Rita Rudner: interview

Rita Rudner Rita Rudner
Posted: Thu Jun 9 2011

Rita Rudner's made a home for herself in Vegas for the past decade but Time Out discovers she's looking forward to getting lost in London.

Considering Rita Rudner's numerous British connections it seems remarkable that the gentle, conversational comedy queen has stayed away for so long. Sure, she's been busy with a ten-year Las Vegas residency, where she's Sin City's most successful female comedian. But Rudner is married to an Englishman ('Peter's Friends' writer/director Martin Bergman), has had a self-titled 1990 series on BBC2 and has worked frequently alongside well-loved British actors from Richard E Grant to Stephen Fry. Surely those reasons alone are enough to warrant a visit more frequently than every 15 years? But then again, when a million people and counting are flocking to Nevada to see your show, why leave home?

So, you've lived in Las Vegas fora decade now…
'Yes, we came for six weeks and stayed for ten years! The show just started going really well and we said, “Well, why not just stay here?” So we did. We sold everything in Los Angeles. We sold our house, our furniture, our dishes, our silverware, our fake plants, our fish… everything. We just left.'

Was your husband open to the ideaof moving to Vegas at the time?
'He didn't want to be left alone in a house in LA! Martin is a man who isn't afraid to change his life. He's lived in England, he's lived in Australia, he's lived in America. He likes to shake things up every ten years, so we shook it up and came to Las Vegas.'

How did you feel when, following the success of the six-week run, the New York New York hotel offered to build a permanent theatre for you?
'The main thing I thought was: How are they going to fix the roller coaster? Everything in New York New York rumbles, it's like there's an earthquake every two minutes. They thought I was going to be able to make a joke about it. I said, “I can't do a joke about a roller coaster every two minutes!” So they set about trying to soundproof the room, which proved to be very difficult. Finally, they had to fill all of the ride's hollow pillars with sand to absorb the vibrations. It proved to be very costly and every time the president of the hotel looked at me he said, “Well, thank you for creating my money pit.” But it turned out to be successful and I stayed at the theatre for five years, so eventually he smiled at me.'

And since then your show has sold more than one million tickets and grossed more than $70 million. That's quite an achievement.
'I kept all of that money. It's all in my pocket. I have very big pockets. No, I don't keep track of that. Martin produces the show and he figures it out. People ask me how many shows I do a year. I don't know! I know I've been in Vegas for ten years because my daughter is going to be nine in June and we moved here a year before she was born. So I add one to nine and I get ten. That's how I know that, otherwise I'm not aware of too much. I love to write jokes and that's all I think about. I get so happy when I write a joke. It's a very satisfying, liberating feeling. If I say a joke and the audience laughs it makes me feel good. I'm a very simple person. I'm very shallow. Shallow, simple, easily pleased: that's me.'

When you first started stand-up, with your soft, gentle delivery, did you struggle to hold people's attention in the more rowdy clubs?
'I was careful not to rehearse any putdown lines or anything. I wanted to say things that were natural coming from me. If you are who you are on stage people pay attention. The only time anyone really ever heckled me was my very first time on stage. They said, “Go back to your real job” or something, and I just said, “I'm sorry, this is my first time on stage and I don't know how to respond to a heckle yet. Could you please come back and heckle me when I'm more experienced?” I was always armed with nothing. I go in armed with nothing and hope to come out alive.'

It's been 15 years since you last performed over here. Why has it taken you so long to come back?
'Over the past ten years we've been in child land and I've been very busy and under contract in Las Vegas. We actually had the whole London trip planned last summer and then Martin's mother had to go and have an operation. She is so inconsiderate. She had to have open-heart surgery at just the time we were going away. So we cancelled everything because of her and we had to go to the hospital… But she's recovered miraculously, she's great, so we're coming to London this year.'

And are you excited about the trip?
'I'm very excited. Martin thinks he knows where a lot of things are, so that means we're going to get lost. It'll be funny.'