Judy Gold is the pricelessly witty Jewish lesbian known for off-Broadway shows like 25 Questions For a Jewish Mother and The Judy Gold Show: My Life as a Sitcom, as well as numerous appearances on various TV series that she brightens with her dark truths.
The New Jersey born comic/writer has always been up front about the wry quirks of life and who’s to blame for them. And Judy has two other proud accomplishments—her sons Henry, 19, and Ben, 14.
As she prepares to bring her act to Feinstein’s/54 Below on March 11, 12, and 18, I called Judy for a fun yenta session.
Michael Musto: Hello, Judy. What exactly will you do at Feinstein’s/54 Below?
Judy Gold: I’m going to be doing, of course, my standup, but we are in a supper club.
So you’ll sing Billie Holiday songs?
JG: Oh, yeah. I’m gonna do a lot of Barbra Streisand numbers because I sing way better than her. [Laughs] I want to incorporate music into my show anyway. I said, “Look, they want me to perform there, and out of respect to what it is and the fact that I’ve been scared to do music in my act all my life, that’s the perfect place to start.”
Not lesbian music, I hope.
JG: Oh, please! In eighth grade, I was the most unpopular kid in the whole school because I was like six feet tall, but they asked me to play the class song on the piano. We graduated in size order and I was the last one to graduate, but they asked me to accompany. All of a sudden, for that week, I was popular. Kids said, “I didn’t know you play piano.” I was like, “What the fuck do you think I’m doing all day while you’re out looking pretty and being cheerleader?” There are so many fun stories. You can’t tell stories at a comedy club. You can, but you have a limited amount of time. If you’re not getting laughs every 20 seconds, there’s no attention span.
So you’re going to sing the school song?
JG: Yes I am! Shut the fuck up! “We May Never Pass This Way Again”
Who is “We”—the Nazis?
JG: I guess it’s all the eighth graders.
Here’s an important question: When you wake up, do you feel more Jewish or more lesbian?
JG: I always feel Jewish. I get up and my back hurts, I’ve got to go to the bathroom, I’ve got to have a coffee. I’m a Jew. I don’t wake up and go, “Oh, my God, that girl’s hot.” It’s “I gotta put some beans in the coffee thing. Should I make oatmeal? I need to go to the gym--no, I don’t feel like going.” I wake up like an elderly Jew in assisted living.
But no one’s assisting you.
JG: I can yell out for the nurse, but no one comes. Which is probably what’ll happen when I’m in the nursing home.
Speaking of assistance, I looked on Wikipedia and Sharon is now your ex?
JG: That was 10 years ago. I’ve been with Elysa for nine years.
Oh, got it. And your kids? Have they been acting up?
JG: Oh no, they’re perfect, both of them. Angels! I hate when parents say that shit. “No, they’re doing great. This one just got into Harvard and blah blah blah.”
So what’s the deal with them?
JG: Henry’s at Indiana University in Bloomington and he’s in a fraternity, which is mind blowing because he was raised by lesbians and should be in a sorority. Ben is the star of the basketball team. In other words, Barbra Streisand can have a gay son and I have two of the straightest kids ever to walk the face of earth.
There are gay basketball players, you know. But he’s not one of them.
JG: Oh, no. I do ask them, “Does this outfit look bad”? They’ll say, “Yeah, it’s all right.” There’s no interest.
So they’re not a stereotype.
JG: No, they’re very straight, but sweet.
Some straights are OK.
JG: I liked my parents.
And they were straight?
JG: Apparently. Someone once said when my sons were little, “Are you gonna bring your kids up to be gay?” Yeah, that’s exactly what my parents did. “Put a flannel shirt on her, give her a toolbox…”
You can’t turn gay. But apparently you can turn ex gay.
JG: Apparently through therapy, as in Michele Bachmann’s husband.
No connection here, but weren’t you in the musical spoof Disaster! when it was off Broadway?
JG: Yes, I was.
They didn’t ask you to move to Broadway with it?
JG: No, they did not. I can’t wait to see it. I love that show. I replaced Mary Testa. Love her.
And you’re not upset?
JG: I’ve been in the business for 30 years. I don’t expect anything.
Have you suffered any more rejection from TV lately?
JG: Actually, I’ve been doing a lot of TV. I did Louie, I’m gonna be on Broad City, and I’m gonna be on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Difficult People. I can’t believe it. And I’ve been doing the Steve Harvey show.
Family Feud? “Skid marks, Steve.”
JG: No, his talk show. They talk about things I’m really interested in, like, the Kardashians. I’m fearless and I’m wise and that’s a good combination.
I’m so happy this is happening for you —especially after years of being rejected by gay shows.
JG: Yes! Also, there’s my podcast, which is Kill Me Now.
Where do you find the time?
JG: One kid’s in college and the other one has basketball practice after school. But it’s hard because I’m so fucking tired. When I hear comics complaining “I’m so tired,” I want to say, “You get up and make fucking lunch at seven in the morning.”
You don’t have a maid? Kimmy Schmidt doesn’t pay that kind of money?
JG: If I had a maid, I’d say, “No, I’ll do that. Just relax.”
There was a Golden Girls episode like that, with Paula Kelly.
JG: You are an encyclopedia.
Of crap information. But I’m fearless and wise. Anyway, you were a writer on Rosie O‘Donnell’s daytime show. It seems like there were a lot of lesbians on board there.
JG: There were?
Kate Clinton was a writer there.
JG: I took Kate’s place.
Oh, so there was one lesbian slot.
JG: And I filled that. We had so many interns and one of them was so gay. You saw these kids coming from college and it wasn’t like it is now —it’s such a different landscape, being a gay now. I came out really as a gay mom. We’ve come a long, long way and look at what we’ve been through. Bob Smith, who’s sitting here with me, was the first out gay comic on TV. He went on TV and told the joke about how he came out to his family by saying “Ma, could you please pass the gravy to a homosexual?”— and she passed it to his father! He was the most fearless. These young gay boys don’t realize a lot. For example, they don’t realize what HIV is and how horrible the AIDS crisis was.
Speaking of important issues: Who do you like for President?
JG: I like Bernie, but I‘m voting for Hillary. Who is more qualified to be President than her? She’s not running to be your friend, she’s running to run the country. We already had the guy you’d sit down and have a beer with and look what happened. George W. Bush!
Blech. And you were in Clinton: The Musical, right?
JG: I played Linda Tripp and Eleanor Roosevelt because they were the two most attractive women in politics. Now I have a Jew and a woman. The Democrats are in big trouble. I’d like there to be a Jewish President, but also a woman.
Maybe Barbra Streisand! By the way, I wasn’t up for an Oscar this year. It has to be because I didn’t apply.
JG: Another reason is you’re black.
Mwah! Bye, Judy!
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE!
Moving on to another LGBT Jewish icon: Two years ago, performer Ryan Raftery played Anna Wintour in a show called Ryan Raftery Is The Most Powerful Woman in Fashion, sending up the Vogue editor as she fretted over the job ramifications of her putting Kim Kardashian on the cover. Well, he has a new media target —Andy Cohen.
Raftery told me that in July, he’ll bring to the NYC cabaret room Joe’s Pub a show in which he plays the Bravo exec/host, portraying him as having a lifetime obsession with Anderson Cooper and even getting in cahoots with NeNe Leakes to get Anderson’s husband Ben Maisani deported, so Andy can zoom in for the kill. It all sounds like good natured fun, but Raftery said he recently told Cohen about it, and the TV personality looked a little worried. I’d be worried if people weren’t lampooning me. (And believe me, they are, they are.)
NYONG’O DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT
The Oscars have a serious diversity problem, but the Tonys this year should be fine, thanks to the scaled down Color Purple revival, the multicultural Hamilton, the imminent exploration of black theater history Shuffle Along, and Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed, which just moved to Broadway after an acclaimed run at the Public Theater.
Eclipsed is a bracingly important piece by the Zimbabwean-American Gurira (who acts on Walking Dead) about the effects of women during the Liberian civil wars, specifically the moral dilemma between being held captive as a rebel commander’s chattel or going into the field with a gun and making other women do it. There are no men in the play—just three wives (one of whom has gone off to war and comes back with rice and nail polish), a pacifist, and a new girl, who’s instantly used and abused while tempted by the supposedly more powerful life of an arms-wielding militant.
That’s the part played by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, who gives a strong performance as a feisty girl who emerges into a dramatic change of life, horrified to realize that much of her past has been wiped out in the process. Also remarkable are Saycon Sengbloh, Pascale Armand, Akosua Busia, and Zainab Jah —as directed by Liesl Tommy— all speaking in authentically thick accents as they veer from warm humor (after reading about Monica Lewinsky, they describe her as Bill Clinton’s “wife No.2”) to darkly urgent drama. By the way, this play not only has African American pedigree, it’s good for women too —it’s billed as the first time the cast, director, and playwright are composed entirely of females.
Girl power: Pascale Armand, Lupita Nyong'o and Saycon Sengbloh in Eclipsed
STRAIGHT OUT OF BOSTON
Says the ad copy: “Meet Ben. Ben is a 26-year-old investment banker. Ben likes beer, sports, and Emily. And Chris.” In Straight —the new off-Broadway play by Scott Elmegreen and Drew Fornarola— Ben doesn’t want to move in with Emily, but he also refuses to be defined by his lust for young Chris.
Depending on your point of view, Ben is either a free spirit who won’t be bridled by traditional, black-and-white ideas of sexuality or someone who lies to others, and possibly to himself, about his true longings. To add symbolism, Emily happens to be a scientist who works in DNA and knows that you can’t really change the deck you’ve been dealt. The three characters have differing views on the power of sexuality labels, Ben insisting that if you’re open about same-sex activity, you get labeled as “gay”. (“How about bi?” I wanted to yell at him. “No, wait, that’s a label.”) Jake Epstein, Jenna Gavigan, and Thomas E. Sullivan are game as the lusty trio and there are some well argued ideas, but the tone was too cute and then too pseudo-profound for me to “bi” into it.