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Interview: Rita Rudner

Rita Rudner
Courtesy Photo

Beginning her career as a Broadway dancer, Rita Rudner soon noticed the lack of female comedians in New York City and turned her stage presence to stand-up comedy where she’s flourished for over three decades. She surfaced on a variety of HBO specials and numerous appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, helped establish Rudner as one of the premiere female comics to emerge from the comedy boom of the 1980s. After extensive touring throughout the past 20 years, Rudner eventually found herself living a comfortable life in Las Vegas with her husband and daughter, where she currently performs in the Venetian Hotel. SanDiego.com recently had a chance to catch up with Rudner from her home in Las Vegas and discussed her career in comedy and her upcoming film Thanks.

What sort of advice would you give to an aspiring comedian interested in doing stand-up?

Rita Rudner: I know nothing about it. I have to tell you, it’s so changed since I was in there. We were just talking about one of my friends’ daughters who wants to try stand-up, and she was asking me and any of things I told her were irrelevant. So I said, ‘Well I’m sorry Daisy, it was 30 years ago. If it’s different now you'll have to tell me.’

What do you think are some of the big difference between stand-up comedy now and stand-up in the 1980s?

I wanted to be a comedian and somehow it worked. There were lots of people who were at that point and are still here, you know, Jerry Seinfeld, Louie Anderson, Ellen, Paula and Judy Tenuta, we’re all still here. I only know what it was like when I was there. We hung around together and we had a great time, and now it’s all different. Now all I know really is about Las Vegas. I have my own theatre here in Las Vegas, so that’s all I know, I know my own world. Stand-up comedy was the best decision I ever made in my life besides marrying my husband and adopting our daughter.

Do you remember the first time you ever visited Las Vegas?

Well the very first time I was a dancer, and I think I was 16. I was in an industrial show for Buick cars. I had to jump around and twirl a cape, that’s all I remember. And when I came back the next time I think I was at the Improv here in Las Vegas, and I wasn’t married yet. So I’ve been married for 22 years, so it was probably 23 years ago, I remember doing about 12 shows a week and getting paid a very little amount of money and still having a good time.

Did you ever think you’d be living in Las Vegas?

I would never think that I would be doing half of things I’m doing now. Or maybe all of them, life is a total surprise to me, everything that happens every day.

How often do you find yourself writing new material?

I always look at my notebooks about a half an hour before I go on, and I always jot down all things that I’ve thought of during the day that I think might be something. I think being in Vegas is very fortunate for me because it gives me a lot of confidence when I get on stage so it gives me a lot of freedom to try things.

Do you find yourself doing crowd work and improvising or is your set pretty much set in stone?

I always ask for questions at the end of my act, and my act is planned but I always like to see what comes up at the end of the show and what questions people have. So it’s a combination of both, but 95 percent is a structured act and five percent is improve at the end.

Las Vegas is city that’s known for indulgence. Do you ever get really drunk people coming in and heckling you?

You know I have a pretty tame audience. People who come to see kind of know what they’re coming to see. First of all, Vegas isn’t cheap, so people don’t buy a ticket to ruin a good time. And it’s a different kind of experience when you’re in a theatre, I think it’s different from a club.

Now that you have a daughter, do you find your material shifting towards what it’s like being a mom?

No. A little bit of it is about being a mom, but I’m very careful about that because my daughter didn’t choose to be in show business, and my husband knew what he was getting in to. And I know that children are very sensitive, so whenever I talk about her I think of things that are more relating to me and how I am as a mother and the things that I notice. But I kind of keep her life out of my act.

Are you involved in the PTA and stuff like that?

Yeah, I did the Frankenstein jars for Halloween, and the Halloween party and the crafts.

What’s a Frankenstein jar?

Oh, it’s a mason jar and it involves a lot of crepe paper and a hot glue gun, which you should keep away from kids in general. Because things can become glued that you really prefer weren’t glued.

Let’s talk about this new film you and your husband just put out. Did you help write it?

No, I read it after he wrote it. I had comments here and there, but it was my husband’s piece.

What can you tell us about the film?

It’s a family over three Thanksgivings, it’s called Thanks. It’s an adult comedy, but it’s not pornographic, so it’s an adult film but not in the way you would think. We just noticed there weren’t too many comedies that didn’t involve fraternities or people drinking a lot. We just did a movie about a grown-up family and the problems they encounter between 2007 and 2009. Because people started out in 2007 and everything was hunky dory and then by 2009 it was the opposite.

Do you watch much stand-up comedy these days?

No, it’s not the same. There aren’t too many on, I don’t even see where they would get on? Do you see any on?

Well I know that the writers for Jimmy Fallon all do stand-up.

That’s too late for me. I get up at ten to seven, walk the dog and take my girl to school.

How many shows do you do a night?

I only do three shows a week. It’s a good life. I’m not complaining about anything.

Does Rita Rudner have a message for the children?

Well I know what my message to my daughter is all the time: Brush your teeth and comb your hair.

Rita Rudner performs at Balboa Theatre March 3rd.

Details »
  • Venue: Balboa Theater, 868 Fourth Ave. Downtown San Diego