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Rita Rudner: Live from Las Vegas
Rita Rudner has carved out a successful comedy career for decades without resorting to the brash, envelope pushing humor that frequently makes up female comedians' repertoires. For the past few years, Rudner has been ensconced at Harrah's in Las Vegas, where her nightly shows, at least as represented here, are surprisingly tame (for a Vegas audience anyway), while maintaining an unusual degree of sweetness and some great punch lines.
Rudner, performing in a glittering full-length gown and on a classily dressed set, performs a routine mostly built around the war of the sexes, which she details with a sort of wide-eyed innocence that makes her laugh lines very endearing. In fact, her entire delivery on this concert DVD is marked by a sort of high register little girl voice that I certainly do not remember from Rudner performances of the past, or even her occasional film roles, as in the Kenneth Branagh film Peter's Friends, which Rudner co-wrote with her husband Martin Bergman (who also co-produced this feature). Be that as it may, Rudner has some keen observational moments, going back and forth between things women tend to do which drive men crazy (shopping of course, and talking nonstop) and vice versa (accusing wives of hiding their keys or waiting to be served a beer instead of getting up and getting it themselves). She also has a nice segment on being a mother for the first time ("I'm still trying to lose the weight, which is weird, since we adopted," is representative of Rudner's throwaway punch lines). Rudner has several running gags which reoccur throughout this hour or so performance, including a repeated scolding of the audience with "It isn't that funny," usually used after she says something self-deprecating. There's also her tag line "Don't mess with me," which tends to crop up after a joke at the expense of her husband.
While the comedy is certainly fine and will elicit many laughs from most viewers, there's something inchoate missing from this DVD presentation. It seems overly scripted, and not just in the material--one gets the feeling that every performance of Rudner in this venue is going to be more or less exactly the same: the pauses, the Jack Benny-esque sideways looks out to the audience, everything. This, coupled with Rudner's slightly bizarre delivery, may take away a bit from the enjoyment of this particular show. In fact, in watching some of her older performances on You Tube in preparation for this review, I was struck by how natural she can be, at least in prior performances, something that's just not readily apparent here. She's certainly at ease, and at least makes an attempt at interacting with her audience, but it has the gloss of artificiality which is not a part of her early work.
You get more of an idea of how sweet and charming Rudner is in "real life" in some of the excellent clips included as extras, dealt with below. It might have been more fun, actually, to have a complete DVD of moments like these, where Rudner gets to shine in an unscripted, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants environment. She's obviously a nice person, very intelligent and brilliantly observant--she just needs to cut loose a little more to elevate her Vegas show to become, in a term she uses in several callback jokes, a "great one."
The main concert is in a nice looking enhanced 1.78:1 transfer with excellent color and contrast. Directorial coverage is good, as it usually is in these concert DVDs, with lots of multi-camera cutting to keep the visual presentation interesting.
The standard stereo soundtrack is perfectly fine. Don't expect any real separation, as the totality of this DVD (with the exception of brief string quartet music opening and closing the concert) is Rudner speaking. Some of the laughter can be overpowering at times and I had to wonder if it had been "enhanced" for DVD release.
This is where this DVD, and Rudner herself, shine. There are nine wonderful brief clips of Rudner doing some fun things, like attending Vegas conventions or engaging in various Vegas-centric activities, all of which show Rita as quick with a quip and just plain sweet to boot. My favorite was her attendance at a trade show for fishermen, where her attempt to use a new worm-clipping device (instead of hooking it) is just plain laugh out loud hilarious. One of the other clips, of her going to an indoor sky diving emporium (yes, you read that correctly) had a laugh track, so I'm wondering if perhaps she had a Vegas cable show that some of these come from. There are some other wonderful moments in these clips, including a "Makeunder" (where a gorgeous blonde is made less beautiful), a Star Trek convention (where she gets befuddled interviewing those who insist on being Trekkers versus Trekkies) and a wild night at Chippendale's. Rudner needs to do more of this sort of material--it's far funnier in places than the actual concert section.
Rudner is just too sweet and unassuming for me not to recommend at least an evening's rental. Even though the main concert seems overly "locked," to use a theatrical term, there are enough nice punch lines here, as well as the often brilliant extras, to entertain most comedy lovers.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet