Caroline Rhea balances TV with stand-up

Caroline Rhea has fond memories of Arizona. The Montreal native’s father lives in Tucson, and Rhea spent some of her proverbial formative years there attending the University of Arizona in the mid-1980s.

She had yet to learn about "those giant cardboard sunglasses you put in the front of the car," and she emerged from her car a little, well, sticky. "I looked like I had the Franklin Mint tattooed on my thigh," Rhea said.

By then, she already knew she was going to become a comedian. Heck, she knew that when she was 6 or 7. "I’d watch Carol Burnett and say, ‘I want to be her,’ " Rhea said.

Rhea has since established her own TV presence — after several years as Aunt Hilda on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, many appearances on Hollywood Squares and now in her first year hosting daytime talker The Caroline Rhea Show.

And she’s managed to meet her idol, Burnett, more than a few times. "Each time, I freak out and tell her how much I worship her," Rhea said.

When Rhea hits the stand-up circuit these days, she now has her own set of fans to freak her out. Her act is not all that different from when she started in 1989. She might have new things to talk about. Her upcoming wedding already provides plenty of fodder for skits on her talk show. And being on TV makes some in her audience "feel like they know me a little bit more than before." What does freak her out is being reminded of what she looked or sounded like on shows that continue to run in repeats.

"You’re eternally trapped," Rhea said. "It’s like looking at Sabrina in syndication. Bad haircuts and strong medications." These days, Rhea tapes six shows a week in New York (sometimes two each day), then performs stand-up in clubs around the country on weekends when she can. It’s everything she expected and a little bit more.

"I didn’t think it would be this exhausting," said Rhea. But her weekend gigs more than make up for it. A comedian to the core, she said stand-up is her one true love. "For me, that’s the most fun," she said. "What’s most satisfying to me is doing a live performance."

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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