September 06, 2006

Pretty, Witty and Wise: Rita Rudner at WHBPAC

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People think of me as the 'nice' comedienne," said comic Rita Rudner, who will appear at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center Saturday. "But there's a stiletto under everything I say."

Rudner has enjoyed true showbiz staying power. From a career in stand-up in the 70s and 80s, to regular appearances on The Tonight Show, David Letterman, and award-winning HBO specials, Rudner has proven she has what it takes to make people laugh. She's also ventured into the publishing world with her 1991 novel Tickled Pink and her latest tome, Turning the Tables, a book she described as a "romantic mystery." Now performing year-round at her own theater within the New York-New York casino hotel in Las Vegas, Rudner has traveled east to take the stage this weekend at WHBPAC.

"I guarantee my show will appeal to two kinds of people. Men and women!" the comedienne quipped during a recent conversation with Indy. Rudner's brand of humor has been described by some as "subtle and intellectual," a style far removed from the stereotype of in-your-face female comics. She credits Woody Allen as an influence. "He's funny in a non-raucous way," she said. "After watching him perform, I realized you can be funny without being forceful or antagonistic. It's kind of like a quiet hilarity."

Rudner has been performing live for decades and got her start on stage not as a comedienne but as a Broadway dancer. "I won't tell you when that was because then you'll try to figure out how old I am," she joked. Around the age of 25 she decided to make the leap from chorus lines to punch lines. "It was just something I felt like doing, I can't really explain it. It was natural to be an entertainer. I feel like I tapped into this dormant ability to be funny." Working as a solo act also appealed to her personality. "I like to be independent, to be solely responsible for what I think and what I say."

Which, when it comes to her act, is mostly about marriage and relationships. In 1990, Rudner parlayed her talent for comedy into an HBO one-woman special, "Born to be Mild" and later starred in another solo show for HBO, "Married Without Children."

Perhaps the comedienne's most visible showbiz gigs, however, were her numerous guests spots on "The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson" and "Late Night with David Letterman." She described an offstage Carson as "very shy."


"No. That's the way it is with talk show hosts," she explained. "They gab with people all day. They need a break once in a while. You know, a lot of people don't know this but it takes a lot of concentration to be funny. When I'm backstage at these shows, getting ready to go on, I'm thinking about what I'm going to say, how I can be interesting and fresh and make the audience laugh. That's what they expect!"

She added, "It may come across as a bunch of friends just hanging out but it's not like that at all. Everyone is working."

Comedy over the years has changed a bit, she noted, and that's good news for women who are trying to break into the business of being funny. "We're more accepted these days, I can tell you that. There are many great female comics around now." Although when asked to name a few she said, "I'm really too busy to follow anyone in particular."

And busy she is. Rudner, the mother of an energetic four-year-old, has collaborated on projects with her British husband Martin Bergman and together they wrote Peter's Friends, a film starring Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh. And in 2003 she launched a syndicated TV show, "Ask Rita." She also worked with Steve Martin on the 2001 and 2003 Academy Awards. And don't forget the demands of her Vegas show.

Rudner will be in New York for three weeks following the WHBPAC performance for a stint at Caroline's Comedy Club, with a few days set aside to promote Turning the Tables.

Let's just say the funny woman shows no signs of slowing down.

Rita Rudner will be at the WHBPAC on Saturday, at 8 p.m. Call 288-1500 for tickets.

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