Cooney began to act in 1946 appearing in many of the Whitehall farces of Brian Rix throughout the 1950s and '60s. It was during this time that he co-wrote his first play One For The Pot. With Tony Hilton, he co-wrote the screenplay for the British comedy film What a Carve Up! (1961), which features Sid James and Kenneth Connor.
Cooney has also appeared on TV and in several films, including a film adaptation of his successful theatrical farce Not Now, Darling (1973), which he co-wrote with John Chapman.
In 1983, Cooney created the Theatre of Comedy Company and became its artistic director. During his tenure the company produced over twenty plays such as Pygmalion starring Peter O'Toole and John Thaw, Loot, and Run For Your Wife. Cooney co-wrote a farce with his son Michael, Tom, Dick and Harry (1993). In 2012 Cooney produced and directed a UK-made film, Run For Your Wife, based on his own theatre farce Run For Your Wife.
Cooney's farces combine a traditional British bawdiness with structural complication, as characters leap to assumptions, are forced to pretend to be things that they are not and often talk at cross-purposes. Ray Cooney is greatly admired in France where he is known as "Le Feydeau Anglais", ("The English Feydeau"), in reference to the French farceur Georges Feydeau.
In January 1975, Cooney was the subject of This Is Your Life when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at London's Savoy Hotel. In 2005, Cooney was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his services to drama.