Rita Rudner: In the Swim

I hate jokes," says stand-up comic and first-time screenwriter Rita Rudner. "People come up to me all the time and go, 'Hey, I heard this great joke...'" she sighs. "People are funny, life is funny, my husband is funny, but jokes are not funny." Not surprisingly, Peter's Friends, a comedy Rudner wrote (with her husband, producer Martin Bergman) and stars in, is short on gags, long on subtle wit and good acting.

The film is about a group of London college pals reuniting after 10 years. It's The Big Chill with a British twist: everyone has the good taste and English manners to apologize profusely for their various shortcomings. As anyone who has seen Rudner already knows, from her sparring matches with Leno and Letterman, and her own cable comedy specials, she's not even British--in the movie she plays Kenneth Branagh's neurotic American film-star wife.

For the kind of intelligent comedy Hollywood thinks is risky business, Peter's Friends is coming to the screen in near record time. It didn't hurt that Peter's Friends was directed by and stars her old chum Branagh. The former wunderkind of the British stage, now a Hollywood hotshot, helped speed the project along, but, Rudner is quick to point out, Branagh didn't simply make the film for old time's sake: "He had to like it! He's not going to make a movie he doesn't like at this point in his career.

"Hollywood is like a small club," Rudner says. "Martin and I didn't like it at first, because we weren't allowed in. But once you do make a movie, you're in. And the more movies you make, the more you're in the club," Rita figures. If she gets her way--and she seems to be good at that--Peter's Friends is just the beginning. "Writing scripts with Martin is all I want to do now," she says. "I get to stay home, write a little, go to the pool--I always wanted a pool--discuss it in the Jacuzzi, then write a little more. It's a pretty good life, isn't it?" she asks, surveying the city from her three-story dream house high atop a Beverly Hills canyon. "One of us will probably get cancer very soon, and die."

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Sindre Kartvedt



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