Here’s a story comedian Rita Rudner won’t tell when she returns to South Jersey for a one-night stand this weekend.
It’s the one about the night Rudner stood up to the U.S. Secret Service and refused to host a glittery, politically connected Las Vegas show unless her demands were met.
There was a lot at stake here. For starters, Rudner would perform along with Bette Midler and Sheryl Crow on stage at Caesars Palace. And seated in the audience watching were a couple of the nation’s top political headliners: President Barack Obama and now-former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid.
It was 2009, and Rudner was thrilled that she’d been asked to host the show. But when she arrived at Caesars with her husband and creative collaborator, Martin Bergman, and their 8-year-old daughter Molly, the Secret Service refused to allow Molly and Martin backstage to meet and have their pictures taken with the president.
“They wouldn’t let (them back) because they hadn’t been vetted,” Rudner recalls during a recent chat.
“And I understood that, because (Martin) can be very dangerous,” she says with a sarcastic laugh about her British-born husband.
Rudner was very honest and in full-disclosure mode with the president’s protective detail when it came to her young daughter.
“I told them that as far as I knew, (Molly) has a clean record,” she recalls. “She’s 8-years-old and she’s in the third grade. And she’s coming with me or I don’t (perform).”
Minutes after she stared down the Secret Service, Rudner, Bergman and Molly were happily posing with the president, and the star-studded show went off without a hitch.
The reason you probably won’t hear that story this weekend is because Rudner, unlike some comics, refuses to mix in politics with her comedy.
“I stay away from politics ... we have enough of that in real life,” Rudner says. “I do have my own political opinions, and not everyone agrees with me, even though I know I’m right.”
She may leave her political beliefs in the wings when she performs, but that didn’t stop a political committee from trying to draft her to run for Congress from Nevada several years ago.
But Rudner, who headlined a 13-year residency gig in Las Vegas says she doesn’t have the stomach for a political career.
“I told them I’m tough enough to be in show business, but I don’t think I’m tough enough to be in politics.”
Rudner, who performs 8 p.m. Saturday, July 14, at the Levoy Theatre in Millville, says the nasty and negative ads that have become part and parcel to 21st century politics would be her undoing.
She could even visualize one ad, if she decided to run, that would play on how she got into show business: as a Broadway gypsy who landed a role and spent several years performing in “Annie.”
“I could just see all those negative ads. ‘Rita Rudner, she started on Broadway as a showgirl,’” she explains. “‘And she slept her way to the top…’ I’m sorry. I couldn’t do that to my daughter, my husband or my dog.”
Once a regular in A.C. before landing her long-term deal in Vegas, Rudner learned when she was breaking into comedy that not all material is universal.
“I learned very early in my career when I was booked in North Carolina and I had written jokes about the subways in New York,” she remembers. “That’s when I realized I had to do something more universal. And then when I started working in Australia and England and Scotland I (decided) to concentrate on material about relationships and things that happen between men and women.”
Now, with a husband she’s been married to for 30 years, along with a teenage daughter and a dog, she’s developed jokes everyone can relate to.
“I talk about things everybody can relate to whether they live in Atlantic City or if they live on the moon.”
Now 64, Rudner, a native of Miami who was 15 when she moved to New York to try to break into show biz, hopes to see her career come full circle, meaning a return to the legitimate stage.
She and Bergman have completed writing their third play, a musical that will star Rudner performing like few have ever seen her before: as an actress who sings.
“It’s called ‘Two’s a Crowd,’ and it’s your first unromantic comedy,” she says. “I’m singing again. I haven’t sung since I was in ‘Annie’ in 1980, so it’s going to be interesting. I (sang) during the read-through, and no one covered their ears.”
Rudner isn’t the only family member who sings. Molly plays guitar, sings and writes songs and occasionally opens some shows for her mom.
Molly will probably perform a few numbers Saturday before turning over the stage to her mother, who enjoys having her daughter as her opening act.
“Because then I always know where she is,” Rudner says.