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Brief Encounter With … Caroline Rhea

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Caroline Rhea (pronounced Ray) is best known for her role as Aunt Hilda in hit children's sitcom Sabrina, The Teenage Witch. She's also been a talk-show host and even fronted a weight-loss competition. But stand-up is her love and she's returning to her Scottish routes by travelling to Edinburgh at the Fringe. When I talk to her she is in New York, a fortnight before performances begin in Scotland.

Tell us about your show and why you decided to brave coming to Scotland?
I did have a baby at 44 which was a bit of a surprise. It was a lovely surprise. My act has always been incredibly autobiographical but apparently I'm living everybody else's life. It's sort of a bit about how much my life has changed since I've had a child. It's also improvisational: I always like to think that my act is like a dinner party. I know what I'm going to serve but who knows what you guys are going to bring. I hope not haggis, though I do like it and was forced to eat it as a child. My grandfather's from Edinburgh and I spent many summers in Scotland as a child.

Is you daughter coming with you to Edinburgh?
Absolutely. She's 21 months. It's very funny because she can't say Rs and she can't say Ls and when she says frog it sounds like 'f***'. Today we found a clock with a frog on it so you can imagine what that sounded like. It's so horrifying: it's like a toddler porno film. On the plane on the way home all she was screaming was 'big pink cock, want it' and I'm like 'clock everybody, it's a clock!'.

So were your Scottish roots the reason you wanted to come to the festival?
I've done a lot of television, I've done a lot of stand-up and people ask: 'but have you done the Edinburgh festival?' Although I can't even pronounce the name name of the city without getting anxious. All my grandparents except from one are from Scotland, so we grew up knowing our clan motto. My family's from Ireland, which is Disneyland for alcoholics. I really do love Scotland, I feel very much at home. I like the subtle dry humour of the Scottish people and I know they're wickedly sarcastic. I'm also in Edinburgh to claim one of the Bay City Rollers, because I think at this point he's perfectly gettable. I've waited the right amount of time.

Is your show suitable for everyone?
I always get anxious because I always have kids in my audience because of Sabrina, The Teenage Witch and they think I can do magic. I don't want to educate your children on anything that you haven't already told them. Don't leave that up to Aunt Hilda. But for what a 15-year-old knows now is like 35 for when I was a kid.

Is age an issue in entertainment?
In showbusiness you age like this: 28, 29, 140. They just think you're ancient. Someone asked me if my daughter was my granddaughter. People ask me if I was upset. I said: 'no I wasn't upset, I just went home and called immigration'. In Europe if you have a baby in your forties it's not a big deal. I'm incredibly immature, I just have five years to destroy the internet so she doesn't know how old I actually am. As long as we can get rid of IMDB and Google. That can't be too difficult.

What advice would you give to young actors/stand ups?
Thomas Murphy, this Irish playwright gave me the best advice: You have to tell the truth, you have to write the truth. You don't want to do the joke that someone else could tell in their act. The only thing I think about the other comedians I see is that they find someone's style that they like and copy it. I don't think you should do that. I think you should absolutely up there and try and be as much yourself possible. Don't try and be like every other person.

It's said that you're not a proper comic until you've died or bombed on stage. How do you cope with that sort of negative response?
Luckily when we were in New York, it was always the Irish audience members who would heckle you on the way to the stage and you were like 'eff off, I don't even have the microphone yet'. In New York you learn to respond to hecklers so much that when you go to the rest of the country you're so aggressive and they're like 'we didn't say anything, we like you'. And you're like 'sorry'. You have to learn that. It's all an element of controlling your audience. I met President Clinton and I performed for him. Just stand up! He couldn't get through all of it. And that show wasn't particularly great. It was a big fundraiser so afterwards I met Clinton. He said: 'Caroline, you're really funny, you have the hardest job in the world' and I said: 'No. Mr President. I think you're job is slightly harder, but we're both afraid of bombing!'. And then it was one of the moments when the words were there and I was like 'please return to my mouth!'.

What are your plans for the future?
I'm so exhausted from my baby: I do have a lot of ambition but I think about it when I'm napping. I have a cartoon that I'm doing and I'll try and develop another show. I'd really truly like to tour around England and Scotland. It's fun because Sabrina gave me some recognition throughout the world: I've been called a witch in several languages and not just by men I've dated. I was just in Italy and I arrived with no ticket for my daughter and one diaper for an eleven hour flight and was weeping through the airport and one woman knew me from Sabrina and helped me. Also, I'm writing a book about my life. It often appears quite fiction like. My weight and height will be fiction.

Caroline Rhea's self titled standup show can be seen at Gilded Balloon Teviot, 6-25 August at 21.30


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