The Spotlight podcast is hosted by Jena Tesse Fox.
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Guest: Rita Rudner
On this episode of BroadwayRadio’s “Spotlight,” Jena Tesse Fox talks to Rita Rudner.
Rita Rudner moved to New York at the age of fifteen to dance on Broadway. She appeared in several Broadway musicals, including the legendary original productions of “Follies” and “Mack and Mabel.”
It was while she was appearing in “Annie” on Broadway that Rita began exploring the comedy clubs of Manhattan. She applied the same learning techniques she had acquired as a dancer to comedy, spending hours studying recordings by Jack Benny and Woody Allen and analyzing comedy construction.
She developed her trademark epigrammatic style and took a full-time leap form chorus lines to punch lines in the early eighties. A frequent guest on both Late Night With Letterman and The Tonight Show during this time, Rita also appeared often on HBO.
Her first solo HBO special, “Rita Rudner’s One Night Stand,” was nominated for several awards, as was her English BBC television show which later appeared on A&E. Rita’s two one-hour specials for HBO, “Born to Be Mild” and “Married Without Children,” were ratings standouts and many viewers liked her dresses. She performed all over the country, filling Carnegie Hall in New York three times and the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles twice. She also performed sell-out tours of Australia and England.
Rita has written five books, including two fiction novels (“Tickled Pink” and “Turning the Tables’). Her other books include the best-selling “Naked Beneath My Clothes,” “I Still Have It…I Just Can’t Remember Where I Put It” and “Rita Rudner’s Guide to Men,” which continues to be quoted extensively on the internet in English and in languages she will never understand.
In 1984 Rita met Martin Bergman, an English producer and writer. The two have since collaborated professionally as well as personally. They married in 1989. The movie “Peter’s Friends” was their first produced script. It also starred Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Imelda Staunton and Kenneth Branagh and won the Peter Seller’s award for best comedy film and best ensemble acting. In America, it was nominated for Best Original Script by the Writers’ Guild.
“A Weekend in the Country” was another script the couple created together and it was also Martin’s directorial debut. It starred Jack Lemmon, Dudley Moore, Rita and Richard Lewis. The couple collaborated again on a short TV movie called “Unfunny Girl” and then on the award-winning independent movie “Thanks” which premiered at the Palm Springs Film Festival in 2011.
In 2000 Rita and Martin got a call from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. They had a six week window in a theatre before a show was arriving from Paris. Would Rita like to fill those six weeks with Martin producing? Six weeks turned into six months. Rita’s show became the hottest ticket in town. When the show from France finally arrived, MGM management built Rita her own 450 seat theatre at its sister property New York New York. In 2006, Rita moved to an even bigger theatre at Harrah’s to which she returned in 2014 after a three year run at The Venetian. She is now officially the longest-running solo comedy show in the history of Las Vegas.
In 2003, Rita launched from Las Vegas her first syndicated daily TV show Ask Rita, in key markets across the country. The show featured a panel of celebrities lightheartedly attempting to solve personal problems submitted by members of the public. For this show, Women In Television and Radio awarded Rita their Top Program Host award. Rita also found time to help write the 2001 & 2003 Oscar’s with Steve Martin.
Rita was thrilled to perform for President Obama in Las Vegas alongside Bette Midler and Sheryl Crow, and even more thrilled to introduce her daughter Molly to the President and Senator Harry Reid.
Recently, Rita recorded her first stand up TV special for over a decade. “Rita Rudner: Live From Las Vegas” for PBS in conjunction with a DVD release thru’ Image Entertainment, as well as a radio series for the BBC. She and Martin have also written a couple of successful plays and will be collaborating again on a new work which will premiere in January 2016 at the Laguna Playhouse in California. Her first love, however, remains stand up comedy and she still performs all over the country whenever her Las Vegas schedule allows it.
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Jena Tesse Fox has been writing about theater for more than 10 years for numerous publications, including Playbill Magazine, BroadwayWorld.com, Time Out New York and HowlRound.com. She is a voting member of the Drama Desk Awards, and is a contributor to BroadwayRadio
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