Caroline Rhea is hilarious. Even in everyday conversation, the 26-year comedic vet from Canada will leave you in stitches.
Her warm, open approach gives you the sense that you’re reconnecting with a friend from your exuberant past.
“I’m an Aries with Aquarius rising, which is why someone actually heckled me with the word focus,” joked Rhea. “They think I’m starting eight million stories but if you watch my shows, they start out with tattling tangents, but all the tangents add up. I just like to throw out a wide net and then connect it.”
You can connect with the star of “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” and “Phineas and Ferb” this Friday at Harbison Theatre. Here, Rhea dishes on everything from comedy to family life to nerves in front of a crowd.
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I’ve had this career which I love and then my focus for the last seven years has been my daughter and always will be. But from that has come this rebirth. When you’re a comedian, even if you quit, you get forced back into it because you have a story to tell.
Comedian Caroline Rhea
Is this your first time performing in Columbia?
“I was there in the 1800s when I was touring colleges. I’m sure you have cars now and electricity.”
Yes. Yes, we do. Is there anything you’re looking forward to while you’re here?
“My daughter might be coming with me and we love exploring. And I love Southern food. I made the terrible mistake of trying grits and I have such an addictive personality that now they’re in some of my dreams. I love them. I love them with gravy. I love them with biscuits.
“I have this weird affinity with the South. It’s somehow vaguely similar to Canada for me. It’s all about manners. It’s all about manners and the unspoken under the manners, which I love.”
So when you’re on stage, do you ever get nervous?
“We’re all meant to be doing what we’re meant to be doing, and if your lucky enough to find it and you feel like it fits, there’s no nerves. Nerves only come around when you’re not prepared.”
How would you describe your comedy?
“The joke that is the most accurate about me that made (David) Letterman laugh out loud is: some celebrities are intimidating. I’m the kind of celebrity where fans eventually say to me, ‘I’ve gotta go.’ I’m a chatterbox. I like talking to people. I like figuring out what we have in common. Making people laugh. I’m a people person. But when it comes to my show, you will participate even if you don’t think you are.”
So what can your fans expect to hear you joke about when they come to the show?
“(My comedy) has always been autobiographical. Relatable. I love the spiritual approach to all of it and I like having a giant dinner party where I’m serving my act and I invite hundreds of strangers and by the end of it we all know each other and we’re all bonded.”
I’m not going to stop doing stand up. You are an expert at this age. At whatever it is you do. I’ve been doing this for 26 years. This is what I know how to do. I want any woman my age or any person my age to feel like we’re young, we’re vital and we have a lot to say that’s extremely important.
Comedian Caroline Rhea
What would you say are the best and worst things about being on tour?
“The only thing I can’t stand is when people sneak pictures of me. Because I’m so happy to take a picture. I love going to different cities and now my daughter’s old enough to come with me. I don’t think there’s a lot of downside. I don’t mind doing it at all. There’s this famous comedian, Mike McDonald, who said we get paid to travel and we do standup for free.”
Have you ever had anything strange or unexpected happen at one of your shows?
“There’s been all sorts of crazy things. Recently I was told at the end of a show that someone had died during the show. And I was “Oh my God! I will never go long again!” But then they were revived and I was like, OK, thanks for terrifying me. Because you know comedians always say, “I killed,” but I didn’t want to actually kill. So, that was scary.
“I’ve also had to propose to three people. Each time I was handed a ring and a note that I had to read and every time I have to say, ‘I am not asking you to marry me, please be clear. I am simply reading a note.’”
Hilarious! So where would you say you draw your inspiration for comedy?
“My daughter is really funny. It is such a relief. I would look at my pregnant stomach and I’d say, ‘Have mommy’s timing. Please have mommy’s timing.’ And she does. She’s hilarious.”
Now, Ava aside, who would you say are your comedy idols?
“I know so many talented, funny, brilliant women. I think Kathleen Madigan is brilliant. Rachel Feinstein. I love Nikki Glaser, Judy Gold. I’m completely blown away by Amy Schumer and her powerhouse career. I think Jennifer Coolidge is magnificent. Annie Cusack. Whoopi Goldberg, who happens to be someone I can call my friend. Joy Behar, Susie Essman, Carol Burnett. Bea Arthur influenced my timing. There are so many brilliant females that are hilarious. Every time I see one succeeding, I’m like, ‘You go sister!’”
Here’s an ubiquitous “what if” question. If you weren’t a comedian, what do you think you’d have a career in?
“I would be a decorator because I love decorating. I renovate furniture. I’m writing a script which I’ve never done before, so I’d like to think I could be a writer – or an investment banker.”
An investment banker?
“I’m incredibly good with numbers. My daughter is in second grade and they have ‘new math,’ which is just unnecessary on every level, but whatever. And they have these math workshops and they’d ask me how I’d figure something out and I’d say I did it in my head. I could easily, for the fun of it, pursue an accounting degree. That’s how weird my brain is with this. If you met me you’d say, OK she’s a crazy artist but there’s this weird numerical thing that I have. And someone said to me it’s because your brain is so out there and creative that it craves the opposite for some kind of stability. I meet these lawyers and doctors and they say that all they want to do is be a comedian, because for them their outlet would be that extreme.”
Do you have a favorite comedy movie?
“This is what happens when I’m watching a movie. There’s one line that makes me laugh so hysterically. Like in the movie “Arthur” (1981) when Dudley Moore is about to be killed by his fiancé’s father and (the father) takes out this giant knife of the cheese wedge and (Moore) says, “You don’t think he wants some cheese do you?” That made me laugh so hysterically hard. I laughed at “Spy” (with Melissa McCarthy) really, really hard.”
Final question: after being on ‘Sabrina,’ do you watch any of the current supernatural shows? Are you still in touch with the cast?
“First, anytime I see a show with magic I’m like, ‘OK!’ and yes, we all Tweet to each other quite often. And this is the amazing thing. This year for the first time my daughter was at the right age, so she and I just watched the series together and I called Melissa (Joan Hart), because I had no idea. I never really got the phenom of it because we were all making it. But it is the cutest show, of which I am so grateful to have been a part of. I called Melissa and I’m like, ‘You were so good! Sabrina was so good!’
“It just worked. And I’m not being fat-headed, because there were so many people that made it happen, but it was a really cute show. And now I’m in my third generation (of fans) because I have 8-year-olds come up to me and say, ‘Aunt Hilda?’ and I’m like, ‘You have no idea.’ I get people who are in their 30s who tell me they grew up watching it and they’re balding and that freaks me out. And then I get the next generation that watched it. But I have a soft spot for the original viewing audience in their 20s and 30s. When they come to my shows, I love it. I feel a real connection to those kids who are now adults.”