September 29, 2023
Florida Icon: Rhonda Shear

Photo: Thomas Fagan

"You can find love after 40. You can start a new career after 40," says the actor, stand-up comic and entrepreneur of St. Petersburg, Florida. "It’s never too late to start over."


Florida Icon: Rhonda Shear

Actor, stand-up comic, entrepreneur, St. Petersburg; age 67

Art Levy | 9/6/2022

When I auditioned for Up All Night, there were so many women auditioning, and they all dressed like newscasters. I wore a dress cut really low, and I took out my blow dryer, turned it on during the audition and pretended like I was blow-drying my hair. I was creating a character. If I didn’t get the part, I didn’t get it, but I was tired of being told I was too sexy to be funny, so I just went for it, went for being overtly sexy. I did Up All Night for eight years, 450 shows.

My mother wanted me to be Miss America. I did win Miss Louisiana USA and like 50 different titles but not Miss America. I never have anything bad to say about the pageants. What I learned at a very young age was that competition could be really good. It can really push you forward.

I hid behind comedy my whole life. Even when I answered questions on stage as a pageant contestant, I always went for the joke and the laugh.

The casting couch was very much alive and well when I was in L.A. I wouldn’t meet in hotel rooms. A lot of times, I wouldn’t go to interviews alone. I had a couple of really hairy situations. Once, I was reading for a legitimate role at one of the studios, and it got a little later in the evening. The secretaries were leaving, and we were in the office, and all of a sudden this guy sits next to me, this producer, and he’s like, ‘I would really like to act out this love scene,’ and he started making passes — and I just fled. I was never held down, thank God. And then I had another producer, same situation. I met him in his office. Same thing happened. I ran out the door. I kid all the time that if I would have slept around, I would have been a major star.

I basically hit L.A. in 1978, and it was still a little bit of the old Hollywood scene then. It was before ‘me too.’ There was no one you could tell. Women — and men, too — couldn’t speak up because if you spoke up, you would have been black-balled.

I know this sounds weird because I’m blabbing and blabbing to you, but I’m basically shy one-on-one. If I talk in front of a group of 5,000 people or on air, I’m fine. But if I walk into a party, I’m not one who can circulate and go up to people.

My husband’s name is Van Fagan. We were junior high sweethearts in New Orleans, and we reconnected 21 years ago through classmates. com. He was divorced a year. We flirted back and forth a little bit, and then I kind of led him on to come visit me in L.A., and then at the last minute I broke the date. But he kept writing me letters. This one e-mail really got me. He wrote that we’re both free, we’re both single and you could be missing out on meeting the sexiest man alive. We got married in 2001 and moved to Florida in 2004.

Someone told us about this opportunity on Home Shopping Network, that they had lost the person who was doing intimate apparel and that I would be great at it because I was known on Up All Night for wearing sexy stuff. We get there and sold out our first 10,000 units in minutes. We kept coming back, and the orders kept getting bigger and bigger. We were vendors at that point. We weren’t manufacturing, but we just kept putting the money back in the business, back in the business, back in the business, and now we manufacture everything, and I design. We began selling the Ahh Bra. It’s a comfortable, stretchy bra, and we still sell the heck out of the Ahh Bra. We have 25 employees, two warehouses, a design center and a studio. It has been an amazing journey.

Van and I are great cooks. We cook New Orleans food big time. I do a mean gumbo. Van does a mean crawfish etouffee. We love crawfish boils.

I had this incredible start in Hollywood. I was getting part after part —Happy Days, Three’s Company. At one time, George Shapiro was my manager. He was Jerry Seinfeld’s manager. He was really helping me, but then my father passed away in 1984, and I flipped out. I think I had my own little nervous breakdown to the point where I physically felt I couldn’t move. I was on the set of Cheers. I had gotten a Cheers episode. It was a really nice part, and I sat down, and I could not stand up. So I took off almost year and went back to New Orleans and got better. When I came back to L.A., it just wasn’t the same. Missing that one year really hurt me. At the same time, I started wanting to do stand-up comedy. I thought that was my forte to get back. Stand-up was great. It wasn’t easy, but I did it.

Florida is a very accepting state, and I love that.

I consume news like there’s no tomorrow. I subscribe to everything. I like to read all sides of everything — the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the New York Times, the Tampa Bay Times and entertainment stuff. I get it all, so I’m constantly reading news.

You can find love after 40. You can start a new career after 40. It’s never too late to start over.

Tags: Florida Icon, Feature

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