Caroline Rhea has been to Provincetown before. She knows she had a good time, but she just can’t remember when she was here or what she did while on the Cape tip. And not for the reasons you may think. According to her, after she had her daughter at age 44 it erased her memory. She signed up for Lumosity, the website designed to increase memory and brain function…but she forgot her password.
“I could never be an S and M dominatrix,” says Rhea. “I’d never remember the safe word.”
Rhea may forget a lot of things – like what she walked into a room for or that the cable guy knocking at the door was coming today instead of tomorrow – but she does remember that she has a gig at Town Hall Wednesday night as well as on Thursday where she will don her Phineas and Ferb costume when she appears as the grand marshal of the Provincetown Carnival parade. That she remembers quite well.
“I’m very excited to come,” says Rhea. “I love the gay community so much. I always have. Maybe a little too much. Every best friend I’ve ever had has been gay. Most of my boyfriends have been, too. “
Being a “Fruit Fly”(a much more genteel moniker than “Fag Hag” notes Rhea) has been a badge of honor for many, many years, says Rhea. And Rhea’s mother noticed years before she did that each of her relationships were delightfully doomed to end with discussions of handbags and shoes rather than romance. In high school when Rhea was dating a boy named Gary her mother decided to have a mother/daughter chat about what seemed to be obvious to everyone but Rhea.
“When he arrived my mother came and got me and said, ‘Your friend Gary is here and I think the ‘R’ is silent’,” says Rhea. “I’m usually the last stop before they come out. There should be a town called Caroline Rhea Town that you visit just before you get to Ptown. I can’t tell you how many men have said to me, ‘Going out with you made me realize I love men.’”
A lot of the gay love Rhea is used to will be on display while she is here in Provincetown, for certain. She’s been a fan favorite for her self-deprecating humor and quick, giggly wit. A native of Montreal, Rhea got her start in stand up when she moved to New York City in 1989. Soon after her arrival she became a hit at the famed comedy club Catch A Rising Star. Once atop the competitive New York comedy scene Rhea shot further to comedic fame with the television specials MTV’s Half-Hour Comedy Hour, Comic Strip Live, and Caroline’s Comedy Hour. Following her meteoric rise she moved to Los Angeles to see what Hollywood had to offer, which led to her role as Aunt Hilda on the hit series Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. She played one of the two 600-year-old witches raising their equally magical niece with a talking black cat named Salem in modern-day Massachusetts.
“It took me until season five to realize that we were witches,” says Rhea. “I thought we were Jewish.”
Not just popular with the tweens it was aimed at, the show also developed a cult following…and some really freaky fans. You know the kind, the ones who thought Rhea was a real witch, that the show contained hidden messages, or that it was a serious exploration of modern-day witchcraft. Um. No. It was just a show for kids. But above all else, the thing Rhea gets asked about most, not just in regards to the show, but to her career as well, revolves around the talking cat.
“Ninety-nine percent of the questions were if the cat was real or not,” laughs Rhea. “It always makes me laugh. A lot of people think the cat was real even after I tell them it wasn’t. I’ve met a lot of people who named their cat Salem, too.”
Rhea meets fans who have an affinity for all kinds of things she’s done, from her early days in New York stand up to her talk show The Caroline Rhea Show to her stint on Hollywood Squares to her tenure as the host of The Biggest Loser. But another of her roles that reached cult status, especially amongst gay men, is as the trashy and sassy Noleta Nethercott in Sordid Lives: The Series. Based on the film of the same name Rhea reveled in playing the over-the-top Texas trailer park floozy caught up in a twister of comedic drama.
“There’s a place in my heart for Noleta and not to mention that if I could I would wear my hair like that all the time,” says Rhea. “What’s the saying? The higher the hair the closer to God. Amen.”
Rhea has lots of surprises planned for her show here in Provincetown. And to show she’s willing to spill the goods and tell the secrets she gave Provincetown Magazine a big scoop. Writer and director of the original Sordid Lives Del Shores is shooting a sequel to the cult classic this winter titled A Very Sordid Wedding that will address the issue of marriage equality in a way that only those characters can. And Rhea will be cast as Noleta, along with Leslie Jordan in his iconic role as Brother Boy.
“I can’t wait,” says Rhea. “I love Del, I love gay men, and I’m going to love Provincetown. And this time I’ll remember it!”
Caroline Rhea will perform on Wednesday, August 20 at
8 p.m. at Provincetown Town Hall, 260 Commercial St. Tickets ($40/$45/$55 VIP with a meet and greet) are available at the Fire House, 254 Commercial St. (starting Saturday) at the door or online at ptown.org. For more information call the Provincetown Business Guild at 508.487.2313.