It was Mel Brooks, as the 2000 Year Old Man, who said, in a thick Yiddish accent, “We mock the things we are to be.”
Ah, the wisdom of the ancients. That aphorism really hits home talking to Judy Gold. The veteran New York City comic loves to make fun of her mother on-stage (and off, as it turns out) for the elder’s unintentional hilarity. And throughout the course of a half-hour phone interview, she plays the exasperated mom to her 11-year-old son, interrupting herself to yell at the kid.
Her own mother is 90 now and they’re still getting on each other’s nerves. “Yesterday we had a very lovely conversation,” she says from her home in New York. “I said to her, ‘I’m doing a gig in New Jersey and I’m gonna see your cousin Helen tonight.’ And she said, ‘You’re seeing a friend of Ellen’s?’ I said, ‘No, I’m seeing your cousin Helen.’ ‘What, Ellen?’ I said, [screaming] ‘No Ma, I’m seeing your cousin Helen!’ And she goes, ‘I don’t have to put up with this.’ And she hung up on me.”
But she recalls the episode with a laugh. It’s just the way the Golds are and have always been, it turns out. In her house growing up, and with her own two kids today, “Funny trumps anything,” she says. Her boys can say anything mean or horrible to her, “but if it’s funny they don’t get in trouble.” Her parents and siblings communicated in sarcasm; there was no talk of feelings in the Gold household: “Like, example, my father died in 1990,” she says. “My sister will call me and instead of saying, ‘I miss Daddy,’ [she’ll say] ‘Have you heard from Daddy lately? I haven’t heard from him. I mean, he didn’t even call me on my birthday. What do you think’s going on?’ Stuff like that. That’s how we talk to each other.”
Gold, who plays the Chutzpah Festival with two other great comics in Cory Kahaney and Dana Eagle in a show called Three Hysterical Broads Off Their Medication, started out doing standup on a dare in 1982, then began again after a short stint in an office after college. (“I was like, ‘No. Never. I cannot sit in an office.’”) In 1998 she became a producer on the Rosie O’Donnell Show, winning two Emmy awards for her efforts. She started the human-interest department and was responsible for putting real people (as opposed to celebrities) on the air. She starts in on how she got the job when the chaos in her real life overtakes her.
“I’ve known her forever,” she says of O’Donnell. “When she got the show, my son Henry had just been born and I was visiting her baby, Parker… I’m on the phone! You can’t pick up the phone and start calling!…Because I’m on the phone! Can I have a minute where I actually have a business call?” She sighs. “I need an office. Ben, you gotta go in the other room because I’m talking to someone in Canada.” Then to no one in particular: “Like that’s gonna have a fucking impact… Anyway, so she asked me, you know, ‘Why don’t you submit a writing sample?’ ”
She admits that maybe, just maybe, she finds herself turning into her mother. “I mean sometimes when I say things like, ‘All I want is can you give me five minutes to myself?! Five minutes!’ ”
Gold, who does charitable work for the LGBT and Jewish communities as well as the Democratic party, speaks to a more universal audience on-stage. To a degree.
“I think funny is funny,” she says. “But look, if you’re anti-gay I don’t think you’re going to see my show. But I’m sure Republicans come to my show. And there are a lot of Jewish Republicans who don’t agree with my politics, but funny is funny. And I talk about my mother and my kids and being middle-aged and divorced. It’s beyond what party you’re affiliated with. But if you believe that a gay person’s relationship or family is not equal to yours because you’re heterosexual, then by all means avoid my shows at all cost. And don’t talk to me.”
The festival show is essentially standup, but there’s a loose theme to it. “It’s more than standup because we have a, you know…” she starts before honesty overtakes her. “Wait, what did they say? They told me what to say when you asked that question.” She searches for the message while getting Ben ready for a trip to the physio.
“I’m gonna read the note she sent… You gotta put on shorts, Ben. That doesn’t mean throw your pants on the floor in the living room! Okay, let me see. Here we go: ‘So if they ask you about the show, can you say that, yes, you’ll see our standup, but also get a rare glimpse of our lives outside. The common thread for all three of us is we don’t give a shit anymore. We’re done with self-improvement and we accept this is as good as we’re gonna get.’ Is that a good answer for you?”
It is, indeed, not that standup needs to be anything more. Especially not with the skills and credits these three hysterical broads have.
And with that, Hurricane Judy is off. “Okay, bye,” she says. And before the phone hangs up, she’s yelling to Ben, “Let’s go!”
Three Hysterical Broads Off Their Medication is at the Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre as part of the Chutzpah Festival on Saturday and Sunday (February 9 and 10).