By Myra Chanin
Rita Rudner was the first entertainer I envied. Not because she was funny. I was funny too. But she was funny and beautiful and innocent and sweet and @#$%^@! worst of all, she had the torso of a ballerina. Becoming a ballerina was her original aim in moving to New York from Miami at 15 and not as a high school dropout either. She’d graduated from high school by then.
Did she ever become a ballerina? “I was the lifeguard in Swan Lake,” she admitted last night. She managed to get paid for dancing in some legendary Broadway shows – the original productions of Follies and Mack and Mabel. Wow!
Ten years later, she realized how few female comedians there were compared to the number of female dancers, who were younger and more supple than she. And female comics then were either vulgar (Belle Barth), ugly (Phyllis Diller), rotund (Totie Fields) or any combination of the above. Rita took the less traveled road by researching successful male comics like Woody Allen and Jack Benny. The result? She developed material like theirs – self-deprecating, observational and non-obscene. Her epigrammatic style not only worked then, it still works now. And being nice, shapely and very pretty, didn’t hurt her bookings one bit.
For the last 15 years, Rita’s been pretty much headlining her own show in Las Vegas and is officially in the record books as the longest running solo comedy show in the history of Vegas. When her most recent gig at Harrah’s ended, she was unwilling to forego hearing the immediate sound of laughter, so on tour she went. And she’s once more in New York to the delight of a packed house at 54 Below last night (Aug. 20) where she spoke about her stroll around Manhattan, noticing “all the places that used to sell books.”
She’s still pretty and still very funny in her comfortably old-fashioned way. After 35 years of top notch comedy, she has hours of laugh worthy lines. She quickly sizes up an audience — “There isn’t anybody young here.” and produces a suitable hour of material that’s guaranteed to break that particular audience up.
And if the audience was younger, she’d find equally funny stuff for them. I found myself laughing out loud again and again at her observations. She really was and still is somebody special.
Last night, she talked about a suburban world where everyone stays married, and the battles of the sexes are about closet space, doctors, pre-Ashley Madison connubial relations and shopping, “where we spend $37.50 on something we don’t want to get five tiny items we don’t like.” Everyone in the audience howled. Me, too. She even answered questions from the audience at the end of the performance. She and her husband adopted a daughter 13 years ago, so motherhood is now also in her mix. She’ll be at 54 Below on August 21 and August 22, 2015 at 7 PM where you can revel in an hour of laughter with like- minded folks.
And if you can’t get there, get/stream a copy of a hilarious and touching movie that Rita and her husband Martin Bergman wrote, called “Peter’s Friends,” in which she co-starred with the best of the Cambridge University Footlights Club – Hugh Laurie (before he became that miserable Dr. House); Kenneth Branagh (before he became Shakespearean)’ Emma Thompson (when she was still Branagh’s wife)[ and my favorite, Stephen Fry, (the quintessential Jeeves.)
Tickets: (646) 476-3551
254 W 54TH ST, CELLAR, NEW YORK, NY 10019