Judy Gold Interviews With Forbes
Judy Gold has been a fixture in the world of comedy for over twenty years. Her first love is stand-up comedy, and her brand of humor is sharp, insightful and honest. Ms. Gold has many other talents, however; for example she received two Emmys for writing and producing the Rosie O’Donnell Show, and she wrote and starred in a very successful one woman show called “The Judy Show: My Life As A Sitcom.“ It was a real pleasure to chat with Judy over email and ask her about her world of humor and her lack of an ” edit button:”
Liza: Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview, Judy. I am fascinated as to how comedians enter into the world of comedy, what their influences were, how they decided to do what they do and how they keep doing it. When did you know you were funny? Were your parents humorous?
Judy: I’m not sure when exactly I knew I was funny, but I always knew I was different. I never had an edit button, and would say whatever came into my head. Most of the time, what came out of my mouth was the very thing everyone else was thinking – but too polite or afraid to verbalize. My family was funny in a very peculiar way. My parents were older and pretty set in their ways. Cleverness was definitely rewarded. We were not physically affectionate, but when one of us said something funny, it stuck. Our Passover Seders were repeats of all the jokes from previous years and the new ones we created on the spot. We would always laugh when I would knock on the front door at exactly the point when Elijah was to arrive. I would open the door and put my arm around him and then bring him into the dining room. Then I would ask him if he wanted anything to drink, and tell him he looked a bit tipsy. After we sang, I would walk him back to the front door with my arm still around him, and tell him which houses to go to down the block. And of course my farewell was always, “See you next year!!”
Liza: How did you begin your career in humor? Did you study acting?
Judy: The first time I did stand-up was on a dare. I was a sophomore in college living in a dorm and studying music. I lived on a co-ed floor – every other room was the opposite sex, and we were like one big fat dysfunctional family. Right before Christmas break, we did our version of Secret Santa. One morning, I wake up and there was a note on my door from my Secret Santa instructing me to perform 10 minutes of stand-up comedy the following evening in the lounge. I was also told that I had to use my floor-mates as material. It was like God had spoken to me. I spent that next day writing jokes and cutting class. When I stood there, holding the mic, and got my first laugh, I got a high that I had never experienced before. I have been chasing that high for over 30 years!! I had found my calling, and I felt very lucky. I started taking acting and improv classes, and after I graduated, I spent pretty much every night in the comedy clubs. I still love performing stand-up like I did that first night in 1981.
Liza: Your show, The Judy Gold Show: My Life As A Sitcom opening in 2011 to rave reviews. It was a one woman show about the sitcoms of your youth. What were they? How did they influence you?
Judy: That is actually my second show. The first one, 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother ran off-Broadway for a year and a half and then went on tour. That show was based on interviews with Jewish mothers all around the country and was written with Kate Moira Ryan. We also wrote The Judy Show! together. I was addicted to sitcoms as a child. When I think of growing up, sitcoms had as much influence on me as my family. I dreamed about running away to The Brady house, The Partridge Family bus – even the project on Good Times seemed better than the suburbs of central New Jersey. When more socially relevant and subversive shows like All In The Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Maude, Rhoda, The Jeffersons, One Day At A Time, The Bob Newhart Show became hits, I was mesmerized by the characters and felt as if they were a real part of my world. These shows also forced a dialogue about issues that were swept under the rug at the time. Blatant prejudice, women’s lib, single mothers, divorce, poverty, psychoanalysis, Vietnam – these matters became palatable to discuss because they were presented with humor and finesse (thank you Norman Lear) by characters we loved. But nothing spoke to me like that classy tall sarcastic Jewish woman who didn’t take any shit from anyone, and when she found herself pregnant at the age of 47 and a grandmother, she decided to have an abortion. When I saw Bea Arthur starring in her own sitcom, I knew that I was destined to do the same thing. The Judy Show! is the story of that journey – of trying to get my ‘non-traditional’ family on television using the most ‘traditional’ genre – the sitcom.
Liza: You won two Emmys as a writer and the producer for the Rosie O’Donnell show that aired for six seasons starting in 1996. I hear Rosie O’Donnell will be returning to The View. Do you still write for her from time to time?
Judy: Nope, but we keep in touch. She has been a big supporter and a good friend.
Liza: In 2007, you were in a film called Making Trouble, about Jewish women comedians. Do you feel you are making trouble with your humor?
Judy: I hope so. I am fearless – I have nothing to lose. I speak my mind, and I am not afraid to voice my opinion. My stand-up is not safe – it’s brutally honest, and I never hold back. If I wasn’t true to myself, I couldn’t live with myself. Joan Rivers was my hero. She taught me so much, and I feel a tremendous loss.
Liza: You are the host of a series at the 92nd street Y called Funny People. Who were some of your favorite people that you’ve interviewed, and why?
Judy: They have all been terrific, really. My interviewing style is very conversational – I do a lot of research, and I like to talk about things that are interesting and not typically brought up in more formal interview settings My goal is for the crowd to feel like voyeurs eavesdropping on an intimate conversation. I’ve interviewed some of the greats – Whoopi Goldberg, Lewis Black, George Lopez, Joy Behar, Susie Essman, Gilbert Gottfried, Delia Ephron, Jackie Hoffman, and so many more. The interview that I will always cherish, is the one I did in January with Edie Windsor and Roberta Kaplan. Edie & Robbie are responsible for the end of DOMA. They are courageous warriors, and interviewing the both of them was a dream come true for me.
Liza: You are involved in so many different aspects of the humor world. Is there one you prefer over another? Writing, producing, performing in drama, or stand-up?
Judy: I love it all, but my truest passion and love is stand-up. Let me be more specific – stand-up in a theater. Chills.
Liza: How do you feel about being tagged –if you are– as either a lesbian comic, a Jewish comic or a woman comic (or all of the above)? Do these labels bother you, do you try to avoid them, or are they helpful? How do these aspects of your identity inform your work?
Judy: I don’t think anyone wants to be tagged – even at the morgue. I am a comic. That’s all. I happen to be a Jewish lesbian mother of 2, who is a stand-up comic. I’m lucky that I can perform at events targeting Women, Jews, and/or the GLBT community, but funny is funny, and I spend a lot of time in ‘straight’ comedy clubs getting laughs from the most unlikely people. The aspects of my identity that you mention (I’m also very tall) inform how I experience life, and how I see the world around me, and that most certainly has a direct affect on my comedy and my career and my parenting.
Liza: You’ve appeared on so many shows as a guest! Great shows like 30 Rock, Two Broke Girls, Law and Order, Ugly Betty. Do you think sitcoms today are more friendly—meaning less stereotypical and denigrating– towards women characters than in the past?
Judy: Perhaps some are, but denigrating women has been in the zeitgeist forever. Just put on CSPAN and watch the GOP vote against equal pay for equal work for women. Put on any reality show and tell me the story lines and cast are empowering to women. Look at late night television – HELLO?! But, then again there are shows like The Big C, Nurse Jackie, and The Good Wife with strong women as the driving force. It’s progress, but it’s not nearly enough.
Liza: Is it still difficult for women to break into the world of comedy, or is this a thing of the past?
Judy: It’s difficult for women to break into the world. Period.
By Liza Donnelly for Forbes