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The Star of the Show

RC Smith warms up crowds at Rachel Ray's TV show but the spotlight will be his at Princeton Catch a Rising Star.

If you’re the kind of person who sits in a comedy club silently praying that the comic on stage not pay any attention to you, beware of RC Smith. You’re just the kind of person he likes to poke some fun at.

“I’m like a shark, I can smell the blood in the water,” the comic says. “I go right for the crippled seal that’s laying on the ice floe.”

Smith’s act is all about interacting with the crowd, and making jokes about their jobs, ethnic backgrounds, their clothes or whatever strikes Smith as funny in the moment. And he promises it’s all in good fun.

“People go to a comedy show because they’re not quite sure what’s going to happen, it’s going to be unexpected,” says Smith, who will perform at Princeton Catch a Rising Star on Sept. 16 and 17. “People go to a show expecting that they might become part of it, like ‘Oh my God, we’re going to get picked on by the comic’ and stuff like that.So I figured instead of doing a couple of people, why not pick on the whole audience, and get everybody involved.”

Smith’s freewheeling style means that every show is different, which keeps audiences laughing and him on his feet.

“The thought of getting up on stage and saying the same words over and over and over again is kind of boring to me,” he says. “So I like the idea of going up on stage not knowing what’s going to happen, I think that’s exciting.”

Smith grew up in Cleveland and studied theater at Xavier University in Cleveland, then moved to New York. “I did the starving actor thing, working odd jobs a bit, and I got kind of bored with it,” he says.

He joined an improv group, then realized he wanted to be a solo performer. He started his standup career at an open mic night in Manhattan.

“It was brutal,” he says of his comedy debut. “And to this day, the guy who introduced me, I can remember the exact words. It was my very first time, they put me on at like 11:30 on a Monday night. So there’s no one in the crowd, it’s a club down in the village, and the guy who introduced me said, ‘This next guy may be pretty funny but I doubt it.’ That was my intro and I was like, 'my God this is the toughest business ever.'”

Princeton Catch has long been a part of his career, though he only headlined there for the first time about eight months ago.

“That was one of the very first places where I was ever an opening act,” he says. “And I was like, ‘Oh boy. I’m going on the road, all the way to Princeton!’ A couple of years go by and the next thing you know I’m headlining at the place.”

Smith also works regularly warming up audiences at television shows like the daytime version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and, for the past six years, “Rachel Ray.” But he’ll be the star of the show when he takes stage at Princeton.

“When you’re the warm-up guy, it’s really not about you,” he says. “It’s about the show and the host, and making sure the audience is prepared to see whatever it is they’re going to see. At a club, it’s all about me, so I can be a little more freewheeling, a little more adult. I can say what I’m really thinking as opposed to when I’m working on a TV show, I have to toe the party line a little bit. “

His “Rachel Ray” gig involves greeting audiences, telling some jokes and answering questions. He calls the job a mix of being a comic, a babysitter, a traffic cop and a rodeo clown. “Those are all of the things that I have to do, because there’s a certain amount of information I have to give as well,” he says. “How come we’re not taping right now? What’s going on? Who’s that person carrying that hot pot?”

Smith has also warmed up audiences for shows hosted by Ricki Lake, Caroline Rhea and Tony Danza. He just started his sixth season with “Rachel Ray” and is thrilled to have a regular paying gig, something to be cherished for a comic.

And he gets to taste the food made on the show. He says whatever the host cooks is given to a lucky crew member each day, with food also being donating to food banks.

“But I often get my share of tasting whatever’s cooked during the day,” Smith says.

So the big question is: How good is Rachel Ray’s cooking?

“I keep going back,” he says, “I’ve been here six years.”

RC Smith will perform Sept. 16 and 17 at Princeton Catch a Rising star at the Hyatt Regency, 102 Carnegie Center in West Windsor. Shows are Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets cost $19.50. For information, go to www.catcharisingstar.com.

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