At least 10 times a day.
That’s how often people approach Canadian comedian and actress Caroline Rhea and ask her about Aunt Hilda, her magical — as in witchy — character from the former television show Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which ran from 1996 until 2003, though reruns can still be found on television stations across the world.
“I think you get famous for what people see you as the most,” Rhea says. “So I may be eclipsed by Sabrina, but comedy is what I’ve done more than anything else for the last 22 years.”
While it can be a reflection of her age when young girls grow up and recognize her as young adults, Rhea takes it all in stride.
“It’s a nice thing to have been a part of, but it’s just funny when kids say, ‘I grew up watching you.’ When did I become Hale (The Skipper) from Gilligan’s Island?”
But the role still has its perks, especially since the 47-year-old Rhea became a mother almost three years ago, which she says was life-changing. (She describes her child as “cute, with the personality of a Russian gym coach.”)
“My daughter is always asking me who Sabrina is and why do people always ask me about Sabrina,” Rhea says. “I’m like, ‘Sabrina is your mortgage payment and why you’re able to go to college.’”
But Montreal-born Rhea has actually been a very busy woman since the show ended, receiving many more credits to her name. Rhea was the original host of The Biggest Loser until Alison Sweeney replaced her for the fourth season. Rhea herself replaced Rosie O’Donnell on a daily syndicated show renamed The Caroline Rhea Show.
Now, Rhea is the host of the recently premièred Slice network reality television show Cake Walk: Wedding Cake Edition.
“You won’t believe what these people can make,” she says. “They are unbelievably talented and it was such a fun experience to film.”
Rhea is also filming a CBC movie in which she plays the town drunk in the form of a mean school teacher, which couldn’t be farther from the character she currently provides the voice for on Disney’s Phineas and Ferb.
Standup comedy is a different beast for Rhea, who loves the challenge of a live audience.
“Interaction in the live form is so rare, and live comedy is such a joy that can’t be re-created,” she says. “You have this experience with these people and then it’s gone. But I like being able to connect with young people and older people at the same time.”
Audiences may think they know Rhea from her television persona, but she hopes to surprise them. In fact, she describes herself as a 1800s saloon barmaid with cleavage up to her chin, telling jokes.
“I think I’m a little more risqué onstage than people might expect, but it’s not mean-spirited,” she says. “I’m an open book and I talk about everything from all angles. I think people watch my show and think these things that I actually say.”