Elon Gold: Three weeks in Israel and I go blond and gay
It was my first kiss — on camera.
I was filming a TV pilot in 1998 where I played a Jewish guy marrying a shiksa, the first of many similar roles. In the rehearsal, I cautiously leaned into actress Cynthia Geary and gently kissed her lips. The director stopped me. He pulled me aside.
“Are you gay?” he asked. He was nonjudgmental, matter of fact.
“No, why do you ask?’ I said.
“Because it looks like you have no interest in kissing that gorgeous woman,” he said.
I explained to him that I had every interest in kissing her, but this being my first TV kiss, I didn’t know how it works. With tongue? Without? Do you just go for it, or hold back and let her lead? I was losing my TV kiss virginity, and I was nervous and scared to be too aggressive and have the actress blow a rape whistle on me.
Cut to almost 20 years later. Just last week I was in Tel Aviv on a set with a full production crew, filming a web series called “Bar Mitzvah,” in which I play a gay dad who takes his son to Israel for his bar mitzvah. Only now, this was going to be my first on-screen kiss … with a man.
I was nervous — dreading not only my first man-on-man smooch, but also a repeat of my maladroit, first TV kiss. Now, my fear was the director taking me aside after I sheepishly and awkwardly lean in for a kiss and asking me, “Are you straight?” To which I would reply, “Yes! And if it looks like I have no interest in kissing this man, I don’t!”
This all started when my manager called me with an offer to co-star in a web series created by Gal Uchovsky, known as “The Simon Cowell of ‘Israel Idol’ ”; Ilan Peled, a popular Israeli actor/comedian; and Eytan Fox, who had one of Israel’s biggest hit movies, “Yossi & Jagger.”
“It’s filming in Israel for three weeks and you play a gay dad,” my manager said.
My first thought was, getting paid to do what I love — comedic acting — in a land I love, how could I say no? But then like any real Jew, I went right to the negative thoughts. I’ve never been away from my family for more than a week. And what about all my relatives, rabbis and everyone else I encounter as an observant Jew, who have always chastised me about playing a guy who’s married to a non-Jewish woman? There’s only one thing that could be worse to them than that: playing a guy who’s married to a non-Jewish man!
My first concern about the length of time away from my family was instantly alleviated by the deal itself; with four kids in yeshiva, I couldn’t turn down what they were offering.
But it was my second concern that I really had to grapple with. Every TV sitcom I ever did, the producers cast me against a non-Jewish wife. I always promised everyone that one day I’d be able to have my own show and I would make sure my TV wife was Jewish. That day never came. I did have my own show: I pitched and sold a sitcom to NBC called “In-Laws” about my experience living with my Jewish wife’s parents. But when it came time for casting, the producers and network wanted to go shiksa — and there was nothing I could do about it. There I was again, playing the Jew who marries out of his religion. “You’re not helping our problem with intermarriage!” I heard over and over again.
My defense was always the same. As an actor, I will take on any role, including that of a serial killer. It’s just a part I’m playing. I don’t kill people in real life. And I happen to be married to a nice Jewish girl from Scarsdale, N.Y., and we are raising our kids in an observant home. But that wasn’t enough for everyone. It was like I was single-handedly responsible for the end of the Jewish people.
The cast of the web series “Bar Mitzvah.”
After “In-Laws,” I got cast opposite Pamela Anderson — a lovely woman and the ultimate shiksa! — on another sitcom. After that, on the hit show “Bones,” I was playing the boyfriend of a woman who is not Jewish and half black. I could just hear my not-so-casually racist aunt saying, “A half-shvartze shiksa!? What’s he gonna play next — faygala??”
Well, yes. That’s exactly what I’m proudly playing. A homosexual who is married to a man and has a child whom he is also raising to be gay. When my character finds out, while in Israel, that his son is attracted to a young girl, he spirals out of control and just can’t handle it.
“My son, straight? You think he’ll grow out of it?” I hopefully ask my husband after hearing this terrible news.
It’s a funny script and a great role. One I wouldn’t turn down because of Jewish-peer pressure.
In fact, the only relative I had any concern about offending was my younger brother Ari, who is gay. He was glad that I was going to portray a Jewish, gay man in a positive light. He is a well-known recording artist in the gay community and is very out and proud of both his Jewishness and his gayness. “Another gay role going to a straight actor!” he complained, mostly in jest. His bigger concern was that I would play the role stereotypically.
“No effeminate lisps or limp wrists, please!” he warned.
The truth is, by the time I was cast as the gay man, I had already wrestled with what it meant to be the straight brother. Being an observant Jew and having a gay brother whom I love and accept with all my heart can sometimes be conflicting. I’m an advocate for gay rights, and yet I’m also a Torah Jew who loves and learns Torah regularly, knowing it doesn’t exactly have wonderful things to say about a man lying with another man. But I don’t believe you have to take sides. Gays should never be judged negatively for who they are, and the Torah shouldn’t be scorned for calling homosexuality a sin. Let’s not forget that in the Torah, there’s all kinds of heterosexual sex that’s also a sin. This is a much bigger topic that I can’t tackle alone. I just wish people would be more accepting of those who marry outside of their religion, or inside their gender. Especially considering that a close friend of mine who married a non-Jew, who converted to Judaism, almost single-handedly rebuilt our synagogue. The running joke in our congregation is that, “A shiksa built our shul!”
With that in mind, and the knowledge that you can’t ever please everyone anyway, I took the role. I slipped into my first class El Al seat — another reason to do it! — with excitement and anticipation of what lay ahead of me in the Holy Land.
My first day, they had me in a wardrobe fitting where I was trying on the gayest outfits I’ve ever worn. Then, to gay me up even more, they took me to a hair salon and dyed the top of my hair blond. Now I looked and felt the part. The next day we began filming and all my trepidations of whether or not I could play this role — and fears of what relatives and fellow Modern Orthodox Jews will think — went away.
And the kiss? It was three seconds longer than I would’ve liked, but it was nice. The gay director was happy with his two heterosexual actors sharing a sweet, “real” moment between these two “husbands.” It didn’t hurt that I had been away from my wife for almost a month, so, frankly, it was good to get any action.
While I may not be looking forward to the wrath of negative comments and emails when this web series premieres, I am looking forward to continuing to make Jews and non-Jews everywhere laugh, and to keep on playing roles that challenge me as an actor and entertain audiences — whether my Aunt Ruth approves or not.
I’m back in L.A. now, filming a TV pilot this week and preparing for my big annual “Merry Erev Xmas” show at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood next week. I walked into the door of my home after my long but fruitful trip and passionately kissed my wife. There were no cameras, no actresses or actors, just me and my high school sweetheart. And no director took me aside to ask if I was gay or straight. Because, you know, you can’t fake real love.
Elon Gold is a comedian, writer and actor whose latest viral video has more than 1 million hits and counting. His annual “Merry Erev Xmas” at the Laugh Factory will take place Dec. 24. For times, tickets and information, visit this story at laughfactory.com.