Paul A. Hebert / AP
Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Like anyone who’s been visiting Las Vegas frequently over the years, Judy Tenuta has plenty of great stories to share.
“My very first time was when I was not known very well but I was working with Mitzi [Shore] at The Comedy Store and, oh my God, this was back before all the TV stuff and even before my first HBO special,” says the “Love Goddess” comedian and actress known to incorporate the accordion into her stand-up act. “I was there for Thanksgiving and Mitzi had all these comics together for Thanksgiving dinner.
“And then when I returned in the summer of 1987 I opened for George Carlin at Bally’s and that was really great because my parents got to meet him. I grew up Catholic listening to him say all these wild things about priests and whatever, because he grew up Catholic, too. When I was on tour with him we would talk to each other in these odd voices, he’d do it and I’d talk back in a different voice, all the way to the show. His manager would finally say, ‘Will you guys shut up?’ And George would tell him, ‘No, we get to have fun, too.’”
Tenuta, 61, has been around all sorts of stars through nearly four decades in comedy, but there’s a special star in Las Vegas waiting for her next week. She’ll be honored on her birthday, November 7, when her name is added to the Las Vegas Walk of Stars on the Strip in front of Paris Las Vegas.
“I’m very excited because I might be sandwiched between Mr. Las Vegas and who knows, maybe Siegfried and Roy? That could be exciting,” she says. “I was invited to see Siegfried and Roy back when I had all those specials and then Siegfried made a reference to me during the show. I’m just glad he didn’t make me come onstage with the tiger. That’s where I draw the line.”
Tenuta has done countless comedy specials for HBO, Showtime and Lifetime and appeared dozens of times on late-night talk shows, more recently appearing in “The Vagina Monologues” and “Menopause the Musical.” She’s been nominated twice for Grammy Awards, was the first winner of the Best Female Comedian prize at the American Comedy Awards and is easily recognized for wild and wacky commercial campaigns with MTV and Dr. Pepper.
Tenuta headlines the Palm Springs International Comedy Festival later this month. She’s still doing stand-up these days, although a bit more selectively at a pace that fits her lifestyle, while working on independent films and maintaining an active YouTube channel.
“It’s nice to choose the shows I would like to do and that’s what I prefer when I do the live show. At my age, you don’t always want to go to towns with names like Padacki or Bullhonk,” she jokes. “And I’m sorry to say I’m not yet one of those people, an ex-wife of some guy so I can be on Desperate Housewives of Beverly Hills or something.”
Tenuta has been characterized as one of the pillars of so-called “character comedy” in the 1980s and 1990s stand-up scene, because of the over-the-top “Petite Flower” persona she embodied. But she says every comedian is enlarging and extrapolating his or her or their personality during a performance.
“When you talk to people like Jay Leno or Jerry Seinfeld, even they have to magnify whatever their basic essence is. It’s still a character but not as exaggerated as someone like Sam Kinison or Steven Wright,” she says. “I’ve certainly done movies where that’s different. I did one called ‘Desperation Boulevard’ where I play a former child star who will do anything to make a comeback, and I have to tell my crazy manager I’m not going to rob a convenience store.
“So what I’m saying is, would I ever stray from my formula? Yeah. I will. I’ll be a guest cadaver on ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ but only if they’ll let me come to life.”