In 1993, Paul Rudnick made his mark as a comedic writer who took on serious issues with “Jeffrey,” a play that captured the strained social tenor of AIDS-ravaged Manhattan. At first, producers refused to stage the production, but it eventually became an award-winning Off Broadway hit, followed by a movie version, starring Patrick Stewart.
Mr. Rudnick’s newest project, “Coastal Elites,” a series of monologues, was also intended for the stage. But when theaters shut down in March, he turned it into a comedy special for HBO. Streaming this weekend, the star-studded event (including Bette Midler and Issa Rae) will feature various “elites” speaking to others via screens as they navigate the pandemic and the current political landscape. They Zoom with therapists and friends, or record YouTube segments. At one point, a mindfulness coach has a breakdown while filming a meditation video.
“There isn’t anything funny about death or terrible illnesses, but human beings are funny,” Mr. Rudnick said. “And we were able to assemble an extraordinary cast because theater people like to work but nobody can right now.”
Mr. Rudnick, 62, also a novelist, screenwriter and regular contributor to The New Yorker, spends much of his time in the West Village, in an apartment he has owned for 25 years, with his partner, Dr. John Raftis, 67, who specializes in rehabilitative medicine. They also have an apartment near City Hall and a home in Port Jefferson, Long Island.
WORK FROM HOME My happiest Sunday in a very long time was in July — our final day of filming: 6 a.m., spread out with all my Zoom and QTake screens, texting with the director Jay Roach, while we watched Bette go from comic bliss to total tears. These days, entertainment occurs with a distilled efficiency you didn’t get on a movie set with tons of people around. You’re rarely just sitting around waiting anymore. But it’s sad there are no brunches, and very little gossip, usually show-business plasma.
CARBS On a more usual Sunday, John gets up around 7; I stumble out of bed by 8. Before the pandemic, we were big IHOP guys. Sometimes you feel you have to defend it — and I will to the death because I was raised in New Jersey. But we haven’t become big outdoor dining guys, so I’ll just heat up a Thomas’s corn Toast-R-Cake. It’s like a large poker chip made out of cornbread.
PERSONAL WEATHER REPORT I can’t claim to understand this, but John is a weather junkie. Saves the log from our New York Times every Sunday going back decades, archived on our bookshelves. You can ask him, what was the weather like in 1982? It’s like living with Wikipedia.
TO EACH HIS OWN One secret of any lasting relationship is to not try to change each other. John knew from our first date 27 years ago that I have the strangest diet of almost any human. So John cooks for himself with balsamic vinegars and other things I would never go near. We have our separate ends of the table.
THE DINING ROOM TABLE You look at John’s end of the table: a plate, utensils, stemware. My end usually looks more like a child’s birthday party: sprinkles, frosting, paper goods. This has never bothered me in the slightest, and I think some people have a secret envy because I can subsist pretty much on crap. For example, I go through very extreme Pringles phases. Not the flavored varieties, though. Your classic Pringle. I love that it’s a food that stacks. I went through a period where I saved all those canisters because I had this idea of creating furniture out of them. And still feel that’s a valid — and eco-friendly — idea.
SERENITY LATER I’m a big Gothic guy. Visual artists I know — painters, sculptors, filmmakers — tend to work in serene backdrops. In big white rooms without any clutter. I’m the opposite. I like to look up and see lots of color and distractions. Gothic is real good for that. Gnomes and knights and dragons staring right back at you. I come from a big family of shoppers, whom I paid tribute to in my novel “I’ll Take It.” But I’ve only been buying surgical gloves and books lately. I’ve had this apartment for 25 years; at this point it’s overstuffed with gothic everything.
THE PROCESS In a way, everybody’s on this freelance schedule now where — as with most writers — you’re never sure if you’re allowed a weekend. My first and most emotional draft is always longhand in big yellow legal pads, lying on the living room couch with a big pen. Just grabbing Frosted Flakes out of the box and water out of the big Poland Spring. Then I think, “OK, it might be lunchtime.” But I just keep going.
FRESH AIR I miss going to the gym. Though I do run to and around the gym every day. The mile-long stretch up the Hudson to Chelsea Piers centers me, even though I don’t go in. It’s big and above ground — New York gyms can sometimes feel subterranean. It’s been fascinating passing Little Island that Barry Diller’s putting in the river there — it’s being landscaped with enormous trees now. Getting to watch architecture happen is part of what I love about living here. Jefferson Market Library on Sixth Avenue at Christopher Street is my favorite building. There is a big Victorian Gothic tower and turret; it’s an inspiring little Harry Potter corner. I walk by there when I’m getting Gristedes groceries.
WARDROBE By the time evening rolls around, we’re ready for Netflix. Wish this were only true during the pandemic, but I tend to go to bed in whatever I wore that day. The great American uniform: ancient navy blue J. Crew sweatpants and white socks. That’s where we all are right now — the line between sleepwear and workwear, erased. John has insomnia, but before I conk out at 1 a.m. we’ll also watch a little “House Hunters” on HGTV, which acts as the ideal narcotic.
Sunday Routine readers can follow Paul Rudnick on Twitter: @PaulRudnickNY.