Rudner to brandish soft-spoken wit at UA Hillel benefit

Rita Rudner
Rita Rudner

Rita Rudner is your typical housewife. She washes dishes, makes beds, folds laundry … then she dashes off to her sold-out show in Las Vegas.

“Actually I am making the beds right now,” said Rudner, from her beach home in Dana Point, Calif., which is currently for sale. “We need to leave for Vegas shortly.”

While Rudner spends two-thirds of her time in Las Vegas and the rest in California, she’s taking time out of her busy schedule to drop by the Old Pueblo on March 8 for the University of Arizona Hillel Foundation’s annual benefit.

“I especially love the big cactus. It’s a big little town, which I like,” Rudner said.

The concert also gives her a break from the daily routine of being a housewife to Martin Bergman and mother to Molly, 11.

“I don’t know anyone there (in Tucson) so I usually stay at a nice place and I have total independence. I don’t have to make dinner for anybody or make beds.

“Oh and I love planes! No one can call me. And if they say people can now talk on planes — I’m walking.”

While she may be a typical housewife, Rudner wasn’t raised in a typical Jewish household.

After her mother died, her father remarried. Feeling she didn’t fit into the new family dynamics, she left for New York City at age 15 to pursue a dancing career.

“It just didn’t work out … the three of us in the house,” she said. “So I said to them, ‘I like being in New York City and I’m going back.’”

What if her own daughter wanted to do that?

“That’s strange, because I’d never let my daughter do that!” she laughed.

After several years of dancing, which included six Broadway shows, she became intrigued by stand-up comedy and began honing her new craft in comedy clubs.

“I saw a lack of female comics and I just loved the whole science of it,” she said. “Every day I try to be a better comedian. It’s a fascinating career.”

Part of being a comedian is knowing one’s audience. That means Tucson fans of Rudner will get a chance to hear some of her Jewish jokes.

“I’m looking forward to telling my Torah jokes,” she said. “When I started comedy I worked at a lot of Jewish community clubs.”

Her unique style of comedy caught the eyes of many, which led to guest appearances on shows such as “Late Night with David Letterman,” “The Tonight Show” (with Johnny Carson and later Jay Leno), “Conan O’Brien” and “Oprah.”

Rudner’s first solo HBO special, “Rita Rudner’s One Night Stand,” received several award nominations. This led to two successful one-hour specials for HBO, “Born to Be Mild” and “Married Without Children.” Last March her cable special “Rita Rudner and 3 Potential Ex-Husbands” premiered on Showtime.

She’s a best-selling author of two novels, “Tickled Pink” and “Turning the Tables.” Her nonfiction works, “Naked Beneath My Clothes” and “Rita Rudner’s Guide to Men,” are also best-sellers. She also published a book of essays called “I Still Have It … I Just Can’t Remember Where I Put It.”

What fans may not know is that she helped write the 2001 and 2003 Academy Awards shows with Steve Martin.

“I did it because I love Steve Martin; he’s one of my idols,” she said. “It was a great experience … but it was hard because I just wanted my jokes to work with him so badly.”

Crafting new jokes, whether for herself or others, is just part of the daily grind for comics.

But unlike many comics, Rudner is pretty much the same on stage as she is in real life: calm, collected and ladylike.

“I’m pretty much a calm person and my husband is very volatile so between us we are normal,” jokes Rudner.

Rudner may be calm, but she’s busy. A typical schedule usually includes waking up early, taking Molly to school, doing housework, writing comedy, collaborating with her husband on a play adapted from her first novel, new ideas for a film, racing off to her Vegas show at the Venetian, and rushing home to walk her little dog, Twinkles, so it’s no wonder Rudner will take a few brief moments to herself in Tucson.

But not now.

“I’d love to chat more, but I can’t,” she said. “I’m showing the house tomorrow, leaving for Vegas shortly and have laundry to fold.”

The UA Hillel Foundation annual benefit featuring Rita Rudner will be March 8, 8 p.m. at UA Centennial Hall. For individual tickets, $35-$60, call 621-3341 or go to www.centennialhall.arizona.edu. For special event packages, call Hillel at 624-6561 or visit http://arizona.hillel.org.

Lorrie Brownstone is a freelance writer and stand-up comic in New York.