Studying a Celebrity — Rita Rudner

I loved Rita Rudner’s one-woman show in Las Vegas.  It’s always great to study a top pro.  She drove home the power of the “call-back” (a reference to something funny which was previously presented during the routine).  Her call-backs were some of the funniest lines of her hilarious 75-minute performance. 

Let me give you one example:  She commented on the health risks of sunbathing.  And she pointed out how cute, young 18-year-old women will lay out in the sun and get great sun tans.  She just looks at them and thinks to herself, “Fry…you homewreckers!”  The line gets a good laugh. 

Then, later in her act, she said that she had hired a masseuse to come and give her husband a massage.  The doorbell rings and she answers the door to meet a gorgeous 18 year old masseuse.  “Hi I’m here to give your husband a massage.”  “I’m sorry, he’s dead.”  (pause)  “Why don’t you go get some sun.”  My recollection and paraphrasing of the lines doesn’t do justice to her writing and delivery talent.  But I hope you get a feel for the impact of bringing back a former funny line.  Catch her act if you can.  She is currently playing at Harrah’s Las Vegas, or catch her on video or on a cable TV special.  It will be a study well worth your time.  She is terrific.

The power of the call-back is also woven into a good improv comedy scene.  It’s called reincorporation.  Take something from earlier in the scene and revisit it later.  In a recent improv show in Las Vegas one of the audience suggestions for a fireman’s snack was “squid”.  The word squid came up two more times in the evening, reincorporation, and got a good laugh each time.

A good speech can often be made better by the active listening skills of the speaker.  Before you rise to speak, pay attention to everything taking place before you are introduced:  Awards, funny lines, other speeches, the decorations, etc.  Look for opportunities to incorporate (revisit) your observations within the text of your talk.  I normally open my talks with three or four pieces of observational humor before I go into the main body of my prepared remarks. 

The power of reincorporation and call backs is amazing.  Focus, tune in, and have the courage to give it a try.  You’ll like the results.