This wide-eyed brunette comic “speaks softly and carries a big shtick” through an act that combines shrewd observations about life and the world with a soubrette’s voice and a demeanor that makes one want to help her across the street. Rita Rudner has conquered the stand-up stage and expanded into writing and performing in films produced by her husband, Martin Bergman.
An only child, Rudner graduated from high school in 1971 and by the following year had convinced her father to let her move from the Miami, FL, area to NYC in order to pursue a career as a dancer. It took three years, but Rudner made it into the chorus line of a touring company of “Zorba.” She subsequently appeared in the Broadway productions of “Mack and Mabel” (1975), “They’re Playing Our Song” (1979) and played Miss Hannigan’s gangster moll sister-in-law Lily in “Annie” in 1980.
As her dancing legs began to go, Rudner broke into TV commercials, filming more than 60 of them, and began appearing with a stand-up comedy act at clubs in New York City. By 1985, she had made her first TV appearance as a comic in “Rodney Dangerfield Hosts the 9th Annual Young Comedians Special” (HB0). Rudner made numerous appearances on “The Morning Program” (CBS’ ill-fated alternative to “Today”) in 1987. However disastrous the show was for the network, it gave Rudner the national exposure she needed. She moved to Hollywood and hosted the short-lived NBC series “George Schlatter’s Funny People” (1988) and also appeared in two films, the cub scout reunion mess “The Wrong Guys” (1988) and in the small role of Max Perlich’s mother in “Gleaming the Cube” (1989). But mostly, Rudner expanded her reach as a comedian, touring the country and performing in Las Vegas. By 1989, she had landed her first solo gig on HBO with “One Night Stand: Rita Rudner”. (Two others, “Born to Be Mild” 1990 and “Rita Rudner: Married Without Children” 1995 followed.) She has also appeared on several Bob Hope variety shows as well as numerous TV specials.
After her 1988 marriage to the Australian writer-producer Martin Bergman, Rudner began diving her time between the USA and the UK. In 1990, she starred in her own variety series, “Rita Rudner”, for the BBC. (Episodes were later shown in the USA on A&E in 1991). The duo also began to write screenplays together. Kenneth Branagh directed their 1992 script “Peter’s Friends“, about a reunion of a collegiate theater troupe. Rudner played Branagh’s self-absorbed actress wife in a cast that also featured Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Imelda Staunton. Returning to L.A., Rudner and Bergman co-wrote 1996′s “A Weekend in the Country“, originally made as a theatrical release but later aired on the USA Network. In the film, Rudner was featured as a woman has become artificially inseminated and through coincidence meets the donor in the Napa Valley.
The comic has also written several books and has continued to perform on the road and in concert at least 12 weeks per year.
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