Before actress and comedian Caroline Rhea was born her parents called Charlotte home. Her father did his residency at one of the local hospitals, and her mother was the librarian at Queens University during the ’50s (“the girls’ school in the really nice neighborhood?” she remembers).
Rhea has always had a soft spot for the city, and she’ll stop by Comedy Zone Tuesday to lend her funny to a good cause. Proceeds from her show benefit The Martin Truex Jr. Foundation children’s charity as well as WSOC’s School Tools campaign and Second Harvest Food Bank’s backpack program.
Mom to 5-year-old Ava, Rhea spoke to the Observer last week about her love for Robin Williams, aging in comedy, and her daughter’s contributions to her standup.
Q. You knew Robin Williams?
A. I knew him and genuinely loved him. He couldn’t have meant more to me. One of the highlights of my life and something that changed my career was when I did “Comic Relief” and interviewed Whoopi (Goldberg), Robin and Billy (Crystal). Whoopi is my very dear friend (now).
He always went out of his way. I saw him once and I remember he was on the phone with someone that was terminally ill and he would go and visit people. He had this extraordinary gift to make people laugh and he felt the world so deeply. ...”
Q. You’re here to raise funds for children’s charities just in time for school.
A. That’s actually one of the coolest things about having fame. Getting a table at a nice restaurant is a complete perk, but being able to do something constructive with it. When I was on “Sabrina (the Teenage Witch)” I use to go to a lot of children’s hospitals. They were happy to see you because they loved that show. We witches were a bunch of softies. Aunt Zelda (Beth Broderick) is the biggest softie of all.
Q. Has becoming a mom given you new material for your act?
A. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve gotten to do. She’s hilarious. It used to be I had to wait for my mother to say really funny things and now I just wait for Ava to say really funny things.
I pick her up from kindergarten and she says, “Mommy I’ve been farting all day” She’s hilarious.
Q. You plan to work some “Sabrina” and “Phineas and Ferb” auctions into this fundraiser. Is there anything you wouldn’t part with?
A. I gave away my original (“Sabrina”) jacket with my name on it to a little girl that was sick when I was on the show. And she totally recovered. I don’t think I’d hold on to anything if I thought it was going to raise a ton of money for charity. It’s not like I’ve got the stuffed Salem sitting in my closet. The first season he looked like an alcoholic rabbit wearing a hairpiece. I mean did (they) look at a picture of a cat when (they) were making it?
Q. You kept a lot from the show?
A. I have so many outfits that I wore on the show. I have my wedding dress and some beautiful pictures of all the actors. It’s weird because I hear all the time literally, “I grew up watching you.” It’s flattering, but it makes you feel like you’re 100.
Q. Since you’re still 49, do you think aging in Hollywood is any easier for comedic actresses?
A. I think all things experience ageism, but I also think you can accept that as a truth or not. If there’s something I feel confident about it’s my standup. Society telling you that someone younger is better than you? Joan Rivers is 81 and could not be funnier. Don Rickles is a genius. He’s 88 years old. I don’t think you can buy into it.