Jess Cagle
June 25, 1993 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Playwright Paul Rudnick has a, well, different sense of humor. In his latest comedy, the Off Broadway hit Jeffrey, the specter of AIDS looms forever darkly. The title character, a dashing young gay actor-waiter in New York, even swears off sex. Then he meets Steve, the man of his dreams-and of his nightmares; Steve is HIV-positive. But Rudnick takes on the tragedy of AIDS with disarming gallows humor: ”At my memorial, I want Liza,” says one character, before another character prays for ”No more disease. No more prejudice….No more chintz.” ”Once death and illness become commonplace, once you’ve attended a certain number of funerals and memorials and hospital rooms, the only thing left is to kind of collapse in laughter,” says Rudnick, 35. While New York critics have all but canonized this Piscataway, N.J., native and Yale graduate, Hollywood really likes him too. He penned the original version of last summer’s boffo Sister Act (though he removed his name after several others rewrote it), and he wrote the screenplay for the upcoming Addams Family Values. A few producers have even come sniffing at Jeffrey. This surprises Rudnick, who knows that many studio execs fear only two things more than a bad table at Mortons-gay topics and AIDS. ”I managed to combine ’em both,” he says. ”Now if I could add in some minorities I could really avoid that pesky movie sale.”

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