By RODNEY HO/ email@example.com, originally filed Thursday, July 21, 2016
In the 1980s and 1990s, Rita Rudner was one of the most popular stand-ups on HBO and “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” She brought a sweet, elegant persona, bright eyes, a dainty voice and distinct timing to her often sardonic observational humor.
When she had her daughter Molly, she sought a way to reduce traveling and landed a residency at the New York New York casino in Las Vegas. She has worked steadily there for 15 years.
Now that Molly is in her teens, Rudner is hitting the road again with a few dates here and there. She returns to Atlanta for the first time in many years with shows at the Punchline Wednesday and Thursday nights.
She normally does theaters but will occasionally fine-tune material in more modest venues. “I really don’t do clubs much anymore,” she said in a recent phone interview from her Vegas home. “But it’s fun to have a smaller audience. You can try more things. When I stand in front of 1,500 people, it takes a lot of nerve to try a new joke. It’s scary. With a couple of hundred people, it’s more intimate. I think it’s more conducive for creativity.”
Working at casinos was “my only way to have a normal life. You stay. The audience gets on the plane. That was ideal for me.”
She said Molly is very much included in her stand-up routine. When she was much younger, Rudner said she was reluctant to do so because she hadn’t signed up for it. “Then she saw my act when she was 6 or 7,” Rudner said. “Afterwards, she asked, ‘Why do you talk about daddy all the time and not about me?’ I officially had license to put her in the act.”
Molly is an aspiring singer songwriter and now often opens for Rudner.
Vegas remains her primary home. She said she has been able to enjoy relative anonymity despite billboards plastered with her face all over town. “Unless I’m in a gown holding a microphone, nobody puts it together,” she mused.
One time, one of her daughter’s friend’s dads said to her face: “I heard Rita Rudner’s daughter goes to this school.”
Despite the charged political environment ripe for stand-up comedy, Rudner sticks to less polarizing topics. “I do jokes about life but I stay away from subjects that create too much conflict.”
And she keeps it clean. That’s why corporations will sometimes pay her big bucks to perform.
“The strangest one was for a hotel chain,” she said. “They told me the audience included nobody from America. I was really scared. But they were really a great audience. You just never know.”
Rudner tried doing a roast for Chevy Chase at the Friar’s Club in 2002. She had to follow some pretty blue material so as a joke, she inserted random four-letter words in the wrong places during her roast. “That was a lot of pressure,” she said. “No more roasts for me!”
Not surprisingly, anger is not in her make up. “Why should I be angry?” she said. “I have a nice husband, a great job and I’m healthy.”
Refreshingly, Rudner, 62, knows her audience is older. She is making no effort to attract millennials. “They have to do their thing,” she said. “It’s a different time. I just like paying people. Anybody over 40 up to 97. People 20 to 40 have their own way of being entertained.”
An example is 35-year-old Amy Schumer, who is the first female solo stand-up comic to book Philips Arena. “I think she’s terrific,” Rudner said. “She does what she wants to do. She is who she is. It’s great she got to write and star in her own movie.”
Rudner just sold a beach home she owned in Orange County for the nifty sum of $8.3 million. She didn’t hurt her case by doing a promotional video of her home that was more droll than serious.
“This is the living room where we do roughly 33 and a half percent of our living,” she said in the video. “Some nights, my husband and I stare into the fireplace and drink and argue. Then the next morning, we wake up and we lie on the day beds and we stare at the beautiful blue ocean which I like to call the Pacific because that is its name.”
“The video went viral,” she noted. “I don’t like viruses.”
8 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday
Punchline Comedy Club
3652 Roswell Rd NW, Atlanta