Judy Gold: Coming out as a sitcom addict
Comedian Judy Gold describes herself as a 6-foot-3, kosher-keeping Jewish lesbian and mother of two, and she’s always thought her life would be perfect fodder for a sitcom. She’s got a partner, an ex, two precocious sons, a bunch of eccentric neighbors and a “crazy-making” mom who, by the way, loves being part of her act. “And I’m a comic – hel-lo!” she said in a telephone conversation from her apartment on the Upper West Side.
But network executives just haven’t seen her life as a TV comedy. They’ve said her pitch “is too gay, or it isn’t gay enough,” Gold complained. Or they want a riff on “The L Word” with lots of lesbian nookie. “I tell them, ‘We’re married with kids; we never have f—— sex!” she said.
Fed up, but not willing to give up on her quest to join the ranks of the Bunkers and the Barones, Gold did the next best thing: She co-wrote and also stars in her monologue “The Judy Show — My Life as a Sitcom,” a memoir seen through the lens of her favorite shows from the 1960s through the 1990s, opening at the Geffen Playhouse on June 18.
In it, the New Jersey native recounts how as a kid in a family where communication meant yelling, she longed to run away and live with the cheerful Brady Bunch. She imagined summer camp would be “like ‘M*A*S*H’ without the Korean War,” only to discover that it resembled “ ‘The Facts of Life’ meets ‘Lord of the Flies.’ ” Her first serious relationship was like a lesbian version of “Laverne & Shirley.”
Plenty of laughs are also mined from the comic’s complex relationship with her 90-year-old mother, Ruth Gold, who gave her a love for Judaism but also is hilariously “obsessed,” Gold says, with being Jewish.
While watching the TV news about the serial killer Sam Berkowitz in the 1970s, Gold’s mother was appalled to learn that the “Son of Sam” was a member of the tribe. “Three days later, she triumphantly announced at the dinner table: ‘Myrna called. The Son of Sam — adopted!” Gold said in an interview.
“We had a kosher home, and if we accidentally used the meat knife to cut butter, my mother would bury [the utensil] in the earth to ritually purify it. Then in wintertime, when it was freezing, she’d have some houseplant with a fork sticking out of it, and I’d be like, ‘Don’t even ask.’ ”
To escape her family’s meshugas, Gold immersed herself in the fantasy world of sitcoms, flopping on her belly on the shag carpeting to watch “The Partridge Family,” “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons” and anything else by Norman Lear. “I was beyond addicted,” said Gold, adding that when she moved to Los Angeles she would go to Studio City and gaze for long periods of time at the home that had served as the Brady house exterior.
High school wasn’t much like “Welcome Back, Kotter”: “I was 6 feet tall by the time I was 13, and the minute I walked in the door, it was constantly, ‘Hey, Bigfoot! Sasquatch! Orca!’ ” Gold said. “But that gave me a very thick skin.”
The aspiring performer felt like the fictional Mary Richards, the single career woman of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” when she moved to New York to make it in comedy, even though her manager “tried to turn me into a short, straight [non-Jew],” she recalled.
Even so, she began incorporating her Judaism (and her Jewish mother) into her act and even her gay identity, in earnest, once her first child was born.
She got her big break on an A&E comedy special in the 1990s and went on to earn two Emmy Awards for writing and producing “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” as well as appearing on TV programs like “The View” and playing a rabbi on the 2013 season finale on Showtime’s “The Big C” — all between stand-up gigs. When Gold wearied of performing solo only in nightclubs, she turned to the theater about a decade ago.
Her 2006 monologue, “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother,” was born after she set off across the country to interview 50 diverse moms; among other topics, the piece examines why Jewish mothers can be overprotective. “We’ve been kicked out of every country from the beginning of time, so of course we always need to know where the children are,” Gold said. The piece also explores how some of her own mother’s issues hail from a family tragedy, when Ruth’s younger brother died in a freak accident when Ruth was 17.
“I now understand my mother, and I’m a lot like her; it’s l’dor v’dor [from generation to generation],” Gold said.
These days, the elder Gold has mellowed, and even told her daughter “mazel tov” when gay marriage was legalized in New York in 2011. “I talk to her every day,” Gold said. “I tell her she can’t die, because then I’d run out of material.”
For tickets and more information, call (310) 208-5454 or visit geffenplayhouse.com.