Let a Celeb Reinvent You: Caroline Rhea On Comedy

What’s the secret to a good sense of humor? Find out.

by Rory Evans
Actress-comedian Caroline Rhea, right, and Jacki Kane. Even if you re bombing, you have to enjoy yourself, Caroline says.
Photograph: Photo by: Danielle Levitt

The Celeb Caroline Rhea, Comedian, actress (Sabrina, the Teenage Witch)
The Reinventor Jacki Sturki, former marketing copywriter,creator of Sass Mouth greeting cards, fledgling stand-up comedian and producer of Time Out, a mom-centric open-mic comedy and monologue show

Letting your body talk
Within seconds of walking into Comix comedy club in New York City—even before she’s introduced to Jacki, who’s up on stage—Caroline has a suggestion. She takes her mentee behind the curtain and moments later Jacki emerges looking more confident. Caroline told her to stand up straighter; good posture conveys power. The added benefit, Jacki says: “You automatically gain a cup size.”

Even comics get the blues

Last year, Jacki, who has two kids, ages five and eight, started performing her act at local open-mic nights, often sharing the stage with musicians. “I’d usually show up on blues night, so nobody wanted to smile,” Jacki says, in the dry, Steven Wright–ish tone that characterizes her act. One evening, though, two moms were in the audience, and they exploded with laughter. “That’s when I decided to try a show just for parents.” Smart idea, says Caroline, who has a one-year-old herself: “There is a big market for funny mothers. I want to do a tour of comedian mothers, and if there were nothing but women and gay men in the audience, I’d be happy.”

The stages of stage presence
“It takes five years of performing to be as funny on stage as you are off it,” Caroline says, sharing the advice of a fellow comedian. To that end, she recommends Jacki ditch the note cards she brings to performances for fear of KIML (kid-induced memory loss). “Pretend you are talking to your best friend,” Caroline says. “Make it more personal and people will feel an urgency.” For instance, when Jacki sings her anthem for stay-at-home moms (“Why I’m Not Paid,” to the tune of “YMCA”), Caroline has an idea. “Before you start singing, get the audience to hum the prelude.” Then, in the collaborative spirit of comics, she comes up with a lyric directed at Jacki’s husband: “That’s why you’re not laid. . . . ”

Break a leg—and a bad habit
Caroline’s most important bit of advice—which she wrote down in all capital letters—is, You’re hot, stupid. Remembering this acts as a kind of Kevlar against heckling. (Caroline recalls a time when a man in the audience hollered, “You’re fat and not funny.”) Responding to Caroline’s advice, Jacki says, “I need to reconcile reality with insecurity. I will be changing everything about the way I roll on stage, starting with a more conversational tone. When I tell a story, that’s when I’m being myself.”

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