By Caroline Fontein
Rita Rudner just might have the cleanest comedy show on the Las Vegas Strip. Aside from the rare swear word she doesn’t use vulgar language or offensive subjects to make people laugh. Instead she finds humor in everyday life. Dressed in her trademark sparkl ing, f loor-lengt h gown, Rudner performs her stand-up routine without apprehension. She’s more than comfortable on stage, an art she’s mastered as one of the city’s longest- running solo comedy shows.
Rudner’s jokes touch on a range of common topics from living in Las Vegas to aging, going to the doctor’s office and the differences between men and women. Rudner also references her relationship with her husband (and producer) Martin Bergman as the source for many of her jokes. A comedian, writer and actress, Rudner started her career in the entertainment industry as a dancer. Born in Miami, Rudner left her home after graduating from high school at the age of 15 to pursue her dancing career in New York City. She has performed in multiple Broadway shows including the original productions of “Follies” and “Mack & Mabel.”
While in her early 20s and performing in the Broadway product ion of “Annie,” Rudner explored the New York comedy clubs. She soon turned her talents from high kicks to hilarity by studying recordings of Jack Benny and Woody Allen. Rudner developed her own brand of witty humor and landed appearances on various television shows in the United States and internationally. She was also a frequent guest on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”Rudner went on to record several award-winning comedy specials including “Rita Rudner: Born to Be Mild” and “Rita Rudner Married Without Children.” She’s also the author of best-selling books including “I Still Have It; I Just Can’t Remember Where I Put It” and “Naked Beneath My Clothes.”
Rudner decided to make Vegas her permanent base in 2000. She has performed in multiple venues on the St r ip and moved to the Venetian in January 2011.
Q.What made you want to go from being a dancer on Broadway to being a stand-up comedian?
A.“You know I always say the same thing. I was in therapy. I forgot to ask why I was doing it. All I know is it was a really good idea because I get to be independent. I get to write my own jokes, and I get to make people laugh.”
What did you have to do to make that transition?
“I had to study very hard to find out everything I could about comedy, and I had to sit in comedy clubs for years and work my way up the comedy ladder like everybody. Somehow people don’t think that I did that for some reason. I guess because I wear a fancy dress, and I don’t look grubby. But I only know of that way to do it, just do it a little bit by a little bit and get better and better until someone wants to pay you.”
How did performing in an evening gown become your trademark?
“Well it’s interesting because I used to just wear jeans and my husband Martin Bergman — before we were married he saw me on stage and hired me to do some shows in Australia and England and Scotland — he said, ‘Why are you dressing like that? Why don’t you wear something that people would like to look at?’ and
I said, ‘Oh, I don’t know. It just never occurred to me.’ So he actually picks out my dresses. He’s got very good taste. I always say I married a straight guy with a queer eye.”
Your comedy is very clean compared to many other popular comedians. What made you decide to go that route?
“I didn’t really decide to go a clean route I just decided to do what came naturally. You have to kind of figure out who you are as a person and that has to carry over into who you are as a comedian, and it felt right. So if it felt right I did it, and if it doesn’t feel right I don’t do it.”
Where do you look to find new ideas when you’re writing new material?
“I just try all the time to find something. There’s no one way. So somebody could say something. I could hear something, I can think something, I can read something and then I just say, ‘Oh that’s an interesting word or an interesting phrase,’ and it just goes from there… You never know where it’s going to come from otherwise it would be easy, and I’d look in the same place all the time.”
Do you enjoy seeing any of the other shows on the Strip?
“Well, I’ve seen lots of the shows and I think lots of the Cirque shows are terrific, but when I’m not performing I like to stay home with my husband and daughter and just do the mom thing.”
How do you continue to stay inspired and to keep your show and your material fresh?
“I always try to think of something new, and that makes me feel very satisfied if I can write a new joke or think of a new idea. Martin and I also made a movie last year, and Martin wrote and directed and produced it… It just premiered at the Palms Springs film festival. This month (February) it’s at the Sedona Film Festival… and March it’s at San Luis Obispo. So, that’s kind of been our project this year. We try to do a few projects outside of stand-up. So while I’ve been here I’ve written two books and we’ve written a play and a movie and we have two plays in the works so we always keep busy.”
What makes you laugh?
“Well my daughter and my husband and my frogs, my snail, my hamster and my dog, they’re all funny. I like them. They make me laugh all time. I’ve got these two aquatic frogs that just get in the strangest positions.”
Why do you think your comedy continues to be so popular?
“I think I’ve done a lot of ground work. I traveled for a good 15 years on the road doing my act and trying to be as consistent as possible, being funny every single time. When I meet people they’ve come from Canada and England and Australia and Scotland and all over the country and they say, ‘I’ve seen you here I’ve seen you there,’ so I think it’s a combination of years and years and years of work being on television and doing lots of HBO specials and comedy specials. It all came together, and because everyone comes to Las Vegas.”
As someone who has been a permanent headliner in Las Vegas since 2000, what do you think of the city?
“Well I love it. It was perfect for me. It’s one of the few places where a performer can live a normal life and have a child and a marriage and still have a place to perform. Instead of taking a plane to work I can just drive to work, so it works for me.”
How has performing in Vegas changed for you over the years?
“Well there are a lot more shows here than when I originally came, but then there are a lot more hotel rooms here too and a lot more restaurants, there’s a lot more everything. I know that Las Vegas has experienced a recession along with the rest of the world, but it will come back probably in a more logical fashion. Las Vegas was supposed to be an affordable vacation, and I think they got carried away with let’s make everything like let’s make dinner cost $1,000. I think we’re going to see a rollback, to use my Wal-Mart term. I love performing here. People come here to have a good time, and it’s a fun place for me.”
How do you handle being on a one-woman act with all eyes on you, literally for your entire show?
“I think I was prepared for it by being an only child. I didn’t have any brothers or sisters anywhere and it’s
just is a normal natural thing for me.”