episodes if you’ve already seen the six on this. I’m waiting for more. The struggle never ends, right?
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Phil Rosenthal: I’m still fighting for more to keep going, so that … I got to do that. Exporting Raymond is also on Netflix about the journey to Russia, which is one of the genesis points for this.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and just a quick rabbit trail for those that aren’t familiar, that’s the story of the attempt to translate, literally and figuratively, Everybody Loves Raymond into Russia.
Phil Rosenthal: Russia’s topical again, so we have it.
Bjork Ostrom: Right.
Phil Rosenthal: It really is, and it’s really funny because I thought I was an expert in something, meaning my show, and I went to a land where nobody cared.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, right. Instant loss of credibility, like you just don’t have that. Yeah.
Phil Rosenthal: You got it. Very humbling. If you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m @PhilRosenthal, just Phil Rosenthal, and Phil.Rosenthal on Instagram, and then I’m on Facebook, and I think there’s a website coming-
Bjork Ostrom: Great.
Phil Rosenthal: … for everything I’m working on, including a travel guide of every place we go in the show.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome.
Phil Rosenthal: I think that’s going to be called philrosenthalworld.com.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. When that comes out, we’ll be sure to link to that in the show notes as well for people that listen to this after the fact.
Phil Rosenthal: Wonderful.
Bjork Ostrom: Phil, thanks so much for coming on the podcast, truly a gift to be able to talk to you for a little bit and to watch through all the different content that you’ve created through the years.
Phil Rosenthal: I loved talking to you. Thank you so much.
Bjork Ostrom: Thanks.
Alexa Peduzzi: Hey, friends. Wasn’t that a fun interview? Phil is just such a fun guy, and I really think that my fellow food fans that are listening right now would really get a kick out of Somebody Feed Phil and I’ll Have What Phil’s Having. There’s actually an episode of I’ll Have What Phil’s Having where he has David Lebovitz on, and he was on the podcast just a few episodes ago. He’s one of the very first food bloggers, so it’s just a fun little tie in to the Food Blogger Pro podcast.
Alexa Peduzzi: Now it is time for our reviewer of the week, and this one comes from Katie from BlackFern Kitchen. It says, “I just started listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast, and only three episodes in, but I love it. Some great, useful tips so far, and I’m looking forward to making my way through the rest of the episodes. Great stuff.” Thank you so much, Katie. We really appreciate it, and we’re glad that you’re liking it even if you’re just three episodes in. This is our 144th episode already, so you have lots more to look forward to.
Sign up for the Blogging Tips newsletter and get (1) a free eBook, (2) free weekly blogging tips, and (3) updates on new FBP blog posts.Get Started for Free