Friday, Jan. 25, 2002 | 8:39 a.m.
Prior to becoming one of the countrys most recognizable stand-up comedians, Rita Rudner spent 10 years dancing professionally on Broadway and with touring companies. Today she is dancing for joy.
Rudner is the artist in residence at New York-New Yorks Cabaret Theatre, and seems destined for a long run there. She opened the venue more than a year ago and continues to pack in fans.
Rudner and her husband, Martin Bergman, a writer-producer-director, have made Las Vegas their home, having recently moved into the ultraexclusive, ultraluxurious new high-rise condominium complex Turn-berry Place on Paradise Road.
And ex-hoofer Rudner is basking in the glow of rave reviews for her first novel, "Tickled Pink" (A Pocket Books Hardcover Original; $25).
"Rudner is a stand-up to curl up with," wrote reviewer Carmela Ciuranu in the Dec. 17 issue of People magazine.
The book was released in November and already is in its second printing as it climbs to the top of best-seller lists around the country.
Rudner recently returned from a national book-signing tour and on Saturday will be signing books for local fans at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Henderson.
"Tickled Pink" takes a comedic look at the lives of two women in the 1980s, one an aspiring stand-up comic and the other an aspiring supermodel.
"I wrote about something I knew about stand-up comedy in the 80s," Rudner said during a recent interview. "I know how every comedy club in the country smells."
Success seems to come easily for the 45-year-old Rudner. She left her home in Miami, Fla., at age 15 and became a successful dancer. Then she became successful stand-up comic, then a successful screenwriter (1992's "Peter's Friends") and now a successful novelist.
Some artists struggle their entire lives to succeed in one of those fields, and Rudner has done it with a magic wand -- or so it would appear.
"It was more complicated than that," she said. "I started taking ballet lessons when I was 4, and I was performing in ballet companies when I was 10, and I did summer stock in Miami Beach when I was 12, and finally I said, 'I gotta go to Broadway.'
"By the time I went, I had been working for a long time. I was very young when I left home, and it was a silly thing for me to do when I look back, but at the time it was all I wanted to do."
She finished high school early and struck out for Broadway, eventually landing a spot in the chorus line of a touring company of "Zorba" in the early 1970s, and then with such Broadway productions as "Mack and Mabel" (1975) and "Annie" (1980).
"Everything was a struggle," Rudner said. "Nothing comes easy. No one is an instant success."
At that time the comedy scene in New York was heating up. Comedy clubs were springing up all over the city and cable television was expanding and looking for cheap ways to fill its air time -- stand-up comedy fit the bill.
"It was a phenomenon in the '80s," Rudner said. "It was a totally different world."
There was an insatiable appetite for comedians on cable television and in comedy clubs, which were popping up all over the country. But most of the comedians didn't survive when the humor market crashed toward the end of the decade.
"Many people got involved in comedy that maybe shouldn't have been involved," Rudner said.
She wasn't one of them.
Though Rudner says she is not naturally funny, she carved out an enduring career along with other graduates of that era, such as Louie Anderson, Bill Mahr, Dennis Miller and Jerry Seinfeld.
She says she owes it all to logic.
"I found out I had a real love for comedy and comedy writing," she said. "The logic was, there weren't too many female comedians, so I thought I might as well try a field that had fewer competitors than the field I was in, which was acting, singing and dancing."
Although Rudner seemed to have had a flare for comedy from the beginning, she said she doesn't know where it came from.
"No one in my family was even mildly entertaining at a party, as far as I know," Rudner said. "No one was ever accused of being witty."
She described herself as an "impossibly late bloomer" in writing material for her act.
"It started when I inquired about how much comedy material would be if I bought it," Rudner said. "Right after that, I decided to write it. That was about 20 years ago."
Taking the analytical approach, Rudner began studying comedy.
"I had no desire to be a stand-up comic until I decided to do it," Rudner said. "Then I started talking to comedians and comparing notes."
She studied old comedy albums by Woody Allen from the 1960s and comedy shows from the early days of television. Finally she started writing material that fit her style and personality.
"A lot of people might say it's what they want to do and then find out, once they get in it, it's not what they want to do," Rudner said. "I found it was what I really wanted to do."
To find her stage persona, she again took the analytical approach.
"I decided to do it in a way that hadn't been approached before," she said. "One thing I noticed when starting, there were certain things you could say whether you were a woman or a man. It didn't have anything to do with gender, it had to do with funny jokes. So I concentrated on being a funny person, rather than the traditional way.
"There are different kinds of humor, some is sarcastic, some introspective. Introspective fit my personality better."
In comedy, timing is everything. Rudner's was perfect.
"It was a time when all the comedians were blooming in Manhattan," she said. "We didn't know we would be the next big thing (on the entertainment scene)."
In 1985 she appeared on HBO's "Rodney Dangerfield Hosts the Ninth Annual Young Comedians Special."
From there, Rudner's career skyrocketed and she routinely appeared on late-night talk shows, early morning news programs, in films ("The Wrong Guys" in 1988 and "Gleaming the Cube" in 1989) and on the comedy circuit.
In 1989 she appeared on HBO again, this time in a solo performance -- "One Night Stand: Rita Rudner." The success of the show resulted in two more HBO specials -- "Born to Be Mild" (1990) and "Rita Rudner: Married Without Children"(1995).
But by the early 1990s the comedy-club scene was waning.
"It's different now," Rudner said. "Cable had more money to spend, so programming changed. Only those comedians who developed strong personas lasted, and I'm one of the lucky ones who did that.
"Comedy itself didn't change. I do the same thing, which is talk about life. I don't focus on political activities, my forte is not politics. I'm more introspective."
Meanwhile she began writing humorous essays and putting them in book form, including "Naked Beneath My Clothes" (1992), which was on the New York Times' best-seller list, and "Rita Rudner's Guide to Men" (1994).
A novel idea
In 1996 Rudner decided to try her hand at writing a novel, and naturally again took the analytical approach.
"Writing a novel is totally different from writing a comedy act," Rudner said. "It was excruciating. It still is. A novel is something where you don't see anything. You have to describe everything. My act is comprised of jokes that have people laughing three times a minute."
In analyzing the book scene, she said she noticed most funny books on the market were nonfiction.
"I decided to try to write a novel that kind of was more lighthearted than things currently available," Rudner said. "But it turned out to be much more difficult than I ever envisioned."
With help from her husband, "Tickled Pink" was completed after five years.
"I never thought I would write a novel," Rudner said. "I surprised myself. It was scary, but I wanted to do something I hadn't done before. I had an offer to write another book of comedic essays, but that's not challenging -- it's fun, but I had done it. I just wanted to try something different."
Turning the book into a movie is not uppermost in her mind.
"I didn't write it because I wanted it to be a movie," Rudner said. "Movies are much more linear. Books are much more layered. We didn't write a movie, we wrote a book."
She already is working on a second novel, tentatively called "Tickled Green."
"I'm writing about Las Vegas," Rudner said. "It's a story that takes place in a fictional casino."
She said the new book will be a lot different from the first one, but still will have a comedic twist.
"I always want to write comedy," she said. "I spent a lot of years learning how to do that."feature writer. Reach him at [email protected] or 259-4058.