- Associated Press - Monday, December 3, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) - Sure, three’s a crowd. But four is a hoot.

Just consider the stars of “Hot in Cleveland,” four funny ladies who would look right at home carved in the Mount Rushmore of comedy.

But rather than on a mountain ridge, this quartet was found one day last week at a tiny midtown Manhattan cafe whose other patrons looked on, bemused, at Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, Wendie Malick and, of course, Betty White huddled with a reporter at a corner banquette.

Their TV Land sitcom, now in its fourth season and airing Wednesdays at 10 p.m. EST, focuses on three slightly past their prime gal-pals from Los Angeles who decide to make a fresh start in Cleveland (of all places!), where they rent a house whose caretaker, played by White, serves as their salty companion and foil.

Hilarity ensues.

But not just on the show. Get these four women together and the laughter is nonstop. Which begs the question: When did each of them realize she was funny?

“I’m STILL waiting for that realization,” says Bertinelli with a laugh.

How’s that? As a teen nearly 40 years ago she was lobbing punch lines on the hit sitcom “One Day at a Time,” which ran on CBS for a decade. “But then I went on to do all these movies of the week. And after that, I would go up for roles on sitcoms and people would say, `She doesn’t do comedy, does she?’ So I started to doubt myself.”

Hard to believe, considering her exuberance and thunderous guffaws.

“She’s our little cheerleader,” says Malick.

“I’m excitable,” Bertinelli, 52, confirms, “and what’s so ironic is that, during the first season of `One Day at a Time,’ I was screamed at because I wasn’t projecting enough.”

“Until my late 30s, I did all bad girls,” says Malick. “Because I was tall, dark and imposing, I was always the murderer or the ex-wife or some nasty girl.”

Then in 1990 came the HBO comedy “Dream On,” where she was cast as the psychologist ex-wife of series star Brian Benben. Soon enough the producers realized she was funny.

“I went from being the straight woman to being more and more neurotic,” Malick, 61, recalls. “By the end of the first season I had a total nervous breakdown. It was so freeing to just let it all out and run with it!” And from there she ran right into “Just Shoot Me,” a long-running NBC comedy set at a fashion magazine, where she played a boozy, slutty former model.

“It happened for me at school,” says Leeves, the British-born actress who spent 11 seasons as physical therapist Daphne Moon on NBC’s “Frasier.”

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