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Judy Gold riffs on being Jewish

Iconic comedian to headline Westport fundraiser

By Cindy Mindell

Judy Gold

Judy Gold

WESTPORT – Stand-up comic Judy Gold is an unabashed Jew, lesbian, and Hadassah supporter. “It’s such a great organization,” says the Newark native. “My grandmother was involved, my mother was; when I turned 40, I asked my mother for a lifetime membership.”

That could be why on Saturday, Nov. 22 Gold will headline Hadassah of Westport’s “Comedy for a Cause” fundraiser.

Gold won two Daytime Emmy Awards for her work as a writer and producer on The Rosie O’Donnell Show. She has also been involved in many projects in various roles, including the TV series, All-American Girl, and HBO at the Multiplex segments where she asks humorous questions of unsuspecting moviegoers.

Gold shared a relationship with her former partner, Sharon, for almost 20 years. She has two children (Henry, 18, and Ben, 13). Gold also appears as a commentator on truTV’s TruTV Presents: World’s Dumbest… She is very active in both LGBT and Jewish communities and, in 2007, she was featured in the film Making Trouble, a tribute to female Jewish comedians, produced by the Jewish Women’s Archive.

Much of Gold’s comedy has long centered around her now-92-year-old mother, Ruth.

“I have been told by someone from the Jewish Journal that I promote a stereotype and all I really do is quote my mother verbatim, in her voice,” she says. “Everyone mines their mothers for material, from Margaret Cho and the Asian mother, to Chris Rock. I am lucky because my mother is hilarious and a character and I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years. In my

stand-up, I play messages from my answering machine.

I wrote two shows where she’s a major character.”

judy gold2Her 2006 one-woman show, 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, co-written with Kate Moira Ryan, is based on interviews with more than 50 Jewish mothers across the U.S. Their stories are interspersed with anecdotes about Ruth and about Gold’s life as a lesbian mother of two sons. The show was published as an “anecdotal biography” by Hyperion in 2007.

As a mother herself, Gold says, “I can’t wait for my kids to become standup comics” so that she can experience their humorous observations about her. “I’m a bad mother – we watch South Park and Family Guy, because I want them to know what funny is,” she says. “I have one parenting rule: my kids can say anything mean or horrible to me and they get a pass if it’s funny.”

Example: In 2011, the iconic Carnegie Deli in New York announced a new sandwich named for the comedian. “My older son, Henry, said, ‘What are they going to call it, the Who’s Judy Gold?’” she recalls. “That was funny. Then he said, ‘And what is it going to have in it? Rotten meat?’ and I said, ‘Go to your room.’”

Aside from her mother, Gold considers the late Joan Rivers among her lifelong influences. “She was a trailblazer on so many levels and a hero,” Gold says. “She was certainly my hero and, as far back as I can remember, she’s been a part of my life. She made me laugh since I was a little child.”

Gold cites Rivers’ “fearlessness, tenaciousness, and fight for freedom of speech.”

“She worked constantly and no gig was too small for her,” she says. “She loved what she did, she helped so many of us, she was so supportive and classy. You might say she was off-color but she was a class act and smart. My mother would always say, ‘She went to Barnard.’ Nothing stopped her, even after her husband died and she was shunned by the industry and was at the very bottom.”

Gold says that she got some of the best parenting advice from Rivers. “When each of my kids was born and I was doing parenting and performing, and I would come home late and the baby would wake up and I would feel guilty, Joan said, ‘Don’t ever worry what time it is, just spend time with them.’ She would always take the focus off of herself; she was always interested in the other person.”

Gold and Rivers were last together in Provincetown in July, hanging out backstage at Rivers’ performance. “I said, ‘My mother is very old and getting sick and it’s tough,’ and Joan said, ‘I was never the same after my mother died,’” Gold recalls. “I thought, ‘What am I going to do when Joan goes, because she’s such a huge part of my life and has had such a huge impact. I still can’t believe it. But everyone knew her, and she died when she was most relevant.”

Younger comedians no doubt look to Gold for her openness around identity issues.

“Since the beginning of my stand-up career, I’ve been told, ‘You’re too Jewish, don’t do the Jew stuff,’ until I was comfortable enough with myself to say, ‘I am a Jew and proud to be a Jew,’” she explains. “It’s only Jews who are telling me this. I’d rather be too Jewish than not Jewish – that’s a big part of who I am. It’s the way I think, what I eat, the way I look. Being gay is whom I love, but being Jewish is … I am a Jew.”

Lately, Gold says that she’s witnessed a rise in anti-Semitic rhetoric. Over the summer, as the Israel-Hamas conflict raged, she performed at the Montreal Comedy Festival. While in a shop, with no Canadian currency, she asked to make a purchase using American dollars. “The young guy behind the counter said, ‘There’s a Star of David on the bill; that’s there because they control the money,’” she recalls. “I was in shock that I was having this conversation, in 2014, with someone under 30.”

But Gold’s Jewish identity is also her passport to safe places, especially when she’s on the road. “My father died when I was 27 and on a Saturday, I find a shul and say Mourner’s Kaddish,” she says. “It’s the same songs; people may look a little different but I could probably guess what’s in their refrigerator. Even though I’m in this foreign place and feel like an outlier, I see Jews and I feel safer.”

It’s the same with a Jewish audience. “I feel safer because I can delve deeper into my Judaism and don’t have to explain and they get the characters immediately,” she says.

Proceeds from the Nov. 22 fundraiser featuring Judy Gold will benefit children, notes Sally Kleinman, president of the Connecticut Region of Hadassah. “Children are especially precious to Hadassah women here in the U.S. and to the Hadassah Medical Organization in Israel,” says Kleinman, a Westport resident. “So it is quite fitting that the Westport Chapter chose to direct the net proceeds of this fundraiser to the Pediatric Departments at Hadassah’s two hospitals in Jerusalem. Caring, healing, nurturing are what Hadassah women are about!”

Hadassah of Westport’s “Live from Westport… It’s Saturday Night!” fundraiser featuring Judy Gold: Saturday, Nov. 22, 7:45 p.m., Temple Israel, 14 Coleytown Road, Westport | Tickets/info: DLSuss@aol.com.

Comments? Email cindym@jewishledger.com.


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