Rudner finds niche taking novel approach to comedy

Feb 12, 2002 4:33 AM

EDITOR’S NOTE: Comedienne Rita Rudner recently wrote her third book and first novel entitled Tickled Pink, which made the New York Times best-seller list. The Las Vegas resident, married to Englishman Martin Bergman since 1989, performs six nights a week at New York, New York. Rudner spoke with GamingToday writer Mark Mayer last week shortly before her sold-out show.

GT: Do you enjoy living all year in Las Vegas?

RR: I have loved Las Vegas since coming here to perform 14 years ago. I had a two-week vacation this year and really wanted to come back. I looked at all the hotels around the country and noticed they were all beige. That’s so boring. I like a purple hotel, a green hotel, a pink hotel. I get that visual stimulation when I’m in Vegas. It’s daytime when it’s night time.

GT: Was there an adjustment you had to make living here?

RR: We had a gradual one. We lived here six months last year at the MGM. They gave us a suite, which was beautiful. But, when you see the elevator doors open and you hear Wheel of Fortune, it’s a little wacky. Now that we have our own house 10 minutes from where I work. Fantastic.

GT: Do you like sports?

RR: I love sports and people don’t know that. They think I am a girly girl, running around in my high heels and nightgown at night. I love basketball and did the football picks in the Las Vegas Sun. My husband and I bet $5 on the Under in the Super Bowl. I was so happy. I always loved tennis and now have gotten really into golf. Hockey is the only sport I don’t like. I am near-sighted, can’t see the puck.

GT: When did you know that comedy was what you wanted to do?

RR: The first time I got on stage. It was so liberating to be saying things the way I thought. I didn’t have to be told where to face and what to say. I could say whatever I wanted. Jack Benny and Bob Hope had writers all the time.

GT: Have the audiences changed?

RR: Yes. They want a more diversified experience now. When I first started doing shows in Las Vegas, the restaurants, spas and shopping weren’t here. People just soaked up the gambling. Now, it’s a whole different mindset. They want to be entertained.

GT: Is it more enjoyable being Rita Rudner comedienne or Rita Rudner novelist?

RR: Both are difficult. I have facts in notebooks here trying to figure new jokes. I have already started a new book, which is set in Vegas. The computer is staring at me at home. I love having achieved something, like writing a page of a book or joke that I like. Being a comedienne is something I do every night. Luckily I don’t have to choose.

GT: The HBO specials give you the ultimate freedom of expression. Can you take that further?

RR: HBO and I have had a great relationship, but it’s kind of bizarre.  HBO is a cable network where you can have nudity and swearing. I don’t swear and, as far as I know, I haven’t been nude on television. I use HBO like Hollywood Squares or Regis and Kelly/Kathy. I have the kind of act where I don’t have to be censored.

GT: Is it harder for an attractive woman to be funny?

RR: Attractive is a relative term. I have never been the pretty girl in any situation.

I was very shy in high school. I am not Totie Fields, but I am also not Claudia Schiffer. I’m pretty for a comedienne, but you have to have tremendous insecurities and overcome battles in your life to become a comic. I had to find a way for people to pay attention to me. I was never queen of the prom. A lot tried plastic surgery. Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, Roseanne never made a secret of it. You always struggle, but I feel I found my niche here in Las Vegas at my 450-seat theater. This is my home now.

GT: Would you want to host a TV variety show or be in a sit-com?

RR: Yes at first, but what I am doing is making me happier than what I would have to do in Hollywood. Trying to appeal to a demographic or getting your show aired behind the right show is a lot of pressure. The odds are so slim. On prime time TV, there are no female comediennes. Zero. The network didn’t want Lucy to be married to Desi. Carol Burnett was married to a very powerful producer so she was able to get on. She was fantastic, as was Mary Tyler Moore. She was another woman who had a powerful husband. Those were teams. Today, the powers that be in TV just want male comics. That’s just the way it is. I live in Vegas, so I go with the odds.

GT: Every comic can bomb from time to time. Is the feeling worse for a woman?

RR: No. You bomb because you don’t know what you’re doing. As you learn, you get better. A lot of doctors botched their first operation. I wouldn’t want to be the subject of their surgical life at that point.

GT: Is it better now for women trying to break into the business?

RR: No, it’s gotten worse. It looked for a while like it was going to get better, but then it slipped back. Attractive but not especially handsome men pair themselves in movies with supermodels. I wouldn’t say this is the best time to get into standup.

GT: Do you adjust your act to the audience or just try to get everyone involved?

RR: I like to get everyone involved. There are things you experience in Vegas that you don’t experience anywhere else. I do have special jokes in my act just for Las Vegas. When I do a jewelry convention in Tucson (last Sunday), I’ll have different things there.

GT: Did people comment about your voice and delivery?

RR: Yes, they said be louder and more aggressive. One comedy club in Manhattan wouldn’t allow me on stage until I went to a voice coach and change my whole way of speaking. That’s how wrong she was. I think my voice is one of my best assets.

GT: How long did it take people to laugh at what you said, instead of how you said it?

RR: That’s an interesting question. I was being laughed at because I had a persona that was kind of quirky. You can just tell when you hit a joke. It’s the consistency of the joke that you have to pay attention to. I like to offer new perspectives regarding men and women, to point out things in a unique way.

GT: Having your own theater is pretty neat, isn’t it?

RR: Yes, it wasn’t in the master plan. I was working more in Vegas every year and. We bought a condo. We wound up spending so much time here that I was offered a three-year contract at New York, New York. I have been here a year in April. But you never know, someone could come in and say that this could make a great waterslide.

GT: Did you ever have a favorite comedian?

RR: Yes, Jack Benny. I didn’t know much about him until I did research. I listened to old comedy albums that still hold up today. Jack Benny was a complete comedic character. He was understated and you believed everything about him.

GT: Where is comedy headed today?

RR: I don’t really know. Howard Stern, for example, is not on my radar. I don’t get up that early. There will always be different types of humor for different types of people. It seems the movies are either stupid comedies or really serious movies. It’s hard to get that balance of sophisticated comedies. What’s good about comedy is that there are so many styles. That’s what makes America great. I’m sure the Taliban would tell you what to laugh at, if you were allowed to laugh.

GT: Rita, how would you like to be remembered?

RR: Well, I hope I’m not done too quickly, cause I’m having a good time. I just think, “she was funny,” is enough.