As comedians go, Rita Rudner is a throwback to a more dignified era of women in comedy, far removed from the contemporary brashness of Amy Schumer or “Broad City.”
That’s just who she is, says the 65-year-old Rudner, who recently returned to touring after the longest-running female comedy residency in Vegas and will stop at The Comedy Zone in Charlotte on Tuesday night.
She spoke to The Observer last week to talk about getting back on the road, and during the conversation gave off the sense that — whether she’s walking her dog in the rain or coping with a disastrous kitchen remodel — she does it all with class.
Q. Are you still in Vegas?
A. I’m in California because I had a disaster in my kitchen in Vegas. We had a leak when we weren’t there. It happened in October and they’ve destroyed the whole kitchen. Once the floor went, the cabinets went and then they were taking out the cabinets and cracked the granite.
Q. What’s the status of your residency in Vegas?
A. I’m negotiating a new contract with a new hotel where I can do it six times a year because I’m really old, and want to do what I want to do. For 13 years, I stayed in one place because I was raising my daughter. She’s 16 now. About two years ago, I started going out on the road to work on new material for my special “A Tale of Two Dresses.”
Q. Are you working on another special now?
A. No. I just like it for me. Right now, my main focus is a musical which my husband Martin (Bergman, a British producer/director/writer) and I wrote. We tried it out in a small playhouse and now we’re taking it to New York in July and August.
Q. Had you ever done a musical?
A. I was on Broadway for 10 years (before becoming a comedian). I haven’t done it in a long time, until eight months ago when we first did this musical. It was kind of fun. I’m vocalizing every day when I walk the dog. (She demonstrates her vocal exercise.)
Q. Transitioning from dance and singing and acting to comedy in those early days, what was it that drew you to comedy?
A. You’ll have to read my autobiography. I’m on my third go-round. You go once and you remember more and then you go again. I was on Broadway for 10 years and noticed I wasn’t getting any younger. I was 27. People were really talented and there were fewer shows and more and more performers.
Q. What did you like about standup?
A. I liked the independence of it. All of my life being a dancer, singer, actress, I’d been told where to stand, how long to hold a note. Standup was five minutes coming from my brain, wearing what I wanted to wear, saying what I wanted to say. It was liberating.
Q. At the time, you were one of a handful of female standup acts. Has that changed much?
A. Not really. There are still two females to every 50 males. It’s a powerful position to be standing there with a microphone manipulating people’s feelings.
Q. What do you think about the bawdier, crasser female comics of today?
A. It’s a harsher world than when we were starting out. People have to do what’s in them genuinely. It wouldn’t be right for me to do Amy Schumer’s act and my act wouldn’t be right for Amy Schumer. Everybody’s different. That’s what’s comfortable for me on stage.
Q. Did you become more conscience of it after becoming a mother?
A. I was always careful about what I did on stage. What I’ve been more conscious of is that I do want to be a role model for my daughter and there aren’t too many female comedians that are mothers. A lot of women don’t have children and it’s logical because you travel all the time. (My daughter) really stands up for me. In the fourth grade, one of these little boys was teasing her and said, “Your mother’s a dirty comedian.” She said, “She is not!” and took him to the principal’s office.
Q. You stay away from politics as a rule. What do you cover in your show nowadays?
A. Being married for 30 years, raising a teenager, trying to tame technology where everything changes every second. I want to talk about something that unites the audience. There’s enough division.