Rita Rudner

Famed Las Vegas comedian to perform in McCoy Studio Theater on Saturday

Photo courtesy Rita Rudner

Photo courtesy Rita Rudner

Four years ago, I interviewed comedian Rita Rudner and upon speaking with her by phone again last week, I asked if she remembered her personal Hawaiian word, “mahuka,” that she shared with me.

“Yes, I can’t believe you remembered that,” she said. “I still use it.”

In 2012 she said, “I have no idea what it means, whatever you want it to. I just say it to everyone, it’s my own aloha.”

Rudner began on Broadway, most notably in the musical “Promises, Promises,” before pursuing a career in comedy.

“It was so important for me. I started at 17 on Broadway — I lived for it, and I went to all the shows,” she shared. “First I was in the chorus, then I got a few lines, then understudy and then I got a few speaking roles, but one day I just didn’t want to do it anymore and went after comedy.”

Dakota Horvath (left) and Tony Felicetta will bring their Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin personas to the Historic Iao Theater on Friday and Saturday. Photo courtesy the performers

Dakota Horvath (left) and Tony Felicetta will bring their Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin personas to the Historic Iao Theater on Friday and Saturday. Photo courtesy the performers

When Rudner began, there were very few female comics, the two most notable being Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers. I asked her to comment on how standup has changed for women over the years.

“Women are at the forefront of all comedy in general now, not just standup. I was in the backfront. I love Amy Schumer because she is her own person, and all the women from “SNL” — Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kate McKinnon. When I started, the comics on TV were middle-aged men with these gorgeous TV wives that barely talked.”

Since her beginnings in the early 1980s, Rudner’s comedy career has led to a 14-year Las Vegas run making hers the longest-running solo comedy show in the history of Las Vegas with more than 2,000 shows and 1.5 million tickets sold in addition to being named Las Vegas Comedian of the Year for nine consecutive years.

I asked if she would even consider returning to the Broadway stage.

“It’s funny you ask, I was approached to do a show three years ago,” she said. “The producer offered me the part and I said, ‘Why would I do that?’ If I had been asked 10 years ago or 10 years from now, maybe I would go back to New York, but I have a teenage daughter. Why do eight shows a week, the matinees, uprooting the family?  But it would depend, the script would have to be really funny — if I were to do a Broadway show in the future it would probably be a one-woman show, something that would incorporate my point of view.”

Rudner did appear in the U.S. premiere of “Act 3,” a play directed by her husband, Martin Bergman, last January at the Laguna Playhouse in California. She acted opposite Charles Shaughnessy (“The Nanny”) in “Act 3,” which depicted a couple who discover relationship flaws in the “third act” of their marriage. The playhouse was near the family’s beach house in Laguna.

“I could drive there in five minutes, so it was very convenient,” she said. “I only have three more years with my daughter before she goes off to college or somewhere I don’t want her to go, and I want to enjoy that time while I can. Right now, I’m helping her with ‘Antigone’ for school. I’m English and Martin is math, for biology she’s on her own.”

Rudner initially left the road comic’s life to settle down in one place to raise her daughter, Mollie Bergman, who occasionally opens for her in Las Vegas.

“She’s a singer-songwriter — I’m her roadie, I carry her guitar and the sound equipment, and when she plays at cafes, Martin and I sit there to make sure no one bothers her,” Rudner said. She shared that her appearances on Maui are also a family getaway.

“I only play places that I want to go to and we travel as a family,” she said. “Mollie is 14 and she’s bringing a friend. They have their own language — they call it Hawee-ee. They’ll be taking surf lessons and I get to tell jokes and have fun too. She wants to do ziplining, I just tell her she needs to be 18 for most things whether it’s true or not, or I cross it out of the guidebook. Martin’s idea of water sports is shaving.”

I asked if she had any activities that she loves on Maui.

“I enjoy snorkeling, but I always think the shark is going to come,” she shared. “I went snorkeling in the Caribbean and there were all these stingrays; they’re too flappy and they come to close.”

Rudner added that she also enjoys the intimacy of the McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. “Big venues are harder — I just love the McCoy because everyone is right there and I can see their faces and connect with them.”

As we ended our chat, Rudner said, “I’ll see you in Hawee-ee, oh, and mahuka!”

Ironically, mahuka is a Hawaiian word, and it means to run away or escape.

* Comedian Rita Rudner returns to Maui this weekend with a performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului. Tickets range from $40 to $65 (plus applicable fees) and are available at the box office, by calling 242-7469 or by visiting www.mauiarts.org. This performance is appropriate for all ages.

ALSO THIS WEEK

John Padon presents “An Evening of Music with Frank Sinatra & Dean Martin,” starring Tony Felicetta and Dakota Horvath. Felicetta and Horvath mix classic Rat Pack comedy banter along with the signature songs of Sinatra and Martin, such as “Luck Be A Lady,” “That’s Amore” and “You Make Me Feel So Young.”

Fresh off its successful run at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, “An Evening of Music with Frank Sinatra & Dean Martin” is now touring internationally, and this popular show is a must-see for any Sinatra or Martin fan. Step back into a different era and immerse yourself in the hits from yesteryear.

* Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Tickets range from $35 to $55 and are available by calling 242-6969 or visiting www.mauionstage.com.

*****

Maui OnStage continues its free theater series, ONO!, at 6:30 p.m. Monday with an evening of short comedic and dramatic one-act plays by Christopher Durang, Harold Pinter and David Mamet, directed by Vinnie Linares.

Dale Button, Linares, Camille Romero, Jennifer Rose, Barbara Sedano, Todd Van Amburgh and Kalani Witford will star in the show.

* The free ONO! performances occur every second Monday of the month at the Historic Iao Theater. For more information, visit www.mauionstage.com.

UPCOMING

The MACC presents “Her Bodies of Stories” by Lyz Soto, directed by Grace Taylor.

This new spoken-art work explores themes of Diaspora, colonialism, settler colonialism, hopeful decolonization and growing up in Hawaii, combining slam poetry and choreography with theater producing scenes that move from fierce to playful to thought-provoking.

“Her Bodies of Stories” was written and will be performed by local spoken-arts poet Soto and fellow performers Jocelyn Ng, Serena Simmons and Taylor.

* The performance will be at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 13 in McCoy Studio Theater at the MACC. Tickets range from $40 to $65 (plus applicable fees) and are available at the box office, by calling 242-7469 or by visiting www.mauiarts.org.

*****

“The New Shanghai Circus” returns to the Castle Theater this month. The wildly popular troupe features Chinese acrobatic skills passed down from farmers and craftsmen to the current performers for dozens of generations.

Building on the traditional performances, the artists of today’s “New Shanghai Circus,” add layers of complexity, daring new techniques and spectacular stunts, thrilling audiences around the world.

* Performances will be at 4 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 16 and 4 and 7 p.m. Jan. 17. Tickets range from $12 to $35 (plus applicable fees) and are available at the box office, by calling 242-7469 or by visiting www.mauiarts.org.

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