Rita Rudner is as down to earth as she is funny. She knows how to embrace the aspects and stages of her life, often poking fun at them on the stage or in print.
“Anyone who has experienced difficulties can develop an ironic sense of humor,” the award-winning comedienne said. “That’s why Jews are funny.”
Describing herself as shy, reserved and understated, Rudner modeled her comedy after that of Woody Allen and Jack Benny. Popular female comedians at the time she started – namely Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller – were more outgoing than Rudner, she said.
Raised in Miami, Rudner graduated from high school at 15 and went to New York to become a dancer. She began her show business career on stage in the national company of Zorba with Chita Rivera and John Raitt. After appearing in several Broadway shows, including Follies and Mack and Mabel, Rudner made her last pre-comedian Broadway appearance in 1980 as Lily St. Regis in Annie.
Observing how few female comedians there were as compared to the number of female dancers, Rudner turned her attention to comedy at the age of 25. Was the transition difficult? “If it’s not difficult, it’s not worth doing,” Rudner said.
Rudner got her first big break on the David Letterman show and proceeeded to “build and build.” She described the 80s as a “fertile time for comedy,” with many of the comedians who started then still performing today. She proceeded to appear often on the Johnny Carson show, wrote for the Academy Award show for 3 years, has recorded several award-winning comedy specials (most notably Rita Rudner: Born to Be Mild and Rita Rudner: Married Without Children for HBO and Rita Rudner: Live From Las Vegas for PBS in 2008) and appeared on the Tales from the Crypt episode, “Whirlpool.”
The author of the books I Still Have It; I Just Can’t Remember Where I Put It, Naked Beneath My Clothes and the novels Tickled Pink and Turning the Tables, Rudner has written several screenplays with her husband and producer Martin Bergman and a play called Room 776. Rudner and Bergman wrote the screenplay of the film Peter’s Friends, in which she also acted. She also has a role in her hisband’s 2011 film, Thanks, which had its world premiere at the 2011 Palm Springs Film Festival.
Rudner said that her comedy has stayed the same over the years. “It’s based on what I experience,” she said. “I never make it up. Art is about layers. The process is trying to disguise the art of what it is.”
She added, “You have to write about what’s happening. It may be a youth-oriented culture, but people over 50 are allowed to laugh too.”
Overall, Rudner thinks that comedy has become much harsher since she started doing it. “It’s become more anonymous because of Twitter, Facebook and U-Tube,” she explained. “It’s encouraged people to be aggressive, because they’re not held accountable. I want to be funny but not mean.”
Rudner’s comedy has evolved along with her personal life, or her three lives, as she called them – career, marriage and child. After focusing heavily on her career as a solo performer, she discovered and began to collaborate with Bergman: “he hired me, he paid me, he married me.” They have been married for 23½ years, and she thinks the chemistry works well partly because Bergman is comfortable behind the scenes. “It’s a lot more difficult if both halves of a couple are competing for the limelight,” she said.
Stage three of Rudner’s life began when the couple decided to adopt their daughter, Molly, now 9½. “Parenthood has been a real adjustment, because it takes a lot of energy. Her favoritte game is hide and seek. It’s ours too. Sometimes we don’t look for her right away,” she joked.
Rudner said that she has “gained a perspective on what’s really important” by becoming a parent, and, since 2001, she has has performed almost exclusively in Las Vegas, selling over one million tickets. She moved to a larger theater at The Venetian in January 2011.
“It’s been a fantastic change,” she said. “I didn’t have to travel as much. I could drive to work instead of flying to work. I became one of the first resident acts in Las Vegas. Since then, a lot of people have decided it was a good idea.”
Rudner added, “I can be a comedian from 7 to 10 at night while being a full-time mother. I can separate my life.”
This spring, Rudner, who also has a home in Laguna Beach, will return to her roots by joining the 13-member ensemble cast of The Laguna Playhouse’s production of Tickled Pink, scheduled to make its world premiere in April 2012 as the theatre’s final production in its 2011-2012 season.
Written by Rudner and Bergman, Tickled Pink is the stage adaptation of Rudner’s 2002 well-received and best-selling novel. Bergman, who has a thirty-year track record of producing, writing and directing for stage, TV and film, will direct the play.
Tickled Pink tracks the journey of a youthfully spirited and Broadway bound Mindy Solomon who moves from Florida to New York dreaming of a dancing career. Unexpected events force her to rethink her grand plan. Spending way too much time in the comedy club where her future ex-boyfriend works, Mindy nervously goes up on stage one night. People laugh. Not in the places where Mindy thought they’d laugh, but hey, it’s a start.
Rudner quipped with tongue-in-cheek as usual, “I’m so looking forward to acting in a play again. It’s been a long time since I’ve been paid such little money.”
Founded in 1920 and celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2011-2012, The Laguna Playhouse is one of the oldest continuously-operating theatres on the West Coast. In January 2011, The Laguna Playhouse was honored at the Laguna Spirit Awards and received The Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce Premiere Business of the Year award.
Tickled Pink is set to run April 24 to May 20, 2012. Single ticket prices range from $30 to $70 based on performance day and time.
For more information, contact The Laguna Playhouse at 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; (949) 497-ARTS (2787) or firstname.lastname@example.org.