When comedian Rita Rudner returns, you will be seeing the talent that has had her named Las Vegas’s “Comedian of the Year” nine years in a row. What you may not know that she was nearly not a comedian at all. At 15, she came to New York to dance and appeared in several Broadway shows. She danced for a few years and then she just stopped. In an interview, she explained why. “I noticed there weren’t too many female comedians and loads of dancers,” she said. “You gotta pioneer it. It’s a position of power. You’re controlling people’s emotions, making people laugh.”
Making people laugh has been Rudner’s stock in trade for years. She has had several HBO specials, including Rita Rudner’s One Night Stand, and a BBC show that later appeared in the United States on A&E. Her two one-hour specials for HBO, Born to be Mild, and Married Without Childrenwere hits and she has filled Carnegie Hall in New York three times and the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles twice. In 2008, Rita Rudner: Live from Las Vegas, was PBS’s first ever stand-up comedy special.
Not content to keep ‘em laughing on stage and screen, Rudner has written five books, including Naked Beneath My Clothes: Rita Rudner’s Guide to Menand I Still Have it…I Just Can’t Remember Where I Put It.The audio version of Naked Beneath my Clotheswas nominated for a Grammy.
For the former dancer, becoming a comedian wasn’t a lot of laughs, at least at the beginning. It took a lot of preparation, including research on comedy at the Museum of Broadcasting, where she came to admire Jack Benny. “He would just stand there and deliver it as if it weren’t funny,” she said. “He would just look at the audience and didn’t have to say anything. That’s professional.”
She also admired the writing of Woody Allen and watched many of his specials, although she found his persona too intense for her own personality. Benny was a more laid-back presence. “Jack Benny was so understated and Woody Allen was the best joke writer,” she said. “I listened to both a lot and did a combo: Woodybenny or BennyAllen.”
Like many comedians, Rudner has found humor in her own life, including her marriage to producer Martin Bergman. “My comedy is about my life,” she said. “It’s about being married 30 years, being a mother, and not knowing anything about technology. I just bought a new car and it might as well say, ‘Stupid, you pushed the wrong button.’ I don’t like to talk about things unrelated to what I’ve experienced.’
Rudner has said that she writes on torn pieces of paper with coffee stains, but she is actually very organized when she performs. “I have to know exactly what I’m going to do,” she said. “You don’t go into a heart operation unprepared. If something happens, I have to respond. In a show, I was attacked by a moth. I had to do something. I always leave space at the end for questions and answers for spontaneity.”
“Everyone will have a good time and I’ll be wearing a pretty dress,” she said.