For Caroline Rhea stand-up comedy means creative freedom

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

Caroline Rhea was enthusiastic about returning to perform at the Comedy Connection at the Hu Ke Lau in Chicopee.

"I love saying 'Hu Ke Lau Chicopee'," she told Reminder Publications with a laugh during a telephone interview last week, "It sounds like someone sneezed."

Rhea will perform at the Hu Ke Lau at 7 p.m. on Oct. 15.

Rhea is currently host of the second season of the NBC reality show, The Biggest Loser and HBO recently began airing her new stand-up comedy special. She is now touring comedy clubs.

Her recent television gigs complement her previous credits a long run as "Aunt Hilda" on the hit sit-com Sabrina the Teenage Witch, a returning role on Hollywood Squares, a stint as one of Drew Carey's girlfriends on his show and her own talk show.

"I've been lucky," she said of her career, but admitted that of her credits, she loves performing stand-up the most.

"It's the place where I feel most comfortable," she said. Rhea has been on stage making people laugh for 16 years.

The freedom of being in front of a live audience means that Rhea doesn't have to worry about being edited or censoring herself. Although not known for a raunchy or political style of humor, she noted that when doing radio interviews that she has to be careful as many stations are now very sensitive to offending listeners.

Her act is basically her life, she explained and she tries to keep it as current as possible. Twenty to 30 percent of it, though, is improvisation.

"I have hours of material. I'm a windbag," she added.

The Biggest Loser is a project that Rhea enjoys. She is the host of the show, supervising the weigh-ins and giving out assignments.

"It's like being inside a soap opera," she said.

What intrigues her about the show is the amount of empathy it generates for the participants who are trying to make a significant transition in their lives. She believes that the show has heightened awareness of the issues of being overweight and she called the cast members "lovable characters" who are inspiring.

She also called her role in the show as a "great part-time job," as her involvement during the 14-week period to shoot the show allowed to do other projects.

One kind of project Rhea said she would not do is take over for someone in an established show. She did that with Rosie O'Donnell's popular talk show.

"I would never replace anyone in anything [again]," she said.

Although she might have misgivings about the talk show that lasted one season, she said that she has fond memories of "sitting close to Pierce Brosnan" and having the chance to interview the late John Ritter and Christopher Reeve.

If she ever did another talk show, she would try to for a late night program, so her self-described "irreverent" brand of humor might find a more receptive audience.