THE BLOG

Interview With Rita Rudner

01/08/2013 02:39 pm ET | Updated Mar 18, 2013
  • John DeBellis Author of Standup Guys: A Generation of Laughs, Former writer for SNL, The Tonight Show, Politically Incorrect, and wrote and directed The Last Request

Rita is a woman of many hats (and matching shoes). She's a stand-up comic, a writer of movies, plays, and is the author of four books -- Tickled Pink, Turning Tables, Naked Beneath My Clothes and Rita Rudner's Guide to Men. It was apparent from the very beginning she was special. As a stand-up comic Rita Rudner was always softer and noticeably more feminine. Her smooth effortless delivery made it impossible to tell that she was performing. She could segue from subject to subject as seamless as the changing tide in the middle of the ocean and unlike most comics, male or female, there wasn't a trace of anger in her persona. She lit up the stage with innocence and charm as she delivered self-depreciating one-liners rich with wit and insight.

John DeBellis -- Rita, I always found your commitment to learning the craft of stand-up comedy and to finding your own voice on stage almost unmatched. What would your advice be to someone thinking about becoming a stand-up comedian or who is just starting out?

Rita Rudner -- I think the most important thing about learning comedy is to start from who you are. If you begin the process by imitating what you perceive to be a comedy rhythm you will get laughs sooner, but you will not be unique. That however, does not mean you will not be successful so please discount my first answer.

John DeBellis -- Most comics deal with hecklers very aggressively, as I stated in my book, Standup Guys: A Generation of Laughs, which can be found on my blog www.920spot.com and online everywhere, in every format, soft cover, hard cover and ebook. Ok, I got the unabashed plug over with early. In an interview I did with Gilbert Gottfried, he used that shameless approach about a dozen times in the first two minutes. Now, your approach to dealing with hecklers is completely different from most comics.

Rita Rudner -- I made a decision to deal with hecklers honestly instead of insulting them back. As long as you have the majority of the audience on your side, they will help you silence the disruptive ones. The first heckler I ever encountered yelled, "What's your day job?" I replied, "This is the first time I've ever been onstage, could you please come back and heckle me when I'm more experienced?" He shut up.

John DeBellis -- When I first met you, you were a dancer and singer, how did that background help you as a stand-up comic?

Rita Rudner -- Being a dancer and a singer gave me some advantage with regards to having a stage presence. I always take my timing from the audience because they are half of my act. Every audience has a personality. Some of them don't have the best personalities, but you're on a date with them for an hour and a half so you just make the best of it.

John DeBellis -- That's a great way of putting it, especially with my dating record. You've always been prolific as a writer, but I don't think people realize how difficult it is to both write and break in new material with an act that is built around one-line jokes.

Rita Rudner -- Developing new material is both rewarding and excruciating. What I do is "hammock." When I have a new joke I place it between two jokes that are sure-fire. That way I can tell if there is something there I should work on, and if there is nothing there I haven't ruined the audience's evening. I mentioned my system while being interviewed by Alan King once and he suggested, "Have you ever tried booze?"

John DeBellis -- I've tried that and I wound up forgetting to try the new jokes. At the clubs when most comics would be hanging at the bar fooling around, you were always either writing or consulting your notebooks. Your work ethic was well-known amongst the comedians. When we saw you looking at your notebooks we stayed away.

Rita Rudner -- I think an obsessive personality is helpful when you're starting out. When I wanted to be a dancer on Broadway I thought of nothing else and when I wanted to become a comedian I would even try to dream jokes. Now I'm not that crazy because my daughter occasionally needs dinner.

John DeBellis -- Your daughter has more pull than we ever had. One of the things we do have in common is that both our acts contain mostly short one-line jokes and I think we both have similar methods on how we approach writing.

Rita Rudner -- There are many paths to creativity. A phrase, an image, a word or a thought will trigger something in you and you have to explore it. You have to be observant and pay attention to everything. Creativity is always a struggle. It's very tiring. I'm tired now. I'm going to take a nap before I answer any more of these questions.

John DeBellis -- I like napping; it shortens my daily depression. Rita, you've branched out into writing for TV, movies, plays and books, which do you prefer?

Rita Rudner -- I love writing with my husband. I write my stand up by myself, but Martin and I collaborate on plays, books and movies. We just wrote and recorded a radio series in England and it was pure fun. It is so gratifying to work with someone with whom you have respect for and who has the same sensibility. I also enjoy working with my husband because I know where he is and that he's not writing with another woman.

John DeBellis -- That would constitute adultery amongst perennial children like comedians. Even today when I start writing, the first thing I have to overcome is enormous self-doubt.

Rita Rudner -- I always have the feeling that I'm never going to be able to write anything funny again. That's why I keep writing funny things. I have to prove to myself that I'm wrong.

John DeBellis -- What kind of writing do you find the most difficult?

Rita Rudner -- Essay books come very easy to me and I find them relaxing to write. The two fiction novels that Martin and I wrote were the most difficult. They took years and many re-writes. When it comes to fiction, it is much easier and more enjoyable simply to read it.

John DeBellis -- I know this is a clichéd question, but creatively what do you see yourself doing when you look in the future?

Rita Rudner -- I truly enjoy performing stand-up, but I also enjoy challenges. There are many ideas floating around in my brain at the moment. I'm going to wait and see which one is most insistent.

John DeBellis -- Knowing your obsessive personality, how do you balance being a writer, performer, and a mother?

Rita Rudner -- When I was single, my career took priority. When I got married, my marriage was my priority. Now that I'm a mother, my daughter is my priority. When she leaves home, my dog will be my priority.

John DeBellis -- You're act is so personally tailored to who you are, have you ever delved into political humor.

Rita Rudner -- I stay away from political humor in my act because the news changes every day. I think late night television comedians who have writers are more suited to that form of comedy. I also don't think that everyone who comes to see my act has to have my opinions. I think they should be entertained with shared human experiences. Twitter has allowed me to air topical jokes that occur to me. However, it's also occurred to me that I don't get paid to do this, so I'm sporadic. I think the last joke I tweeted was, "The oldest woman in the world died today. She was 116 but had been telling people she was only 114."

John DeBellis -- Your wit is always present and it emerges so natural. You're so consistent in your writing and in your stage persona, but yet I can see the growth, how do you manage that?

Rita Rudner -- I tell my daughter that progress is all about layering. I am always trying to layer a new way to tell a joke, write a joke or get a laugh. I want to continue to try to make my act more organic and gluten free.

John DeBellis - Yet, still rich in all natural wit. Since I respect you and your opinion, the next question is for me and your male fans. What advice would you give to a divorced guy like myself, not exactly a young stud, that would help us meet women?

Rita Rudner -- John, I have a long list of women who would love to meet you. They all have a tremendous amount of personal baggage and peculiarities. As far as the opposite sex goes, after my mom died, my dad used to say, "I like television; I can turn it off."

John DeBellis - Again very funny. I've never quite thought about it that way. Do you still have the notebooks you used to carry around with you?

Rita Rudner -- Yes, I still have notebooks. They are tattered and covered with coffee stains and words that make no sense and I love them.

John DeBellis -- I find most successful comics change (as people) less than other successful show business personalities. Do you see any reason for that?

Rita Rudner -- I've always found that comedians kind of stay the same through both success and failure. When I run into someone I used to hang out with at the clubs, it's just like old times. I'm currently working with Brad Garrett and Paul Reiser. We're doing some dates on the road. It's still fun. Comedians all have a connection that can be dialed up at any time.

John DeBellis -- I know this is a dumb question, but is pink still your favorite color?

Rita Rudner -- News flash. My favorite color is no longer pink. It is purple. Purple is the new pink. Brown is the new black and blue is the new white. Also stars are the new stripes and circles are the new squares. I feel sorry for people who are currently making flags. It's all so confusing.

John DeBellis - Yes it is and dead is the new eighty. Instead of asking another deeply probing question is there anything you'd like to tell your fans?

Rita Rudner -- Finally, I would just like to say how lucky I've been to perform in Las Vegas for all of these years. It's enabled me to become more relaxed on stage, to be with my husband and be able to raise our daughter. Oh yes, and to walk my dog.

John DeBellis -- Thank you Rita, as always it's a delight talking to you.

Rita Rudner -- Merry Everything, Love, Rita