When her dancer’s legs began to wear out, Rita Rudner decided her show biz odds were much better as a standup comedian.
“It was very practical,” said Rudner, who is appearing at Traverse City’s City Opera House on July 17. “There was less competition.”
The witty, off-kilter comedian made a wise choice. Rudner became one of the hottest comics around, performing at clubs around the country, and becoming a frequent guest of Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”
More recently, she’s been a regular attraction in Las Vegas, doing her act there almost exclusively for the past 12 years.
Rudner says she has always felt the pull of show business. After graduating from high school at 15, she left her Miami home for the bright lights of Broadway. She appeared in several shows, but she saw the career of a dancer as a short one.
“You don’t get better as a dancer when you get older,” she said.
That observation led her to the world of comedy, and she applied the same discipline she learned as a dancer to her new field. She analyzed humor and studied other comics, especially Woody Allen and Jack Benny, both famed for their engaging observations and razor-sharp timing.
“When I began to research comedy I loved it,” she said.
Rudner says nearly all of her material is written ahead of time.
“I always prepare – 99.5 percent is prepared,” she said. “You’re not going to go onstage not knowing what steps you’re going to do.”
Rudner is also a successful actress and author. She’s written four books, two memoirs and two novels. She’s also written screenplays and a play with her husband and manager, Martin Bregman.
One arena she hasn’t stepped into is reality game shows. She says she has turned down appearances on shows like “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.”
“I get asked to do strange things. ‘We’ll drop you in a jungle and you can play games for food,’” she said. “No thank you.”
Though her plate is full, Rudner still ranks standup as her favored pursuit.
“Comedy is first, writing is second, acting is third,” she said. Her biggest priority, however, is her family. “The best part of the Las Vegas residency is I can be a mom and do my act,” she said. “It’s just like [singer] Celine Dion, except she flies into her shows in a helicopter.”
Rudner says one of the most beguiling things about her show for an audience is its intimacy.
“It’s personal,” she said. “Even in Vegas, with all these spectacle shows, it’s intimate.”
Her sweet, soft style also offers the audience a chance to relax – at least, when they’re not belly laughing.
“It’s like having a bunch of people over to my house,” Rudner said.
She says standup also provides her the opportunity to control her own fate.
“In a movie or TV show, you have no control of the editing, or when it will be out,” she said. “When you tell a joke, you get immediate feedback.”
While she continues performing regularly in Las Vegas, Rudner also takes her comedy on tour, as in the show at the Opera House.
“When my husband gets tired of me he sends me on the road,” she said with her trademark sweetness.
Many performers say they enjoy appearing live, but the travel is tedious. Rudner disagrees, saying she enjoys every aspect of touring.
“No one asks me to do anything. I get to meet a great new audience. People are nice to me,” she said. “I love hotel rooms, room service, the people I meet. It’s like a little vacation.”
Tickets for Rudner’s show start at $33. For more, visit cityoperahouse.org or call the box office at (231) 941-8082.