PASADENA — On the way to becoming a TV star and producer, Melissa Rauch (show here) was strongly impacted by laundry appliances – twice.
Really. These days, she stars in the revived “Night Court” (8 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC, starting Jan. 17), a show she and her husband willed into existence, in the midst of a pandemic and a baby boom.
But long before that, there were times when she scrambled for comedy gigs. “There were stand-up nights in a laundromat,” she recalled. “People would be doing their laundry next to you.”
And much earlier, Rauch found herself being mocked for her height, or lack thereof. Her mother’s suggestion was to have fun with it; they concocted a story: “I would tell people that I was playing hide-and-seek in the dryer and someone accidentally turned it on.” It was a clever notion that, alas, backfired: “Now I was the weird kid who shrunk in the dryer.”
A knack for the weird has helped propel her. She’s done comedy everywhere, from her own Bat Mitzvah (10 minutes of impressions before a captive audience) to school and laundromats and beyond.
And the size helped, too. She could still play the title role in a community-theater “Annie” at 14; later, she could star as a bedraggled ex-gymnast in “Bronze,” a movie she wrote with her husband, Winston Rauch. And it made her ideal to play Howard’s girlfriend (and then wife) in “The Big Bang Theory.”
But no, she doesn’t spend all of her time hanging with tiny people. On “Night Court,” Reich (4-foot-11 “barely”) is the judge and the 6-foot-4 John Larroquette is Dan Fielding, the reluctant public defender.
“He must just do a good job of shooting everything down to me,” she said, “because I don’t notice (the height difference) that much.” High heels help; so does the fact that she’s often at a judicial bench. “I wish I had one at home; it would be helpful for parenting.”
Rauch’s own parents were good examples, she said. Her dad (an accountant, “very by the books”) and mom (a poet with a day job doing office work) told her to follow her dreams. She starred in school shows in New Jersey (including as Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls”) and went to Marymount Manhattan College, studying theater by day and stand-up at night.
There were slow points. Rauch recalls “calling my mom and crying, “Why did you let me follow my dreams?” But she made inroads – a few guest roles … a regular contributor to cable’s “Best Week Ever” … creating and starring in a praised theater piece, “The Miseducation of Jenna Bush Hager.”
Still, she was discouraged. There was a desperate call to an agent, who said there was nothing available; the next day, she was told to try a “Big Bang” audition.
“There were so many girls there,” Rauch said. “I knew I wouldn’t get it.”
But she did; during rehearsals the show put a hold on her for a possible two more episodes.
It turned out to be 209 episodes, some award nominations and a key part of TV’s most popular comedy. “Big Bang” ended four years ago, when her daughter was 1. Rauch did voice roles, was in as Steven Soderbergh movie (appropriately called “Laundromat”) and pondered reviving “Night Court” — a show that ended 30 years ago, just before she became a teen-ager.
And then, as she was working on it, everything changed.
Her son was born in March of 2020, just as the pandemic was taking hold. What might have been a quiet life – a baby, a toddler and no work – instead became a production flurry. “I never imagined that John Larroquette would become my Zoom buddy.”
Larroquette agreed to return and play Fielding, now switching to the defense. Rauch – who had planned to stick to producing – decided to play the judge (the daughter of the original Judge Harry Stone).
It’s been a complicated life of writing, pitches and Zoom chats, “often very late night late at night.”
But it felinto place . “Night Court” opens at 8 and 8:30 p.m. Tuesday (Jan. 17), then stays in the 8 p.m. slot. Rauch is a star again … far from her working-in-a-laundromat days.