Q&A: Comedian Caroline Rhea on being an actress, a waitress and a mother

Danielle Hatch

Caroline Rhea's resume is stacked with roles, but she recently took on one of the most demanding she's had yet: being a mom.

Now, the parenting of 19-month-old Ava can be included among other accomplishments, which include film roles with Jim Carrey in "Man on the Moon" and Tim Allen in "Christmas with the Kranks." Rhea also played Aunt Hilda for seven seasons on "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" and appeared on "The Drew Carey Show," "Hollywood Squares" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." She also hosted the first three seasons of "The Biggest Loser" and provides voice work on the Disney Channel's "Phineas and Ferb."

We questioned Rhea about her television career, motherhood and her education at an all-girls school.

You went to an all-girls school. What was that like?

I went to all-girls school from kindergarten all the way through. That's why I'm able to lead while dancing -- because I was the tallest girl in my class, so I got to lead. And I think it explains my general bossiness.

We wore uniforms and we wore black mini skirts with ties and bloomers and socks and shoes, and we could not for the life of us figure out why construction workers whistled at us. And I still have all my same best girlfriends from kindergarten on.

Do you think it contributed to your becoming a comedian, or was that ingrained in your personality from birth?

I think it was ingrained in my personality from birth, but it was the perfect setting. There were 17 girls in my class, and when you're one of 17 you need to be the funniest girl in the class. It was just, like, a large collection of nerds. And we had no idea we were nerds because we were rarely exposed to other people who were not nerds. The only people we were really competitive with were the other all-girl nerd schools. Virgin nerds, that's what we were. I have a joke in my act that I was captain of the virginity team and my mother was the coach. And I don't know why we had cheerleaders because we never scored.

I read that you were a waitress before you got your big break. Any funny stories?

I was the worst waitress, but I like people so I always liked talking to them. I just wasn't very good at the timing of it. But I'm the best tipper. The worse the waitress, the bigger the tip because I feel for them.

You have a 19-month daughter. How do you balance parenthood with touring?

It seems like just yesterday (she was born) and yet that no life existed before her, so it's a weird combination.

I balance really well -- I totally stopped touring and I'm at home with her all the time. ... I want to start touring, but I want to pick where I go.

I think of you more as a TV person, but you started out in stand-up, right?

What is really fun for me now is all my little "Sabrina" fans are in the audience. It's so fun.

Many times I would have people come up to me and say "I love that show." And I'd say, "How old are your kids?" and they'd say they didn't have kids. And my sister who is a big corporate lawyer, her favorite thing to do when she comes home late is to watch a "Sabrina" episode. What's so strange to me is, I did maybe 145 episodes. And we couldn't remember week to week because there were so many scenes. When I watch the episode, it's the strangest phenomenon, I don't remember doing it.

Has your daughter seen the show?

I was showing my daughter, and she is so not interested. My daughter's only interested in Elmo. In a huge gesture of love, she on occasion calls me "Mumo." I happened to do a "Sesame Street" video -- it was one of my life goals to be on "Sesame Street" -- and they were completely adorable because the puppets were like, "Try to keep it real, Caroline. With the acting, you're a little over the top."

So I showed (my daughter) the video with me and Elmo and I said, "Who's that?" and she said, "Mummy and ELMO!" It was like, you can be on television without "Sesame Street" and nobody cares.

Since you and boyfriend Costaki Economopoulos are both comedians, are you deliberately raising your kid to be funny?

Well it wasn't on purpose, but she's really funny. Her impression of Cookie Monster is spot-on. She can fool anybody.

Could you see yourself with someone who isn't a comedian?

Costaki makes me laugh really hard -- he can make fun of me in a way that makes me laugh. But we can also be complete and utter crabsters -- if you walked in the room you'd go, "Are they auditors? What do they do?"

Peoria (Ill.) Journal Star