“I don’t want to insult you, but you look a lot like Rita Rudner.” The Starbucks barista smiled at the woman, who was indeed Rita Rudner. “I didn’t know what to say to that,” Rudner sighs, amused. “So I asked for a Venti Latte. And now it’s in the act!”
The iconic comedienne, who will be performing her standup act at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on August 22, incorporates her everyday life into her shows, whether it be about family, friends or strangers. “For example, I’ve been married 25 years, and we recently had an anniversary,” she notes. “The act of being a woman in this day and age, and the things that are happening in my life…they seem to be happening in everybody’s life. I want everyone to come out rubbing their ribs—from laughing so hard and from elbowing each other in the ribs.” Rudner acknowledges that relatability is the most important factor in comedy. “It’s like dating Taylor Swift—you know that when she goes out with someone, she’s going to write a song.”
Rudner didn’t start out doing comedy. Born in Miami, Florida, Rita moved to New York as a teenager to pursue a career as a dancer. She appeared in many shows, including the original productions of Follies and Mack & Mabel. “I was on Broadway for 10 years,” Rudner explains, “and all I did was dance!”
Deciding she wanted more out of her career, Rudner turned to writing and comedy. She studied the work of Jack Benny and Woody Allen and developed a distinct style for her comedy, which is often considered “mild,” but extremely witty and relatable. Since starting her comedy career in the ’80s, Rudner has appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman, The Tonight Show, and several HBO specials: Rita Rudner’s One Night Stand, Born to Be Mild and Married Without Children. “As a comedian, I do exactly what I want and say whatever I want,” she laughs.
Rudner has also written several books: Tickled Pink, Turning the Tables, Naked Beneath My Clothes and Rita Rudner’s Guide to Men. The semi-autobiographical Tickled Pink was adapted into a play last year by Rudner and her husband, Martin Bergman (whom she married in 1988) and premiered at the Laguna Playhouse in Los Angeles. “I played an overbearing mother, an over-the-hill dancer and a old waitress,” she giggles. Bergman also directed Rudner in A Weekend in the Country, which co-starred Jack Lemmon, Dudley Moore, Christine Lahti and Richard Lewis.
“People are accustomed to my brand of comedy,” Rudner says. “Men, especially, have evolved in the past few years. Men were very defensive and women had to say things like, ‘I’m so ugly and my husband hates me,’ but now they come along with their wives to my shows and actually like it.” But Rudner is quick to point out that the comedy scene is still very much dominated by men. “[Women comedians are] a more common occurrence now, but it’s still a male profession. Lots and lots of professions are, unfortunately.”
In addition to her work as a comedian and writer, Rudner is also a full-time mother, of 11-year-old Molly. “She loves singing, guitar, she’s a good tennis player, and she loves school. I’ve got to get up early every day to take her to school early because she’s learning Chinese. We go to [Chinese] restaurants and she talks to the waiters in Chinese!” And although Rudner loves her job, being a good mother is important to her. “I was offered a play in London about two years ago. But being a mother comes first and I don’t want to be away that long. I have my priorities.” Rudner will bring her family to the Hamptons next week. “My daughter says ‘why can’t we ever take a vacation where you don’t work?’ We’ve seen the Olsen twins’ movies where they travel around Europe—so I tell her it’s the same thing!” she laughs.
Rita Rudner performs at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on August 22. For more information and tickets, go to whbpac.org. For more information on Rudner’s other projects, go to ritafunny.com.