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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Caroline Rhea is back on the stand-up trail

Comedian and actor Caroline Rhea will be at the Spokane Comedy Club on Friday and Saturday.  (Christine DiPasquale)

The funniest moments during stand-up are almost always extemporaneous. Expect Caroline Rhea to provide plenty of off the cuff comedy when she performs Friday and Saturday at the Spokane Comedy Club.

“I could never be one of those comedians who just delivers a rote set,” Rhea said. “I look at a show at a comedy club to be like a dinner party. It’s live entertainment so I live in that moment.”

Rhea, 58, will deliver prepared material, but the charismatic actress, who was once described by a critic as the Meryl Streep of Disney television shows, is at her best when engaging the audience.

“It’s so much fun,” Rhea said. “That’s what I missed from all of the time I was not doing stand-up.”

The Quebec City native, who played a supporting role on the hit series “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” took a hiatus while pregnant with her daughter, Ava, who was born in 2008.

“There is no comedy club that’s as interesting as my daughter,” Rhea said. “I didn’t want to miss out on her early years.”

When Ava was a tyke Rhea scored voiceover work for Disney’s “Phineas and Ferb.”

“I was fortunate,” Rhea said. “That all worked out for me. ”

Rhea, who is preparing for a stand-up spot on “The Tonight Show,” would love to use that material but she has been compelled to craft fresh bits. “I have four hours of material in my head but some goes way back,” Rhea said. “I had to come up with new and relevant material and I have.”

Rhea’s teen is often her inspiration.

“My daughter used to like what I did on television when she was younger but in order for me to get her approval now I have to be in a remake of ‘Fight Club’ with Brad Pitt,” Rhea cracked. “It’s funny how things have changed. When I was my daughter’s age I remember saying to my best friend, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could see each other on the phone?’ That would have been like ‘The Jetsons’ to me.”

It’s difficult for Rhea to appease her lone child. “I grovel for her approval,” Rhea said. “It’s like she’s the queen and I’m the peasant. I’m watching a documentary on adolescents called ‘How to Raise your Dragon.’”

Rhea, who lives in Los Angeles, spends every summer in Maine with her two sisters and their children. “It’s a wonderful thing to be able to do since we all live together each year,” Rhea said. “We’re all adults and we’re in our 50s and we have the best time with each other.”

It’s not surprising that Rhea’s siblings are also humorous. “My one sister said that after looking in my daughter’s room that Ava lives like a rock star who has no fear of losing her deposit,” Rhea said.

Rhea will also joke about living in Los Angeles. “L.A. is the one place where a doctor says, ‘I’ll have to look at your chart’ and they mean your astrological chart. ‘Oh cancer,’ the doctor will say. And it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, cancer.’ And he’s talking about my cancer rising.”

And then there are the social media bits. “Women in L.A. are so small that their Instagram photos should say ‘Actual size.’ ”

Rhea is still sad over the recent death of Olivia Newton-John. Rhea appeared on the provocative television series “Sordid Lives,” which starred Newton-John as a lesbian country singer.

“That was such a great experience,” Rhea said. “I remember my father, who was dying at the time, saying, ‘Honey, you have to play this part. You’re never going to get a part on a show that is so well written.’ And he was right. I remember sitting between Olivia and (actress) Rue McClanahan and I couldn’t believe that I was between these two icons. My inner-14-year old was freaking out! It was such a great series and an amazing movie.”

Rhea wasn’t in the film, which came out in 2000. Delta Burke played her part but opted not to do the series.

“I was lucky enough to get the part on the show,” Rhea said. “I’m so glad I had the opportunity to be part of ‘Sordid Lives.’ You should see the show. It was like ‘Desperate Housewives’ in a Texas trailer park.”

“Sordid Lives,” which aired for just one season in 2008, didn’t have much of an audience but “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” was very popular and Rhea still hears from fans about her portrayal of Hilda.

“I was just in Montreal for the Just for Laughs festival and I heard the word legend describe me because of that show but when someone calls you a legend you feel like you’re 100. Also, if you’re over 45 don’t tell me you grew up with me on ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch.’ Hey, I’m not complaining. Being on that show was wonderful.”

But now the focus is stand-up for Rhea. “I’m no longer in a ‘Moma,’ a mother coma,” Rhea said. “I’m back in clubs and things couldn’t be better.”