Plenty of seats remaining in her 120-capacity venue, Caroline Rhea was nevertheless in good spirits at her eponymous Edinburgh Festival Fringe show, or at least in good enough spirits to joke about how thing weren’t exactly going her way. “I had this song written for me for the Fringe,” she noted of her intro music, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” leading the audience in a synchronized arm-wave and chorus sing-a-long. She also recalled how, having spent summers in Scotland while growing up, her family always enjoyed After Eight Thin Mints following dinner. Out came the cookies, around they were passed, and in Rhea dove to an informal, personable, self-deprecating hour of material surprisingly and deliciously registering on the PG-13 side of the spectrum.
Plagued with similar air-circulation woes as fellow Gilded Balloon performer Greg Proops, she paused amid a lengthy chunk on the Scottish to wipe her brow and apologize, “I was originally booked in the core of the earth, but…” The numbers and heat may have been passing annoyances, but Rhea’s frustration nevertheless provided reactionary context for her grin-and-bear-it onstage persona, one deliberately showcasing a more flustered and world-weary side to Rhea than her eccentric Aunt Hilda from the audience’s beloved Sabrina the Teenage Witch (about which she also had a few choice thoughts).
Her daughter, her mother, a lover’s snoring and cell phones may be well-trod subjects, but Rhea’s emphasis of the personal over the universal offered quirkily original perspective, as did her proclivity for delivering such offhand dismissals as “Fifty Shades of Grey, that is the worst book I have ever read…seven times. No one has that much sex without getting a urinary tract infection,” in quick bursts and loopy asides. When her thoughts turned to career and aging, however, a certain wistfulness emerged, adding unexpected depth and insight. “I’m the kind of celebrity where fans say to me, ‘I’ve got to go…’” Rhea admitted, nevertheless pleased to describe how a now-adult fan recently paused from vomiting in the street to proclaim, “You were in my 15-year-old spank bank.”
Closing with projected slides illustrating highlights of her Edinburgh trip, childhood hairstyles, her TV Guide cover and a $1.26 Sabrina residuals check, Rhea’s commentary came fast and unfiltered. Flipping to a photo of her posing alongside Jeremy Piven, she commented, “Someone in this picture is a total asshole, and it wasn’t me or the baby.” “Someone in this picture is crazy,” she echoed a few frames later of an on-set shot featuring herself, Aunt Zelda actress Beth Broderick and Salem the cat, “and it’s not me or the cat.”
As much a form of self-roasting as an opportunity to simultaneously share and take stock of her life in a public forum, Rhea’s stand up exuded an awareness of tone and mood that extends to such running commentary as “Can you just say ‘titter titter titter’ when you laugh?” and “I got a snort! Yes!” Most importantly, just beneath her frazzled exterior and emotional ups and downs, she clearly has passion and joy to spare.