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Comedy star Rita Rudner to light up stage this weekend

Rita Rudner arrives at a premiere performance in Las Vegas.
Rita Rudner arrives at a premiere performance in Las Vegas.

CRYSTAL LAKE – Rita Rudner takes to the Raue Center for the Arts stage at 8 p.m. Nov. 16 for a night of comedy. A favorite in Las Vegas since she opened as one of the hottest tickets in town in June 2000, Rudner is known for her one-liners and has become the longest-running solo comedy show in the history of Las Vegas.

Rudner chatted from her Los Angeles home before heading back to her Las Vegas residence with her husband, Martin Bergman, and 17-year-old daughter, Molly Bergman, who she jokes is “car-schooled.”

Rudner said she looks forward to returning to the Raue theater to perform in what she describes as a politically free zone. Rudner said she intends to talk about “things that will bring us together, that we can all relate to, and things that will make us laugh. Politics will need to be done on your own time.”

Lindsay Weber: You’ve been doing comedy since the early ’80s. What is different about comedy now versus then and how have you made the adjustment?

Rita Rudner: I’ve been doing it since the 1880s, so a long time. I think it’s evolved more into a storytelling forum than jokes, so I try to learn how to combine the two formats.

Weber: You have the longest-running solo comedy show in Las Vegas history. MGM even built a separate theater especially for you at New York, New York so you would stay on.

Rudner: A whole theater. I never thought that would happen!

Weber: What’s it like to have a theater built just for you and why do you think you’ve been able to hold the longest-running title for so long?

Rudner: I think timing is very, very important, in life and relationships and in driving. All three of those things. I think I arrived in Las Vegas at a time when there weren’t that many relatively young performers who had recently been on cable and late-night TV or had specials that were doing comedy. I think that kind of attracted attention when I was first there.

I think one of the most important things in life is when you find something that is working for you, you have to commit to it. So, Martin and I committed to Las Vegas. We sold our house in Los Angeles; we sold everything. We started fresh in Las Vegas and we moved there and I think that commitment to what I was doing helped my work ethic and my determination to make everything work. I think that’s what happened. We arrived at the right time and we committed.

Weber: How long have you been married?

Rudner: Again, since the 1880s. Just kidding. 31 years! We knew each other for four years before that and lived together for two years, so it’s been a long time.

Weber: What’s the secret to keeping that going?
Well, in my act, I say, “Honesty is very important, it must be avoided.” In real life, I think we have similar interests and, again, I committed. Martin and I were both in comedy. We’re both in show business. We both like the same things and we communicate. You know, if I had married an astronaut, it would have been more difficult to be a comedian. So again, you just say, “I’m all in.”

Weber: How long did the show run? 12 years?
I think 13 years and I’m negotiating a new contract at Caesar’s to go back again, so we’ll see what happens.

Weber: What is the name of the show?

Rudner: Just “Rita Rudner.” That’s it. You know, “Saturday Night Live” isn’t called, “Tuesday Night Live.” It’s on Saturday and I’m Rita Rudner, that’s who I am, so let’s just call it “Rita Rudner.” Calling it “Diana Ross” is not going to work.

Weber: Best part about writing the script for the 2001 and 2003 Oscars with Steve Martin? Go.

Rudner: It was different because I had never written for anyone else except myself other than in scripts or books, but never for another comedian. So, it was a big responsibility. Not everything I say or everything I think, works. If it’s just me, I think, “Oh, it didn’t work,” and I throw it away. If it’s Steve Martin, I think, “Oh, it didn’t work and I’m very ashamed.”

Getting to meet him and see his work ethic was great. We started writing, I’d say, six months before the Oscars, and first we would meet once every two weeks and then once a week, and then as it came closer, it was more. It wasn’t like, “Oh, the Oscars are next week. Let’s start working.” He has an incredible work ethic and is extremely, extremely talented.

Weber: Is there anything fun you can tell me about Steve Martin?

Rudner: Martin and I went to dinner at his house twice and he had a really good chef.

Weber: Do you remember what you had?

Rudner: Steve likes fish, so we had a lot of fish. When we would meet at his house [for] writing sessions, it was always catered. It was just really neat.

Weber: You often collaborate with your husband on projects. Anything new coming up on that front?

Rudner: I’ve been working on my autobiography, and he’s been editing it. We just did a play in New York which we both wrote, which was really, really fun. We wrote a musical, our first musical. If we get another idea, we might write another one. Right now, we’re also helping our daughter because she’s applying for all of these different colleges and we’re going and touring a bunch of campuses. It’s a little stressful. So, I think our main focus right now is our daughter and her education or lack of it.

Weber: What’s the name of the book you’re working on?

Rudner: It’s called “Rita Rudner: My Life in Dog Years.” I’ve divided my life up into four dogs because I’ve always had a dog, so I talk about my life in terms of those segments.

It’s a little scary, because you pick up Bazaar magazine and Demi Moore is on the cover naked with her autobiography and all of these tantalizing stories of three-ways with Ashton Kutcher, and some kind of drug thing and all this stuff.

Martin said to me, “Do you have any celebrity gossip you can put in your book?” I said, “Once I was at a Japanese restaurant and Warren Beatty admired my legs.” It was dark, though, and he may have a different opinion had it been lighter.

Weber: When do you feel that comedy officially became a career for you?

Rudner: I had been on Broadway for 10 years and I was in “Annie” at the time, playing Lily St. Regis. I’d been in six Broadway shows and I decided I either have to audition for more shows and be a Broadway person or I have to be a comedian. I can’t do both anymore.
It was early 1980s, and I just finished “Annie,” and I knew that if I wanted comedy, I was going to have to do it every single day. So, I had to figure out where I needed to be to get in front of a microphone every day and write every day and that’s what I did. I just said, “Let’s do it.” I didn’t know if it was going to work out, but I knew I liked it.

It’s like what I tell my daughter: “If you like something, you’re going to want to do it every day and you’re going to get better at it. If you don’t like something, you won’t.”

Weber: So, it sounds like, according to Rita Rudner, “Decisiveness equals success?”

Rudner: Yes! Decisions, no matter how big they are, just make good ones. That’s a huge part of your life. When I started doing comedy in the '80s, I didn’t know if it would work out, but comedy started to boom. Names like Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Maher, Ellen DeGeneres, Paula Poundstone, Roseanne, Louie Anderson, me; we kind of stuck around because it was a golden age for comedy.

Weber: What’s the biggest secret to becoming a successful woman in this business?

Rudner: Well, it’s always harder being a woman, let’s face it. You just have to work a little harder. The biggest thing I see with female comedians is that we’re all very distinct. You’re not going to confuse Margaret Cho with me. Everyone has a really distinct identity. I think having that distinct identity and sticking with who you are is really important.

Weber: As a comedian, do people always expect you to be “on”? How do you deal with that when you might not be in the mood?

Rudner: No, because I don’t really think about it until I’m on stage. I’m a mother and a wife. I’m walking my dog and I’m getting dinner ready. I have a normal thing where I just do that and, when I’m on stage, I’m on stage. I have such a distinct presence when I’m on stage where I’m in full makeup and I do my hair and I’m wearing a fancy dress. People don’t really recognize me unless I’m in a sparkly gown, which I will be wearing when I come to your theater.

Weber: We would expect nothing less!

Rudner: I got a really pretty one. I look a little like a baked potato because it’s very silvery, but it’s still pretty.

Weber: If you hadn’t gone the comedy route, what do you think you would be doing today?

Rudner: I asked Molly once, she’s my daughter, I asked, “Molly, what do you think I’d be doing if I wasn’t doing comedy?’ She said, “Mom, you can’t do anything else.” So, there was never another option. I started ballet when I was 4; again, I committed. All I wanted to be was a dancer. I studied every type of dance I could to be the best dancer I could be, and then I did everything I could to be the best comedian I could be. I just don’t think I have an aptitude for anything else.

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