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COMEDY REVIEW : Rita Rudner Is Svelte, Pretty, Original American Princess

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Times Staff Writer

Any female comic who stands up before us right now bears a double burden. Much more than a man, she speaks for herself and she speaks for an elusive Zeitgeist : our post-feminist atmosphere in which women have been encouraged, and even left, to choose their own rules. To the comedian falls the task of not only being funny, but of trying to find some compass in a heterosexual anxiety that has become the modern psychological equivalent of acid rain.

Rita Rudner, who is appearing at the Irvine Improv through Sunday, is a relatively new performer who has obviously worked her way up in the hothouse atmosphere of the comedy club circuit. She tells a couple of airline jokes which, along with McDonald’s and 7-Eleven references, should be given a moratorium for at least five years. Her jokes have the setup and punch rhythms of the good comedy club shadow-boxer who has no real target, and she follows a standard of relentless self-deprecation.

She does have something of her own, however: the svelte, pretty style of an American princess (whether Jewish or not) who has come to discover that, while looks are still a female commodity, they’re not nearly enough anymore. Rudner is an ex-ballerina who, somewhere along the line, came to some very skeptical and even sardonic conclusions about how one uses oneself, or is used. She developed a frame of mind that could wonder how any girl would “run and leap into the arms of a homosexual and trust he’d catch her,” leading her to the wry conclusion: “I don’t have anything against homosexuals. But why would they want what they already have?”

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She has the slightly bored, overdeliberate diction of a high school speech teacher, which further suggests someone who’s putting out a provisional, performer’s self, behind which she makes her measurements. Her autobiographical routine follows the path of career girl (some of her jokes have to do with bizarre jobs, whether real or not) who still has to deal with bills and parents, and memories. She’s also filled with irrepressibly bizarre notions, such as “I can’t buy a CD because I’m not convinced that’s the last thing they’ll invent. I’ll wander around the street mumbling to myself. That’s who all those (homeless street) people are, the ones who bought 8-track tapes.”

We learn that Rudner is cautiously optimistic about becoming engaged (“I don’t like the word ‘relation-ship.’ I’d like a sturdier word, like ‘relation-tractor.’ ”). It doesn’t matter that her fiance was drunk at the time he had his ears pierced; she recognizes that “men with pierced ears are more prepared for marriage. They’ve experienced pain and have bought jewelry.”

Notes on married friends and pregnant friends follow. The Baby Boomers are starting families of their own now, which is both compelling and daunting (on learning that a friend was in labor for 36 hours, she says: “I wouldn’t want to do anything that felt good for 36 hours.”). Nonetheless, her fiance awaits, that strange male of a species that lives like bears with furniture.

A little hope, a little boredom, a little bemusement. “Any questions? Want a mint?” Such seems the perfectly representative state of the new young woman. Rudner greets her disarming experience, not with a comedian’s sarcastic laugh, but with a perfect little moue . Already she was considerably more in command of her audience than anyone else on the Improv’s bill. If she can withstand the lacerating psychic pressures of modern commercial comedy, she could well emerge as a voice of dry, ironic distinction, a comedic Colette.

RITA RUDNER

Tonight, 8 and 10:30

Improvisation Comedy Club, 4255 Campus Drive, Irvine.

$6 to $8

Information: (714) 854-5455


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