Comedian and actress
Born April 13, 1964, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada; daughter of David (an obstetrician–gynecologist) and Margery (an antiques dealer) Rhea. Education: Studied comedy at the New School for Social Research, New York, NY, 1989.
Stand–up comedian in New York, NY, after 1988; appeared in various cable comedy showcases, including Stand–Up Spotlight, VH1, 1988, Women Aloud, Comedy Central, 1992, Women of the Night, HBO, 1994, and Comic Relief VIII, VH1, 1998. Television appearances include: Fools for Love (writer and host), VH1, 1993; Pride & Joy, NBC, 1995; The Drew Carey Show, ABC, 1996; Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, ABC and WB, 1996–2002; Hollywood Squares, 1998–2002; occasional substitute host of The Rosie O'Donnell Show; host of The Caroline Rhea Show, 2002—. Film appearances include: Meatballs III, 1987; Man on the Moon, 1999; Ready to Rumble, 2000.
Comedian Caroline Rhea debuted with her own talk show in the fall of 2002 after several years playing the zany Aunt Hilda on the hit television series Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Prior to that, Rhea had been a veteran of the cable–comedy stand–up scene, and had won over audiences with a frank sense of humor that spared no one—including herself. She deployed that same style on the The Caroline Rhea Show with her guests, and sometimes even pulled pranks such as telephoning a star guest's mother. When asked by Ladies' Home Journal writer Marisa Sandora Carr about the tough, glutted talk–show genre, with its many notable failures, Rhea responded with the characteristic drollery that poked fun at her own family—a common theme in her jokes. "That falls into the category of things I can't control," she asserted to Carr. "My father can only knock on so many doors and tell people they have to watch his daughter's show."
Rhea (pronounced Ray) was born in 1964 and grew up in Montreal, Quebec. One of three daughters, she claims she was by no means the sole funny person in her family that sometimes even was ejected from restaurants for her physician–father's antics. "I am surprised we weren't kicked out of Canada," she once said in an interview with Denver Post writer Ed Will. "We are very unlike our people." After appearing in an uncredited role in Meatballs III Rhea moved to New York City in the late 1980s to enroll in a training program for stand–up comic aspirants at the New School for Social Research. "I always wanted to do stand–up because I thought I would be brilliantly unique," she told Will in the Denver Post interview. "The reality is I am just like everyone else and that is why I've had any success.…"
That success came slowly, however, with more than one setback in the tough entertainment industry. Rhea began appearing at a well–known Manhattan venue, Catch a Rising Star, but waited tables and spritzed perfume at Bloomingdale's department store before her career gained momentum. By 1992 she was regularly appearing on such cable comic fare as Comedy Central's Women Aloud, and in 1993 served as a co–host and writer for a short–lived VH1 sketch–comedy show, Fools for Love. Her growing reputation as a stand–up comedian landed her two development deals for her own show, and in 1994 there was even a brief article in Broadcasting & Cable that Rhea was being considered as host of a talk show slated to replace Arsenio Hall.
That plan never materialized, however, but in the summer of 1995 Rhea debuted in her first steady television role, which was the result of her development deal with Disney. She played Manhattan wife and mother Carol Green in a situation comedy that aired on NBC, Pride & Joy. Set in a New York City apartment building, the show also starred Craig Bierko and Julie Warner as new parents; Rhea and Jeremy Piven played their quirky neighbors across the hall. The show was cancelled after a few episodes, but the following year Rhea landed the steady Sabrina job. Airing first on ABC and later on The WB network, the series starred Melissa Joan Hart as parentless teen witch Sabrina, who lives with her two slightly older, single, blond aunts. Sabrina learns that her entire family are spell–casters, and while training for her own "witch's license" must keep her true nature a secret from her friends and classmates. Rhea's Aunt Hilda was a bit looser than Beth Broderick's Aunt Zelda, but both proved an excellent foil for one another's comedic talents.
Rhea had a harder time appearing alongside Sabrina, the Teenage Witch's talking cat, Salem. The stuffed and stiffly mobile animal often grabbed the funniest jokes in the script, and sometimes fans asked the actress if Salem was an actual cat. "I just want to look at these people," Rhea said in the interview with Will in the Denver Post, "and go, 'It talks. It looks like an alcoholic, arthritic rabbit wearing a hairpiece. How can you possibly think that is a real cat?' I live with two cats. That is not what they look like."
Between her Sabrina shooting schedule, Rhea also appeared in feature films, such as the Milos Forman 1999 biopic about the late comic Andy Kaufman, Man on the Moon, and had a regular slot on the Hollywood Squares game show. For a time, her name was mentioned as a possible replacement for Kathie Lee Gifford on Live with Regis, but Rhea lost out to soap–opera actress Kelly Ripa. In July of 2001, however, Rosie O'Donnell's talk–show producers announced that Rhea would take over the show when O'Donnell stepped down the following year. There was a bit of confusion, as Rhea noted in an article by Entertainment Weekly writer Dalton Ross. "You wouldn't believe how many people ask me if the show is still gonna be called The Rosie O'Donnell Show," she said.
The Caroline Rhea Show debuted in September of 2002, and the comedian quickly gained positive reviews for her comic skills and forthright interview style. "At 38, the cherub–faced Rhea is funny and smart," opined Good Housekeeping writer Celeste Fremon, "asking as many questions as she answers, and lacing her own replies with giant servings of self–deprecating humor." Rhea often asked her guest to participate in stunts or games, and liked to bring in audience members as well. The show was taped at Rockefeller Center in New York City, and Rhea acquired an apartment in New York City to ease her commute after spending the past few years in the Los Angeles area. One of her show's running gags was her own upcoming wedding plans: Rhea had been engaged to event–planner Bob Kelty for four years, but the couple had never set a date. They quietly broke off the engagement in the spring of 2003.
Rhea crochets in her spare time and practices yoga to stay fit. She notes that moving from stand–up routines to interviewing celebrities was not much of a stretch for her. "My talk show is just like stand–up," she told Boston Herald Dean Johnson, "and you could not have had better training than doing stand–up comedy. With both of them, you know the basic script, and then the rest is up to you. You have to listen and respond to the people around you."
Boston Herald, September 26, 2002, p. 63.
Broadcasting & Cable, May 9, 1994, p. 10.
Denver Post, February 7, 2003.
Entertainment Weekly, September 6, 2002, p. 67.
Globe & Mail (Toronto, Canada), November 8, 1997, p. C4.
Good Housekeeping, October 2002, p. 115.
Ladies' Home Journal, September 2002, p. 62.
People, September 16, 2002, pp. 73–75; May 12, 2003, p. 181.