She has made Las Vegas her physical home since she began her run there in 2000 with MGM, and she has had numerous television “homes” over the years, including The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Late Night with David Letterman, HBO and the Comedy Central networks. But after working on a recent pledge drive with the PBS affiliate in Las Vegas, she knew she had found the perfect outlet for her brand of humor.
“I realized it was silly for me to be on cable because cable offers the opportunity to use whatever language you want to use and I really don’t use any adult language,” Rudner said Monday in an interview with the Sparks Tribune. “I thought good opportunity to help (PBS) raise money and a good audience for my type of humor.”
So, to further help with fundraising, Rudner filmed PBS’s first-ever comedy special, “Rita Rudner: Live From Las Vegas.” It was a hit in the Vegas market in March; the Vegas PBS pledge dollar per minute rate during the airing of Rudner’s special was $178 compared to its average of $34. The special is now making its way on the air with PBS affiliates across the country and will be released in an extended DVD version on June 24. It will air in Reno on Saturday at 8 p.m.
The comedienne, who came to New York at age 15 to be a Broadway dancer but later turned to stand-up, said there is a “genuine lack of sophisticated humor” these days. Comedy Central, she said, has moved toward targeting the 18-to-39-year-old male bracket and HBO has almost stopped doing comedy specials, so she said PBS was a good fit for her dry, more mature wit.
“Because I’m older and have been married 20 years my humor is adult, but not X-rated,” she said. “It’s about adult situations, more about relationships and being a mom and being married for a long time and how the world has changed.”
Filming a special for public television did not mean a change in comedic content for Rudner, it just meant coming up with new material. She said she doesn’t share jokes in phone interviews, but judging by the clips of the show on Rudner’s Web site, www.ritafunny.com, the humor has the same familiar deliberate sarcasm Rudner has been dishing out since she began nearly 30 years ago.
“I don’t care where you’re from, Las Vegas is the opposite of it,” she said during the opening of the show. “Gambling is legal, prostitution is legal. I guess the jails here are just full of people who litter.”
Television specials have been a part of Rudner’s success for many years. According to her Web site, Rudner’s first television special, 1989’s “Rita Rudner’s One Night Stand” on HBO, was nominated for several awards, as was her English BBC television show that later appeared on the A&E network. Rudner’s two one-hour specials for HBO, 1990’s “Born to Be Mild” and 1995’s “Married Without Children,” were ratings standouts and she performed all over the country, filling Carnegie Hall in New York three times and the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles twice, according to her site.
In more recent years, Rudner has added writing to her resume. She has written four books, including two novels, “Tickled Pink” and “Turning the Tables.” Her non-fiction books are the best-selling “Naked Beneath My Clothes” and “Rita Rudner’s Guide to Men.” Her latest book of essays, “I Still Have It … I Just Can’t Remember Where I Put It,” will be published by Harmony Books in the summer of 2008.
Rudner describes her latest literary effort as a collection of things she has done right in life and some she has done wrong. She said she enjoys writing because it gives her a chance to elaborate on things and experiment with different ways of being funny.
In another recent writing effort, Rudner collaborated with her writer/producer husband of 20 years, Martin Bergman, on the movie “Peter’s Friends,” the couple’s first produced film script. Starring Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton and Kenneth Branagh, the film won the Peter Seller’s award for best comedy film of the year. “Peter’s Friends” was released on DVD in February 2008. And on Friday, a play she wrote with her husband will open in a Las Vegas community theater. The play, called “Room 776,” is a comedy about a man and a woman who are double-booked in a Las Vegas hotel room during a sold-out weekend. With no other rooms available, the pair are thrown together in a story that has a “surprise happy ending,” Rudner said.
Rudner said that although she enjoys writing, she often finds she has to force herself to sit in front of a blank screen and just get words down, even if she just changes them later.
“It’s like exercising,” she said. “It isn’t pleasant but it’s beneficial.”
Rudner’s PBS special airs Saturday at 8 p.m. and she still is a regular performer at Harrah’s in Las Vegas.