RUDNER, RITA (1956– ), U.S. comedian, stage and screen actress, and author. Rudner was born in Miami, Florida, the daughter of Abe (an attorney) and Frances (a homemaker). Rudner dreamed of show business as a child, and after she lost her mother to cancer at 13, she graduated high school at 15, giving her father this ultimatum: "Let me go to New York or I'll run away." Within three months, Rudner got a job dancing in the road company of Zorba the Greek. She worked in other Broadway shows and did commercials for 10 years. In 1980, she was cast in the Broadway production of Annie, and also did her first stand-up act at the comedy club Catch a Rising Star, "because there weren't too many female comedians." Rudner dressed in evening gowns and cultivated a quiet, minimalist presentation of funny stories. She was called demure. In 1986, British theatrical producer Martin Bergman brought her to the U.K. They married in 1988. That same year, Rudner made her film debut (The Wrong Guys) and co-hosted a TV program Funny People (with Leeza Gibbons, produced by Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In creator George Schlatter). Rudner wrote Naked Beneath My Clothes (1992), short, amusing meditations on love, family, food, and fashion (and won that year's Emmy for the audio version). In 1994, Rita Rudner's Guide to Men was published. She turned to fiction with Tickled Pink (2001), a semi-autobiographical novel about two women trying to make it in the show business in the 1980s. She also cowrote the film Peter's Friends with her husband in 1992 and wrote the teleplay to the U.S.A. Network cable movie A Weekend in the Country (1996). Rudner's many TV appearances include the Carson, Leno, and Letterman shows, as well as several HBO specials and a syndicated show, Ask Rita; she has also written for the Academy Awards show. In 2002 she began a long-term engagement performing at the New York-New York Casino in Las Vegas, where a new theater was built for her and where she sold her 500,000th ticket in 2005.
[Amy Handelsman (2nd ed.)]