Comedian Rita Rudner wears glittering gowns onstage and bears a delicate demeanor. But by the time she gets to her biting punchlines, audiences realize she’s edgier than the breathy, shy persona she projects.
“My husband says he won’t allow me to go topless,” Rudner, 64, said in one of her recent shows. “He says he’s afraid I might poke someone’s knee out.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Vegas is becoming classier,” she said in another bit. “Can I tell you something that might just change your minds? We have a ballet company now. It’s topless, but it’s a ballet company.”
Rudner burst onto the comedy scene in the 1980s with a style different from more outspoken female comedians such as Joan Rivers and Elayne Boosler. When onstage, Rudner seems to be full of wonderment and innocence as she opens her blue eyes wide and begins her jokes. Then, out of nowhere, come those unexpected punchlines.
Rudner, who had the longest-running solo comedy show in Las Vegas history, is bringing her act to Pepperdine University’s Smothers Theatre on Dec. 7 and to the Laguna Playhouse on New Year’s Eve.
Her show “will be about being a wife and mother, and not knowing what’s going on in the electronic universe,” Rudner said in a telephone interview. “I don’t understand my phone, Siri or when I’m using Wi-Fi and when I’m using data. I can’t remember all my passwords. The usual.”
Rudner has been married to her husband and collaborator Martin Bergman for 30 years. Although they have a solid and loving relationship, she isn’t afraid to riff about him onstage. “I love being married,” she says in one of her most famous jokes. “It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.”
In an older set, Rudner quipped, “You know what my big downfall is? It’s clothes. I love clothes. But that old cliché is true. Men like cars, women like clothes. I only like cars ’cause they take me to clothes.”
Together, Rudner and Bergman have one daughter, Molly Bergman, who is 15. “I have a phone and it’s much smarter than I am,” Rudner said. “I get upset about it. I say, ‘Molly, please fix my phone’ when she gets home from school. She just says, ‘Mommy, tap your phone twice.’ ”
When Rudner was just starting out, her primary influences were Woody Allen and Jack Benny.
Eventually, she became a regular on “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night With David Letterman” and sold almost 2 million tickets during her run in Las Vegas, from 2000 to 2015.
“I have a phone and it’s much smarter than I am.” — Rita Rudner
In her comedy special “Live in Las Vegas,” she pokes fun at helicopter rides over the Grand Canyon: “I wasn’t afraid of the helicopter, it’s just that before you get in one, you have to tell your weight. I looked around and I thought, ‘Well, if everyone is lying like I’m lying, we’re going down.’ ”
Rudner, who comes off just as even-keeled and calm on the phone as she does onstage, said she is ready to spend more time with her family, walk her “beautiful, hairy dog,” Twinkle, and tour nationally and internationally. She’s also workshopping a new play, writing her autobiography and just shot a comedy special in Los Angeles.
Rudner grew up in a Reform household. When she was 13, her mother died of breast cancer. After that, she said, her “father was too lazy to go to temple.” Two years after her mother’s death, Rudner moved to New York City to become a Broadway dancer but transitioned into comedy when she noticed a dearth of women in the field.
Although she is not religious, she still performs for Jewish audiences. One of her jokes is about her upbringing in Miami: “I used to go to a very fancy temple. They read the Torah in French.”
On Hanukkah, Rudner displays a menorah a fan made for her. “I identify myself as a Jewish person,” she said. “I’m just not somebody who likes organized religion.”
When Rudner performs her upcoming Southland shows, Molly, a budding singer-songwriter, will open for her. “I’m going to retire in the next five or six years,” Rudner said. “Molly has to be making money by then.”