Mild Child

Rita Rudner's sitting in Palm Springs hoping Houston won't be humid because her hair's been doing really well lately. Too bad for her.

At least her wit is dry. Rudner's funny in a polite, calm, nonconfrontational way. Her gentle observations are delivered with big eyes and a soft little-girl voice. Heck, her first HBO special was titled Born To Be Mild.

Her act's always less ostentatious than her outfit. In glitzy, glamorous and sometimes gaudy gowns, Rudner casually points out little things that happen to a lot of people. Like many women comics, she focuses on relationships, she says, "because every day I wake up and I'm in one." Her latest book, Rita Rudner's Guide to Men, has 202 tips tackling such topics as who men are, who they think they are and how they're different from women. (Women like clothes; men like cars. Rudner likes cars because they take her to clothes.)

She's currently working on a novel, tentatively titled Fish Banana. "That's what my mother used to say when things happened that made no sense," Rudner says. "Like if you wake up in the morning and somebody comes to your door and shoots you. That's fish banana." She's trying to branch out from books that are transcripts of her standup routine (such as Naked Beneath My Clothes), but Fish Banana doesn't delve too deep into fiction either: The heroine is a dancer who becomes a comedian.

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After leaving her Miami home for New York at 15, Rudner danced in Stephen Sondheim's Follies and Annie. Tired of waiting for the sun to come up and get her out of the chorus line, she started analyzing jokes and studying the comedy business. "Nobody is naturally funny," she explains.

Rudner hasn't yet launched a sitcom, but with luck her Kiss Kiss, about a fashion designer freshly freed from a mental institution, will be on Showtime next fall.

"Every time I see designers on TV they make me laugh," she says, "and they're not even trying to be funny."

-- Wendy Grossman

Rudner headlines with Neil Sedaka at Hadassah's "Evening of Song and Dance" at the Arena Theatre, 7326 Southwest Freeway. Call 988-1020 or 728-5553 for tickets, $41 and up.

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