On Point With: Judy Gold

A massively successful writer and comic who’s seen at least 30 years of standup’s legacy unfurl, Newark-born Judy Gold has a lot of opinions that we should all be listening to. Fortunately she’s got a popular podcast, an essential new book and an upcoming Election Day Eve virtual show live from Club Cumming to get all her many, wonderful words out to the masses!

Thotyssey: Judy, hello! Thanks for chatting with us today! So, how has quarantine been treating you in 2020?

Judy Gold: You know, here’s the deal: it had many different “episodes,” let’s say. In the beginning of quarantine, it was shocking… full stop! It was the first time in my adult life where I wasn’t going out to dinner after work. I was finally getting a taste of normal life, staying home and binge-watching stuff. And I got to spend good quality time with my son before he went to college, so that was good. I was lucky to have a place in Provincetown, where we spend 99% of the time and where I got to do outdoor shows all summer twice a week. And then the book came out. But now, this Amy Coney Barrett thing has really put me over the edge.

What exactly are your thoughts on the Coney appointment?

I’m enraged, but there’s also a palpable amount of sadness. I keep thinking of all these moments in my life as an activist for equality where I was like, “Oh my God, we did it! We worked so hard, and it happened!” Those seminal moments. I remember when Bill Clinton first said the word “gay.” And then the states [legalized gay marriage], and finally in 2015 with [national] marriage equality. With AIDS, we had gone through this plague, which when you think about it, was the catalyst for equality: these people were in these relationships for decades, their partners are dying, and then their families were coming in at the last minute to take all their stuff and say “you can’t visit them at the hospital, you’re not next of kin, you don’t even get to come to the funeral.” I just remember those moments of pure joy [when we overcame those inequalities], and that’s what keeps running through my head.

This woman… I don’t even know what to call her, because she’s from another world as far as I’m concerned. She doesn’t represent my generation, and yet she’s younger than me. Where is she from, what is this? “Make America Racist and Homophobic and Xenophobic and Dumb Again!” That’s what they’re trying to do.

We’ve had a lot of obstacles in our various civil rights journeys in this country, but I think we might now be facing for the first time a possibility that the rights we won over time could now be taken away.

It’s like how my mother would tell me while growing up that everyone hated the Jews, and [the holocaust] could happen again. And I would laugh and say, “are you kidding me?” And I think of pictures of Iran, from when it was real cosmopolitan [before the rise of fundamentalism]. You’d see these women in beautiful, stylish clothing, uncovered… before they lost all their rights. And it just seemed so foreign.

And now here we are with Coney and Trump, and it doesn’t seem so foreign anymore.

People don’t see it. And I thought George W. Bush polarized us, but now this is, like, beyond. If you tell me you’re voting for this… thing? This disgusting sexual predator, paying off porn stars, funding dozen of abortions?

And yet, the Evangelical movement continues to praise and support Trump, even though he visibly defies all their moral talking points!

Yeah, but we all knew they were fucking hypocrites. But I thought we were better than this. Did you watch the [Coney appointment] hearings? That holier than thou, “Oh, I have two African-American kids. Oh, I’m not gonna answer any questions.” I hated her! And all those fucking white, old Republicans were like, “Oh, it’s so wonderful to see your family, your family, your family…” Shut the fuck up! And if she had any integrity or any respect for Ruth Bader Ginsberg she would’ve abided by her wishes and waited until after the election, and not put on this big show at the White House. It’s just disgusting.

I was listening to the latest episode of your amazing podcast “Kill Me Now,” where you had Donald Trump’s niece Mary as a guest. You actually knew her in real life, before she published her now infamous book! When you told Mary that her own shock and disgust with Uncle Donald is sort of an affirmation that the rest of us aren’t crazy… I really connected with that. His own niece sees what we all see!

I feel like the only solace I have is when I talk to people like you, who say, “you are not crazy. Yes, this is enraging.” My friend is a psychologist, and she says she’s never been busier! But then I look at the lines of the early voting, and I know that these people [see what I see].

As a standup comic, you have to find the humor even in these dire times. Is that challenging, or empowering?

I think there’s two parts to that question. The first part is, it’s our job… we are social commentators. You can tell when an audience is in the mood to talk about it. I always do stuff on Covid now–it’s the perfect [material], we’re all in the same boat experiencing the same thing.

If you look at what’s going on, it’s the elephant in the room. Comics address that elephant, but [they have to decide] how to address it. That really depends on who you are as a comic; some of us really do try to avoid politics at all cost. Me, I’m always pissed off about fucking everything, like on “Kill Me Now.” And there’s other people like the Ted Alexandros who are just brilliant joke writers, who are so cutting in their performance without that palpable rage. And… Jim Gaffigan! He made the grand decision to stay out of politics and be a clean, family friendly guy. But then even he couldn’t take it anymore.

And then part two of that: in all my years of standup, every elected official was fodder for material–especially the President. It didn’t matter what “side” you were on… believe me, there was plenty of material on Clinton! He was a goldmine for a comedian. But no one cared! Now you do a joke about [Trump’s] fucking hair, and his cult followers [aggressively] come after you. It’s never been like that before; he’s poisoned us. He wants SNL investigated, he can’t attend a White House Correspondents’ dinner… he’s that weak? What is wrong with him?

Trump’s certainly contributed poison to our national conversation, but like you’ve written in your new book Yes, I Can Say That: When They Come for the Comedians, We Are All in Trouble, we started going down this road before he got in the White House. Perhaps it’s because of social media or just generational values, but it’s hard for any of us to voice our opinions on virtually anything these days without expecting some nasty retaliation.

Social media has perpetuated this idea that everyone has a soapbox, and everything they say or feel is valid. Look at Yelp! There’s a five star restaurant that everybody loves, and then there’s one miserable fuck who’s like “there was a draft, I wanted this other table, they wouldn’t let me do a substitution…” and gives one star that brings the whole thing down.

And then folks really tend to get in their feelings when a comedian tells an off-color joke that offends them.

Here’s the first quote in the book, from my friend Eddie Sarfaty: “going to a comedy club and expecting not to get offended is like going on a roller coaster and expecting not to scared.” Not one comic was thinking about you when they wrote the joke!

When I first started with the book, the editor told me, “you’ve got to read The Coddling of the American Mind.” This idea that everyone gets the trophy–for winning the race and breaking the record, or for smiling–no! Not equal, sorry! And this banning of words and ideas… I think we already went through this in the 30s. Social media takes out the intent, content and nuance of ideas. So now we’re vilifying someone for a Tweet from ten years ago with no context. If you murder someone, your sentence after your trial is determined by your intent.

Nowadays, lots of people will hear a comic’s joke out of context and just run blindly with their outrage, without considering its intent as part of a full stage set. Sometimes later in the routine, the comic could call back that joke or that idea and flip it to great effect. Dave Chappelle does that with his standup, but folks really are just cancelling him for single, out-of-context lines.

Comedy is a thinking person’s art form. If you’re not gonna think, then don’t listen to comedy! And also, why is it when a comedian offends you, you should decide that they should never be able to do standup again? When you go to your favorite singer’s concert and they sing a few songs you don’t like, do you say “fuck that, I’m done with them?” No!

Sometimes if you want comedy to truthful and maximum level funny, you have to risk taking that joke all the way to the end… just to have it backfire on you.

Yes! Comedy is the only art form where you are part of the work in progress. You inform the comic, the comic informs you–and that’s how we get our job done. George Carlin said that it’s the duty of the comedian to find the edge and go over it. But we don’t know what the edge is 99% of the time, until we go over that line.

Newer comics often seem more considerate of potential backlash than their predecessors are, and aware of how isolated jokes might play on YouTube and social media.

That’s another thing. These people now will do a funny video on social media and get a million views or a million followers. And then a comedy club will book them–because they will fill the room thanks to that one moment–instead of a seasoned comic. That person will be unprepared; they won’t have 45 minutes worth of material. Then the audience leaves going, “oh, um, that’s what standup comedy is?” It cheapens it for all of us. You’re a journalist, you know… if someone writes some bullshit story, it makes all of journalism look bad!

What do you think about performing digitally, without a live audience in the room?

Look, it’s better than nothing! It is what it is. It’s a huge adjustment. But it’s still a way to do my art.

As far as your career goes, you’ve always focused mainly on standup and writing for yourself, as opposed to acting and being a part of film or TV productions. So not having that live audience must be particularly weird for you.

Oh, it’s so weird. I actually have done a lot of acting, but not nearly as much as I’ve wanted to. That’s been because I’m a type, I’m so “specific.” It’s hard when you’re big 6’2″ loud lesbian. But I’ve done Shakespeare in the Park, I’ve done one person shows. That’s the greatest thing about standup. Some people use standup as a vehicle to get to something else: do standup and get a writing job, get a development deal for your own sitcom, etc.

But you’re right, I’ve always wanted to be a great standup. I love live performing. That’s the thing! That rhythm, when you’re in sync with a live audience, it’s like being an orchestra conductor. You know when they laugh, you know when to start your next joke, that back and forth. It’s a connection and it’s intimate. When you’re in the audience cracking up, and the next table is cracking up–no one knows each other and yet they’re all together laughing. I think that I always wanted to be a great standup, but I also haven’t accomplished everything that I wanted to do, at all! But I’m grateful. Compared to these theater actors [during Covid today], I can always go online and just do a set.

The first thing I saw you do that I really loved were those bits for HBO, where you’d be at a premiere and just asking funny questions of these random people. That’s a pretty common thing to do now, but it was very original and exciting then!

At The Multiplex with Judy Gold! I used to talk to people at the movie theater when they came out… that was so much fun. Just these four minute long segments between the movies. That was on for ten years!

You have a new digital show coming up called Judy Gold: Vote Dammit!, which will film live from the famous Club Cumming in the East Village on November 2nd (9pm EST). Club Cumming of course is owned by Alan Cumming, whom I’m sure you know through various projects and events.

I gotta tell you, that guy is just a class act, and so fucking talented. And such a sweetheart! And that Club is magic! It’s really a throwback, from Cabaret.

Tell us more about Vote, Dammit!

So I wanted to do a show on the night of the election when everyone is going to be so high anxiety, where we can just vent and get it all out and have fun. My friend Bette Sussman is gonna be at the piano; we’ll have Randy Rainbow, Mary Trump and Bob DiBuono (I’m telling you right now, he does the best Trump impression. We’re going to have a chat room open where people can say whatever the fuck they want to him).

And everyone needs to get your book, too!

Yes! I think it’s an important book; I wish I could’ve done a book tour. If you love comedy, this book discusses some of the funniest things in the world.

To end on a silly, festive note: what’s your favorite Halloween candy?

Oh my God… Frozen Milky Ways!

Thanks Judy! Have a great show!

Check Thotyssey’s calendar for Judy Gold’s upcoming appearances, and follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Also: check out her website, subscribe to her podcast and purchase / download her new book. Get your tickets to November 2nd’s “Judy Gold: Vote, Dammit!” here.

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