Judy Gold: Breaking the Sterotypes

By | January 9, 2006 at 7:29 am | No comments | Features

Judy Gold: Breaking the Sterotypes
The versatile comic spent five years traveling the country interviewing Jewish mothers. By her journey’s end she had enough material for her one-woman show and, in the process, learned a lot about herself.

By Dylan P. Gadino

It’s not too hard to find a Jewish stand-up. Finding a practicing Jewish, lesbian stand-up with two kids, however, is a bit more daunting— unless you know Judy Gold. Until somewhat recently, she hadn’t made all of the preceding facts of her life a significant part of her stage act. But then things happened; life, for her, angled a bit. Her 20-year relationship with her partner, Sharon ended. Her relationship with her 83-year-old mother, Ruth – who has always been a huge part of her act – got even better. And her sons, nine-year-old Henry – had by Sharon – and four-year-old Ben – had by Judy – became more aware and proud of their family dynamic.

The combination urged Gold to not only use some of this in her stand-up but also to expand her creative endeavors. Though, she’s really no stranger to performance beyond comedy clubs. A trained pianist with a music degree from Rutgers College in New Jersey, Gold has appeared in many small screen shows (Sex and the City, Law & Order) a few movies and in The Vagina Monologues.

This month, the former Rosie O’Donnell Show writer/producer — for which she won two Emmys — opens 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, her one-woman off-Broadway show written by playwright Kate Moira along with Gold. After spending five years interviewing Jewish mothers across the country, Gold collected enough material to actually become these women on stage, where she answers the questions she had first asked them. Punchline Magazine caught up with her recently to discuss the show right after she had repaired her dishwasher and right before she decided what to eat for lunch. Her choices: scrambled eggs, grilled cheese, turkey sandwich, tortilla wrap with cheese and salsa or cottage cheese and pineapple. Exclusive: She goes with the tortilla wrap. You heard it here first.

Does this one-woman show spell the end of your stand-up career?
I love doing stand-up. If couldn’t do it I couldn’t live. It’s like my soul and my breath. A lot of people use it as a vehicle to get to other things or they kind of hate it. I love it. But I hate the traveling and not seeing my kids.

Judy GoldWhat made you want to do 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother?
I had been criticized in some of the Jewish press after I had done
The Tonight Show. I got some calls with people saying that I promote the stereotype of the Jewish mother. Also sometime after the appearance, I was at some jewey Jew function and a woman from some magazine said, ‘why don’t you leave Jewish mothers alone?’ And I was like, you know, shut the fuck up! I’m doing my mother. That’s who my mother is. And I was telling Kate about all this. So she said, ‘why don’t we do a show about these Jewish mothers?’ But I didn’t want it to be one of these trite ‘my uncle diddled me when I was six years old’ type of thing. So we initially started interviewing these mothers to see if there really was a Jewish mother stereotype.

How did you go about interviewing these women?
We started in 2000 with a friend who grew up in this enclave of Orthodox women. Then we interviewed their daughters and started to ask if they knew anyone else who would be interested. We started traveling the country visiting local synagogues. We had a list 25 questions and we interviewed four to six women at a time. One of the more telling questions was: ‘What would you have done with your life if you hadn’t had children?’

Did you get any off-the-wall responses to that?
One woman said she would’ve been a country western singer. You can’t get any more miserable than a Jewish country singer.

So did you find the Jewish mother stereotype was true?
Not at all. During the process it became about me trying to find out how I fit into this world. I’m a gay, practicing Jew and I’m a mother who’s also a comic. I’m out all night on stage cursing at people and then dropping my kid off at Hebrew school in the morning. It doesn’t make any sense. So in the end, the show became about people and their families and acceptance. It’s about how there’s no clear path. There’s no one answer. You can answer to any fucking religion you want and then have so many things come out of left field that’s not explained in your holy book.

There was no Jewish mother stereotype at all?
The only thing these women had in common was that they spoke to their children at least once a day. Some of them talk five times a day. There’s a maternal bond that these women can’t and can live without.

How did your relationship change with your own mother after you interviewed her?
It got so much better. I learned a lot about why she’s so fearful and worries a lot. There was a family tragedy that no ever talked about. I can’t tell you too much because it would take a lot away from the show. No one talks about anything in my family. Everything is a big joke. We’re all funny people. But there’s never any really intense conversation. We all go to therapy— except my brother.

There are a lot of stereotypes about female comics. What’s your favorite one?
That we all talk about the same things. This couldn’t be further from the truth. People say that we all talk about our periods and shopping. I don’t talk about any of that shit. If you’re looking for variety you’re never going to find it in a white male comic. Some of my favorite comics are while men but a lot of them are quite derivative of one another. I think the ratio of shitty female comics is the same as shitty male comics.

I also hate when club owners say that a woman can’t headline a show because they had one female comic who did poorly. It’s like if one does poorly in that room it means all female comics are not funny. Humor is such a subjective art form. It’s like your sense of eating. You either like it or you don’t. The other thing I love is when there are three female comics on the bill and it becomes a special event, like it’s women’s night at the comedy club. Meanwhile, I have so many straight guys and teenage boys at my shows.

Really? So then there’s something in 25 Questions for straight males?
If you have a family and a mother, you’ll love it. Plus I’m really hot.

Judy GoldFor more information, visit judygold.com.

About the Author

Dylan P. Gadino

Dylan is the founder and editor in chief of Laughspin. He launched Punchline Magazine in 2005 (which became Laughspin in the summer of 2011) with childhood friend Bill Bergmann. Dylan lives in northern New Jersey with his wife and two sons. He hopes the Shire is real.