Melissa Peterman: “Laughter Can Get You Through Anything”

Melissa Peterman stole our hearts and our laughs playing Barbra Jean in Reba. The comedienne is set to host Dancing Fools and return as Bonnie Wheeler in the second season of Baby Daddy. She will also host the ABC Family game show Bet On Your Baby.

Melissa opens up to Celebrity Baby Scoop about her son, Riley, 7, and her three television shows. She also discusses her close friendship with Reba McEntire and shares why she thinks it’s important for parents to learn to laugh and enjoy parenthood.

CBS: Tell us all about your new show, Bet On Your Baby. What’s it all about?

MP: “Bet On Your Baby is a game show that tests parents on how well they know their own children; it sees if the parents can predict the unpredictable, which is a toddler, for the chance to win college money. What I loved about the show is that the kids are not involved in the game at all; they are just being kids and having a great time. The parents are the ones playing the game. The show is fun and contains elements of Kids Say The Darndest Things, because I interact and improvise with the kids. It also has a candid camera where the parents can watch what their kids are doing without being present. It is a game show where you can win money for college, which, in this day and age, everyone is thinking about. I know I am.”

CBS: The show is based on the belief that parents know their tots well. Do you think you know your kids well? Or do you think they would surprise you on the show?

MP: “I think we all think we know our kids well. However, no, I don’t. I think I know how my kid is going to behave on any given day and the reality is that it changes. It certainly changes when I’m not around. I teach him manners and I won’t know if he practices these manners when I am not there, and it turns out he does. Likewise, he will be at a friends house and the parents will say to me, “Oh, he ate sushi!” I’ll be like, “What?! I can’t get him to eat anything here!” [laughs] Someone will also say, “He was so delightful!” and I’ll be like, “really?!” So yes, I think that we all think we know our kids, but it is harder when they are two-and-a-half to three-years-old. That age is completely unpredictable; their favorite toy changes hourly and one day their favorite food is one thing and the next day it is different. We think we know them, but the reality is that they are their own person.

There are definitely surprises on the show. For example, there was the sweetest little boy, and in his challenge his dad said, “Here’s a beach ball. You need to hold onto it until I come back, no matter what. I am just going to be gone for a minute. ” We had a remote control car holding a cupcake come in, which is kryptonite for a kid. [laughs] The boy’s mom thought, like any mom would, that he would drop the ball and go for the cupcake, like any kid would do. The sweet boy completely listened to his dad and as the car approached him, he talked to it and told it to go back and get away from him. [laughs] It was awesome. I told the parents, “Your kid did what he was supposed to do, even in the midst of the cupcake kryptonite!” The mom was shocked that the boy listened to his dad. It was the cutest thing ever. He was like, “No, no, no, go back, go back!”

I think my own kids would also surprise me on the show. My seven-year-old son Riley is a little too old for the show, but I think he is a pretty good rule-follower. He would get excited about playing the game. I do think he might surprise me though. I’d love for him to be really little again, because, as a parent, it is so fun to observe your young children when they don’t know you’re there. It’s so entertaining. I love walking them to school and then staying back and watching them play with other kids. When they don’t know you’re watching, it’s very interesting. I think he would do very well on the show, I mean, the kids can’t go wrong as they are just playing a game. I would love to see him play. Maybe next year I can try to make him look smaller so he can play for college money.” [laughs]                                                                                    

CBS: Tell us about Riley. What is he into? What does he do to make you laugh?

MP: “My seven-year-old son Riley is a first grader. He loves our two dogs and other animals. He also loves watching Rugrats and other old school cartoons like Hey Arnold!, which I also love. [laughs] He is a very good artist who likes to draw, color, and paint. He also started writing a diary, and that’s been quite interesting. I won’t lie, I have peeked in the diary and it was hilarious. He also likes to play with his friends and ride bikes, as well as go to movies with his mom.

He makes me laugh a lot. Last night, we were playing a memory game and he completely followed what his dad said. Every time he won he said, “Yeah, baby!” That made me laugh. He has a really good sense of humor. His dad and I both come from comedy and when I was pregnant we were concerned that he wouldn’t have a sense of humor. However, it turns out that he does. He also used his first “air quote” in a sarcastic way, which I wasn’t super proud of, but it was well done. Another really funny thing was that he wrote in his diary, “Dear Diary,” which he spelt “dairy,” “ My dad is crazy.” [laughs]

CBS: Tell us about your work on Baby Daddy as well. How do you manage two TV shows along with motherhood? How do you balance it all? 

MP: “I play Bonnie Wheeler the grandma, and it is hard to admit that I play a grandma. [laughs] In the show, I have two sons who I had when I was very young, and my youngest son is raising a child that he had when he was very young. It’s a very fun show. The season premiere is May 29th. We already got picked up for a third season before our second season even aired, which was a huge, nice confidence booster for the network. I am super excited about the second season, because Wayne Brady and Caroline Rhea guest star, and Greg Grunberg from Heroes plays my ex-husband. Lacey Chabert is recurring, as well as Matt Dallas. We have a really strong second season and I am super excited for it to air. It’s fun to be with such an awesome cast. We all like each other a lot and I don’t feel too old around them [laughs] It’s lovely! I got very lucky on my first show with Reba and getting this cast and crew makes me feel like I won the lottery again. I love it.

I have three TV shows. I have another ABC Family show called Dancing Fools that follows Baby Daddy. This show also airs on May 29th. The reality is that because it is not regular hours, I can have three really busy months and then have nothing. I just wrapped Baby Daddy and I will shoot Dancing Fools at the end of this month. I spend more time with my son than a mom who has a nine-to-five job. I stay busy, but at the end of every job there is the possibility that I can be home forever. That is how you look at it as an actor, anyway. I am done with Bet On Your Baby, and, aside from shooting Dancing Fools for a week, I am off until I go back in July. It looks busier than it is. There are intense periods of busy schedules followed by long periods of laziness.” [laughs]                                                                                

CBS: Both of your shows send the message to parents: Learn to laugh and enjoy parenthood. Please tell us why you think this is important.

MP: “I don’t want to sound too cheesy, but laughter can get you through anything. Life is so much easier if you can laugh. My marriage survived because we laughed. I think it is good to let your kids know that they shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. The reality is that you are pretty lucky most days. There are a lot of things to laugh at.”

CBS: You’ve worked with Reba McEntire on Reba. What was it like working with her? Did she give you any valuable showbiz advice? 

MP: “It was so fantastic working with Reba. The whole cast is still very tight. Having my first job on a TV show with her as the lead was a huge learning experience. I watched her bring humor, respect, and grace to the set, and I hope I also bring those elements to everywhere I work. I feel lucky to do it. We should have fun, respect everyone, and know that it is a blessing to do what you love. There shouldn’t be any drama. She’s funny and very kind, and I’m actually going to her house for dinner tonight. [laughs] We’re still really tight friends and I learned a lot from watching her navigate being a mother, being in the business, and having time for her family. I would call her one of my best friends.

Reba gave me so much valuable showbiz advice. One piece of advice is: Never belittle the gift that God gave you. She told me that after 9/11. We were supposed to be shooting that week and we didn’t, and I was thinking to myself, what am I doing? I am not a fireman or a police officer or a doctor, so what do I do for a living? She told me to not belittle the gift God gave me. Being able to do that is an important thing, and I remember that all the time.”

CBS: How do you plan to celebrate Mother’s Day? What does Mother’s Day mean to you?

MP: “I will hopefully spend Mother’s Day in sweatpants, on the couch, and with my two boys making me breakfast and letting me control the remote control. [laughs] I think that would be fantastic, and I’m lucky that my husband and son also enjoy those days where we don’t have to do too much. I think it’s too much pressure. As someone who used to wait tables, the idea of brunch on Mother’s Day is too much pressure. I would rather have breakfast at home in sweatpants and hang out all day. To me, Mother’s Day is a day where you can wear sweatpants and not feel bad about it.”

CBS: Does your family have any plans for the summer?

MP: “When Riley finishes school, we will probably go back to Minnesota to visit our family. My husband is from Wisconsin and I am from Minnesota, so we will go back to Minneapolis and hang out with the family. My husband and I are also going on a big couples trip to Ireland with a bunch of our friends. I’ll be back to work in the end of July for the third season of Baby Daddy.

If we are here in California during the summer, Riley loves to swim in our pool. When I had a child, I decided that I don’t like to go anywhere. [laughs] We both decided that we were going to have a pool, a bar, and a barbeque so every weekend people would come to us and we’d grill brats. [laughs] Basically, in the summer we like to have a lot of barbeque and swim time.”

CBS: What’s up next for you?

MP: “I am going to shoot Dancing Fools at the end of this month for ABC Family, which will air on Wednesdays after Baby Daddy. Other than that I am kind of on a break until I go back to work in July. If there was a movie where I could work for a week, I’d love to do it, but I feel lucky that I work and I don’t mind taking time off. I host the Sound of Music Sing-A-long in September, which will be my tenth year hosting, and I’m also hosting my son’s preschool auction. One charity that is close to my heart is the Unusual Suspects Theatre Company here in LA, which brings theater and the arts to kids at risk. They have a big benefit in May and I am a part of that every year. I really like what they do.”

Bet On Your Baby premieres with back-to-back episodes on ABC Family on Saturday, April 13th at 8/7 Central. To watch the premieres of Baby Daddy and Dancing Fools, tune into ABC Family on May 29th at 8:30/7:30 Central.

Filed under: Exclusives,Melissa Peterman

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  1. Lulu

    Thanks to photoshop for that unatural color of her eyes!

  2. klutzy_girl

    Love her on Reba and Baby Daddy!

  3. anonymous

    What a nice article. Melissa sounds very real and down to earth. I thought she was hilarious on Reba.

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