Comedian Rita Rudner counts on her family for support — at home and through entertainment venues.
Not only does she find her husband, Martin Bergman, and daughter, Molly Bergman, important to a happy personal lifestyle, she also finds them important to happy career income as they become central to the humor that has given her a long-running stage and television presence.
Rudner, who started her career as a Broadway dancer before noticing a lack of female stand-up comedians, became a favorite guest on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and other prime-time shows.
Dividing her time these days between homes in California and Nevada, Rudner will show that humor Sept. 7 at Congregation Shaarey Zedek as she appears for this year’s opening meeting of Hadassah Greater Detroit, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
Rudner, who has had a busy summer of appearances that included engagements in Nevada and Hawaii as well as on an Alaskan cruise, plans to answer questions and interact with Hadassah participants.
Getting ready to tell all about herself in a sixth book, an autobiography approached with her writer-producer husband, she previewed the content and her local appearance during a conversation with the Jewish News:
JN: Do you alter your material for an all-women’s audience?
RR: I always alter my material depending on where I play, but it’s more of a repositioning of the material. I can look at where I’m playing and go heavy on this section and light on that section. It’s not really writing the material as much as rearranging the material because I only like to do material that works 100 percent of the time.
JN: Do you have any material especially for Jewish audiences?
RR: I do have some material I only do for Jewish audiences because I am Jewish. When I was first starting out in New York, I played lots of Jewish country clubs outside of New York, and I did lots of benefits for temples. I have lots of material I don’t use very often because people of all faiths come to see my act, and I don’t like them to be left out.
JN: Has your approach to humor changed over the years?
RR: As my life changes, my act changes. I talk about the things that are happening in my life, which are happening in my audiences’ lives as well. I’m now the mother of a teenager. I also have no ability to understand a lot of the technology that’s going on these days. My daughter does, and she helps me. All the artificial intelligence going on and the fact that all the appliances are so much smarter than I am [can be material]. I’ve been married for 29 years now so I have a lot of husband material.
JN: Do you still like to dance? (Rudner began her career as a Broadway dancer.)
RR: No. I love to exercise; I stretch, and I swim. I can’t really function unless I do some kind of exercise every single day. I used to be a really good dancer. If I would try now, I’d be really bad so I don’t want to try. I still try to keep in shape, and that’s part of my routine as well.
JN: Do young women who want to be comedians have a better chance than when you started?
RR: I don’t pay a lot of attention because my life is so busy with just life. I really don’t know what I would do now because I started in comedy clubs. With the internet, you have to have followers and a YouTube presence. My daughter is a singer-songwriter, and she does all of that stuff. I was in a bookstore and saw a whole section of YouTube people who have books out, and I’m wondering who these people are. I went into my daughter’s room the other day, and she and her friends were watching their favorite YouTubers.
JN: Are you a member of Hadassah?
RR: No. I am Jewish, but I don’t have a very active Jewish life. My mother was very religious; she died when I was 13.
JN: Do you have any organizations that you support?
RR: I do a lot of work for a tennis charity and Molly’s school. I’m doing a show for the school in their theater, and then I do benefits all year for the school music programs. I do charity work for other people. Last year, I auctioned myself off for dinner to the highest bidder [to benefit the school opera program]. We actually had 18 people who gave a lot of money so I made three huge dinners at my house. The school raised a lot of money, and I became a much better cook.
JN: If you were invited to talk about a serious subject important to you, no humor allowed, what would that be and why?
RR: At this point, it would be the direction America is taking and how deeply disturbing it is. It isn’t the country that I grew up in, and it’s not the country I want my daughter growing up in. You’ve seen all the racist tendencies and the prejudices and the people who are unaccepting of other people. I’ve grown up in big cities that were melting pots, and everybody was welcome.
JN: Is there anything you’d like people to know about you apart from your work?
RR: I love being a mother. I love working. I’m very excited that I found a way to do both. I didn’t do both at the same time because we adopted a baby very late. I did my career for a long time, and then I was able to work in Las Vegas, where I could be a mother and do comedy because I took a car to work and not a plane.
JN: Does your family travel with you?
RR: Only if it’s to places that are fun, and it’s only in the summer because Molly has to go to school. Last summer, I did some shows at Cambridge University for a benefit charity because my husband went to Cambridge. My daughter opens for me whenever I go anyplace in the summer. She brings her guitar. I love to travel with her because she doesn’t bring her friends or phone so it’s just the three of us.
JN: Have you ever gone to Israel?
RR: I’ve been there twice. Molly hasn’t come with us because she was in school. It’s a very fascinating place. It was private travel on my way to a ship where I was working. •
Rita Rudner will be the speaker as Hadassah Greater Detroit has its opening meeting 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7, at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield. Lunch is a closed event; $36 speaker. Free admission to boutique shopping. (248) 683-5030; hadassah.org.