'I used to wear boots and sweaters' | Rita Rudner on Vegas, family ... and her glamorous image

'I used to wear boots and sweaters'

Rita Rudner on Vegas, family ... and her glamorous image

Where do you get your material from? An almost impossible-to-answer question asked of so many comedians by so many journalists. But with long-serving stand-up Rita Rudner, the question can remain unasked, since the reply becomes apparent even in a short transatlantic phone conversation, interrupted by a calm but concerned male voice from another room.

‘I just want you to know I dropped my iPhone in the bath.’

‘No! No!’ Rudner exclaims.

‘Well, I’m fixing it.’

‘How do you fix it?’ Then back to me: ‘He just dropped his iPhone in the bathtub. He writes material right there.’

‘How do you fix it?’ she repeats to the man – her husband Martin Bergman, the Cambridge Footlights alumnus with whom she co-wrote the film Peter’s Friends.

‘Put it in a bag of rice,’ comes the reply

‘Is that what it says on the internet?’

‘Oh, he just though of that. Oh God! He dropped his iPhone in the bathtub. He had been listening to Football Focus… See what I mean. This is what I write about – everyday life.’

Everyday life for Rudner for the last decade has been in Las Vegas, where she's only the most successful female comedian in the resort’s history, having sold a million tickets.

She has a residency at the city’s Venetian Hotel – the latest in a ten-year career there – but now she’s coming to Britain for the first time in 15 years for a run of dates at London's Leicester Square Theatre. ‘We've been busy,’ is her reason for the long absence, the ‘we’ meaning her and Martin, rather than any Royal affectation.

‘We wrote lots of movies in Hollywood and I did lots of stuff there, then we adopted a lovely little baby and moved to Las Vegas and I decided to not travel anymore and work in one place so I could be a mummy. Molly is almost nine years old now and we want Molly to meet a lot of Daddy’s old girlfriends. So we have to come to London.

‘We were going to come last year, actually, but we cancelled that trip because Martin’s mother wasn't well and she lives here in Las Vegas with us. She was inconsiderate enough to need open heart surgery, so we decided to stay here with her.

‘But now she’s doing much better, and we think Molly would love to learn a little bit about history and see another country. We’re very excited about coming and I haven’t performed there in a while, so I am excited about that, too.’

In an age when superinjunction-happy celebrities guard their families’ privacy so fiercely (even if their family weren’t so paramount when they shagged around in the first place), Rudner’s chatty openness is refreshing – and typical of her stage persona. So what can we expect from her London dates?

‘I’ll be doing lots of jokes.’


‘And I face the audience and I wear a clean dress and high heels so I look a little bit taller that I really am…’

Indeed, her glamorous ballgowned appearance is at odds with the dress-down outfit of most female (and indeed male) comedians.

‘I didn’t used to,’ she said. ‘But when I met Martin he said, “You know, people are looking at you when you're on stage. They’re not only listening to you. I used to wear boots and jeans and big bulky sweaters and he just said, “You know, why don’t you wear something that is a little more pleasing to the eye?" So he actually picks all of my dresses. I would always pick something that would be comfortable and would be probably immensely unflattering.'

But people have come to expect it, and – in Vegas at least – her audience tends to dress up, too. But she reassures the London audience they won’t be judged on their sartorial sense: ‘Wear whatever you want, it will be fine, because the audience is always in the dark.’

One thing that has been a regular part of her show for the past 20-odd years has been the questions she’s taken from the audience at the end. ‘It's kind of fun for me because my act is very meticulously prepared and I know what I’m doing at all times,' she says. 'But when I do questions and answers at the end, I never know what people are going to say so it is kind of fun.'

An example? ‘The other night somebody asked me if I tweeted. And I said I tweeted once this afternoon but I took an antacid and it seemed to take care of it.’

Through her longevity, Rudner has become something of an icon of female comedy, as – to her surprise – there are still very few women doing stand-up.

‘When I started doing comedy, in the mid-80s –  there weren’t many female comedians, and I always thought there would be more and more and it would become an accepted form of entertainment, but really there aren’t anymore female comedians now than there were then. So it is a very difficult profession and I’m happy that I have been able to stick around for so long.

‘I think there is a different standard of female performers rather than male performers. And I think men are appreciated more for their wit and women are appreciated more for their beauty. And I don’t think you would become a comedian because you’re beautiful..’

She doesn’t believe male and female comedians are treated differently by audiences – although she thinks advertisers and TV executives are ‘much more prejudiced. Indeed, given her live success, her TV and film credits are comparatively modest – though they do include her own self-titled six-part show on BBC Two , way back in 1990. However, she might not be best placed to comment on modern comedy, as she admits she doesn’t watch many other stand-ups herself.

‘I don’t pay attention at all,’ she admits. ‘It doesn’t really enter my landscape. When I was studying comedy, I looked at all comedians to find out who I was and I did listen to a lot of Woody Allen and watch a lot of old Jack Benny shows and I think Steve Martin is a wonderful comedian.

‘But other comedians just don’t really have a bearing on what I do. Reading books and watching movies is more educational to me and paying attention to what happens in my life. I like love, love, love, love, to think of jokes and to write new materials – that’s my favourite thing.

And as we wind up the conversation, Martin makes a reappearance to update is on how he’s getting on trying to dry out the iPhone.

‘I put it in the rice,’ he said. ‘And the good thing is I can get phone calls. But only from China.

‘He's funny,’ Rita says. ‘I think that'll be great in my act…’

  • Rita Rudner will be at the Leicester Square Theatre on June 30 and July 2, 6, 7 and 8. Click here for tickets. Interview by Steve Bennett

Published: 17 May 2011

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