American actress and comedienne Melissa Rauch tells Bibi Nurshuhada Ramli why the sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, is a huge success
HOW many comedians dare to kickstart their career by poking fun at the daughter of a US president?
Petite Melissa Rauch did. Though she had been doing stand-up comedy in Manhattan even when she was in university, it was her highly acclaimed one-woman play, The Miss Education Of Jenna Bush that shot her to stardom.
“Luckily I didn’t get into trouble,” Rauch admits with a laugh in a phone interview. “I hope I didn’t get my phone tapped by the FBI.”
Taking place on the eve of Jenna Bush’s first day as a school teacher, the play had Rauch acting as the daughter of former US president George W. Bush, complete with a thick Texan accent and a schoolgirl demeanour.
“The theme of the play is women at that age and what they think of the US presidency. My boyfriend (Winston Beigel) and I were trying to write a script but it was kind of boring,” Rauch says. Then they saw Jenna at a convention and thought she was very funny.
“She was giving a speech and had inserted a few jokes. The audience laughed of course. Then not realising that her mic was still on, she said proudly ’They’re loving us’. I think everyone heard her, which I thought was really funny.”
The incident inspired Rauch and Beigel to write the play. Bush was given a standing invitation to Rauch’s show but she didn’t turn up.
“I think she would have loved it. It wasn’t meant to be mean-spirited at all,” says Rauch. “People who know Jenna would agree that she’s a fun-loving girl. One day I’d like to meet her in person.”
Rauch, 32, names Carol Burnette, Lucille Ball, Whoopi Goldberg, Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton as her comedy idols. She says: “For inspiration, my family is my go-to people because they are funny, sometimes even unintentionally! In fact, I was inspired by my mother’s high-pitched voice for my character in The Big Bang Theory.”
In the US TV series, Rauch plays Bernadette Rostenkowski, Howard’s (Simon Helberg) fiancee and a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory who works to pay her way through graduate school.
“Bernadette and I share only one thing in common — we both worked as waitresses to reach our dreams. I like that she’s unexpected. She seems quiet but sometimes she can be very edgy, especially when it comes to her taste in bed,” she says, laughing.
Rauch had a recurring role on the series during its third season, but was promoted to a regular cast in Season Four.
“My family and I have been a huge fan ever since the show started. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to audition for the show.”
The sitcom is highly popular because it is relatable, says Rauch. “Here are a bunch of underdogs who are hilariously written. All of us want to do a good job of representing our characters. We love each other and our chemistry shows onscreen, which helped make the show even more interesting.”
Rauch says she was more than thrilled to become a regular on the show and that her co-stars welcomed her.
In The Big Bang Theory, Rauch plays a woman with a background in science studies. “No, I’m not any smarter after being on the show,” she admits regretfully, but she did learn some neat stuff after listening to Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki) explain things on physics.
On the fifth season that premieres on WarnerTV today at 10.30pm, Rauch promises more fun and comedy. “Look forward to the finale of season five. Something big is happening to my character, but something even bigger is in store for the whole gang.”
Besides having guest-starred in numerous TV shows including The Office, Kath & Kim and Dirty Sexy Money, Rauch also had a stint in HBO’s True Blood, where she portrayed a character named Summer for six episodes.
“It was different from The Big Bang Theory. I was excited to play a different kind of character. It was still an amazing experience and I had a blast!”
A bachelor degree holder in fine arts, Rauch had always wanted to be an actress. She can’t remember a time when she didn’t want to act.
“I learnt a lot from what I saw on TV growing up. If I had said I wanted to be a doctor, my parents would be seriously shocked,” she says.
These days, when she’s not working, Rauch enjoys writing scripts with her boyfriend for Funny Or Die, a comedy video website that presents original and user-generated content.
“Recently, we made a country music video with the song Patronizin’ You that we wrote. It was so much fun to do!” Rauch claims, adding that she played country singer Lou-Anne Judd Underbrooks in the video.
On the big screen, her list of credits include I Love You, Man and Delirious. Next, Rauch will appear in Mad Men’s creator Matthew Weiner’s romantic comedy/drama You Are Here alongside Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Poehler and Laura Ramsay.
“I’m so happy to be where I am now,” gushes Rauch. “I’m enjoying myself doing what I do on TV, and I hope to continue walking in the same path in the years to come.”
The fifth season of The Big Bang Theory premieres today. It airs every Wednesday at 10.30pm on WarnerTV (on HyppTV Channel 162). It also stars Kaley Cuoco, Kunal Nayyar and Mayim Bialik.