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Talking “Jew to Jew” with Comedian Elon Gold

Like his character in “Curb,” Gold, a 51-year old Orthodox Jew, leans in hard on his Jewishness in his career as a standup comedian.
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December 16, 2021
Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

Comedian Elon Gold’s character “Jake” on the latest season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” says a phrase that might not have ever been said on HBO before: 

“How we doin’ so far, I mean, J to J?”

“J to J,” Gold told the Journal in a recent interview, is short for “Jew to Jew.”

The phrase implies, “I’m Jewish, you’re Jewish, we can be honest with each other, no B.S.” His character is a proudly-Jewish executive at Hulu taking a pitch from Larry David about a (fictional) show titled, “Young Larry.”

Every other word out of Jake the Hulu executive is a Jewish colloquialism. So far this season in his “Curb” appearances, Gold’s character throws out words like mitzvah, tachles, mensch, mechayeh, “Larry bubby” and the classic “oy vey.”  He says irreverently, “What do I know? I’m just a Jew from the Valley!” and he makes a hacky pun that he doesn’t work at Hulu, but at “Jew-lu.” It comes as no surprise that Larry is irritated by Jake’s overt reliance on Jewishness to create a rapport. 

Courtesy HBO Max

Like his character in “Curb,” Gold, a 51-year old Orthodox Jew, leans in hard on his Jewishness in his career as a standup comedian. And in reality, Larry David is fond enough of Gold’s comedy chops that he was cast as a recurring character on the show. 

That wasn’t always the case. Gold has been performing comedy since the mid 1980s when he was in high school. He worked his craft from coast to coast and overseas for decades. He appeared on “The Tonight Show” ten times. He was cast in several TV shows including “Chappelle Show,” FOX’s “Stacked” and NBC’s ‘In-Laws’. He even did a one hour stand up special on Netflix, “Elon Gold: Chosen & Taken” in 2014. 

Despite all of this success, Gold still wanted to be on “Curb.” Badly. He was a huge fan of the show, as was his oldest son Brandon. 

“Dad, you should get on that show,” Brandon, then 15, told his father in 2015. The words struck Gold hard. 

“I was just like, ‘wow, well, that’d be great.’” Gold told the Journal. “And then I thought to myself, ‘I never will.’” 

Comedy is a tough business. The feedback is quite objective: you either get laughs or you don’t. And seeing your friends get cast on the show you love while you watch at home can be paralyzing to even the toughest of comedians.

“I wanted to be a part of [“Curb”] just for a second. This is the greatest show in the history of television. I needed to be a part of this.”

“I wanted to be a part of [“Curb”] just for a second,” Gold said. “This is the greatest show in the history of television. I needed to be a part of this.”

Gold didn’t get discouraged. Through decades of work and some chutzpah, Gold accomplished his goal to be on “Curb,” now in its eleventh season. He said that in the last few years, he’s really found his voice in not only the comedy business, but as a Jewish comedian. So Gold took the Journal on a J to J look back on how he melded his Jewishness into a successful comedy career

Gold grew up in the Bronx with his parents and two brothers. He was the middle child, between the elder Steven and the younger, Ari. The three boys would create their own TV shows together in their free time. They could only afford a used video camera without a viewfinder, so they weren’t always sure they got the shot exactly right. They would write and produce their own “silly little TV shows,” Gold recalled. 

As a teenager, Gold got really into “Saturday Night Live” during the Eddie Murphy (1980-84) and Billy Crystal (1984-85) years. This was long before DVR or tape recording, so he had to watch it live, much to his father’s dismay. He stayed up late watching and then had to trudge to school on Sunday mornings—he attended Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy—a Sunday through Thursday school, and had to ride the flaky weekend-schedule subway an hour each way into Manhattan to get there. 

“I goofed off a lot in high school,” Gold said. “But something clicked where I realized I could make the teacher laugh.” Gold made the distinction between the class clown and the class comedian: The class clown will make the class laugh but get in trouble. Class comedian is clever and will make the teacher laugh. And then you don’t get in trouble. 

As class comedian, Gold started to notice his knack for impersonations. 

“Sometimes, literally, the teacher would say, ‘do me! Teach the class as me!’” He said.

The first celebrity impersonation he recalls doing was TV chef Julia Child’s Trans-Atlantic accent. And then at age 15, Gold started writing jokes. 

His first public performance on stage was a Purim spiel in front of the entire high school of a few hundred boys. 

“I wrote these two sketches, and I performed them, and I remember just killing and thinking, ‘that’s the greatest feeling I’ve ever had in my life—so far!’” The upperclassmen started giving him respect and telling him that he’s funny. 

His older brother Steven was already in college and encouraged younger brother Elon to keep doing comedy. To this day, Gold still regards his older brother Steven as one of the top three funniest people he’s ever met. Steven was never into performing on stage, but still works behind the scenes in music composition for major TV shows such as “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” and also won a Grammy for “A Colbert Christmas Special”. Their younger brother Ari was a genius talent in music, Gold said. Sadly, Ari passed away in February 2021 of leukemia at age 47, having produced music for years in the modern pop and dance scene. Rolling Stone called Ari a “Trailblazing Queer Dance Music Artist.”

While in college at Boston University, Gold did standup comedy every night. By age 20, he was earning enough from comedy that he bought himself a Lexus. He explained it was for two main reasons: he was sick of driving an unreliable car to his gigs, and he wanted to impress his girlfriend’s [now wife’s] parents who were from Scarsdale, New York. 

Eventually, Gold graduated from Boston University and continued to perform along the east coast comedy circuit. He wasn’t speaking his mind as he does in his act these days—back then, Gold’s act was all impersonations.  

“In my act, the only sentence I ever said as myself was, ‘I’m Elon Gold, all the comedians you’ll ever need!’” Gold said in the same voice he used back then. “I would just do impression after impression of all the hottest comedians at the time… From Richard Lewis to [Andrew] Dice [Clay], to Gilbert Gottfried, Bobcat Goldthwait, Howie Mandel.” Gold says that he was the first to impersonate Howard Stern on stage, and was also noted for his impersonation of actor Jeff Goldblum.

Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Israeli Consulate, Los Angeles

In 1994, less than a decade after becoming enamored with “Saturday Night Live,” Gold was given a chance to audition his impersonations for producer Lorne Michaels. The competition, which included future superstar Will Ferrell, was fierce. Gold made it to the final ten, but was cut just weeks before the season premiere. 

Rejection hit hard once again. But Gold kept a record of even the tiniest compliments in his mind to keep himself going.

“There are compliments that stay with you forever,” Gold said before explaining how he keeps his mind on the comedy career mission. The life of a comedian is filled with rejection. There’s the jokes that fall flat at the comedy clubs, TV auditions with the allure of massive salaries and there’s the loneliness of the road. 

Throughout the journey, validation of any artist’s craft can be quite elusive. Routine, reflection, camaraderie and purpose are things that keep any creative soul pursuing what they love in a world full of rejection. 

Gold found the strength to keep going week after week through his Judaism. 

“The idea of Shabbos is to build your week around Shabbos,” Gold said. “Shabbos is always on its way and everything is leading up to Shabbos. And it is the greatest gift of all. I love the saying that ‘the Jewish people don’t keep Shabbos. Shabbos keeps the Jewish people.’”

For a comedian, not performing on Friday nights can be a major hindrance since weekend gigs bring the biggest crowds. But Gold has not worked or driven during Shabbos on all but one Friday in his career. 

“I love our traditions, our heritage, our customs and our rituals. And I do almost all of them,” Gold said. “And you can thank people like me, because if not for the few of us amongst the group who keep the rituals and customs and traditions going, there’d be none of us— you are alive because of me, J to J.” he quipped. 

In 2002, after years of performing on the road and suffering through television auditions, Gold—promoting his co-starring role on the NBC show “In Laws”— earned a spot doing stand-up on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” 

He described the experience of performing on “The Tonight Show” as getting his comedy diploma. “I left that stage, hit the wall and said, ‘today I am a comedian!’” That same year, with his wife and two-year-old son, he relocated permanently from New York to Los Angeles.

He recalled a time on “Stacked” that he asked the producers and Pam Anderson if they could move the entire shooting schedule back one day so that they didn’t have to shoot on Friday nights. To Gold’s surprise, they obliged.

In addition to continuing his stand-up comedy, Gold landed several TV appearances, including a lead role on the Fox sitcom, “Stacked.”  He recalled a time on “Stacked” when he asked the producers and series star Pamela Anderson if they could move the entire shooting schedule back one day so that they didn’t have to shoot on Friday nights. To Gold’s surprise, they obliged. 

In 2008, Gold became the host of the obstacle course game show, “Wipeout” on ABC. But there was something that felt off about that gig.

“It wasn’t funny, I was just on TV. I don’t care about being on TV, I just want to be funny on TV,” Gold said. “I was up there looking at myself, thinking ‘what are you doing?’ I’m literally saying, ‘oh, there she goes, she fell in the mud.’ This is not what I was put on this planet to do. Just to do color commentary for this silly obstacle course show?”

Gold asked the network to fire him after he had filmed the pilot because he had an inkling that it would be a hit show for years—this was not the journey he wanted to go on. The network acquiesced and he was fired. The show ended up being a hit, running for seven seasons and was rebooted this past year. 

Although he had just walked away from a well-paying job on TV, leaving “Wipeout” enabled Gold to experience a comedic and religious awakening. Willie Mercer, his manager, took notice and advised that he really needs to lean in on that more. m

“When you talk about your people and your culture and your traditions, no one is better right now than you,” Gold recalls his manager Willie Mercer telling him. “Go lean into that.”

“When you talk about your people and your culture and your traditions, no one is better right now than you,” Gold recalls his manager telling him. “Go lean into that.”

“One of my first jokes where I knew I was onto something with my Jewish act: I am modern Orthodox. And after all these years, I finally figured out what ‘modern’ means in modern Orthodox. It means ‘not so.’ I just take a beat, everyone cracks up and I say it’s just the nicer way of saying ‘I’m not so Orthodox!’”

He also received consistent laughs with his Jewish calendars bit:

“Jewish calendars are the only calendar with minutes on it. ‘Martin Luther King Day starts 5:48 and ends the next day, 6:40!’ You don’t see that on American calendars.”

Another part of his comedy touched upon the Israel-Palestine conflict:

“I tweeted once, ‘I am in Israel!’ One of the comments was, ‘don’t you mean Palestine?’ And I said, ‘why is Israel the only country on the planet where people go back in time to try to correct you? Like, if I was doing a USO tour and said ‘Hey, here I am, performing for the troops in Iraq.’ And someone says, ‘Don’t you mean Mesopotamia?’ Or, ‘oh look a butterfly!’ ‘Don’t you mean caterpillar?’ And then this one, ‘I’ll have a Turkey sandwich, please.’ ‘Don’t you mean an Ottoman sandwich?’” 

Gold found his comedic voice by looking inward at his Jewishness. And with that, he created a wealth of material to direct his anger at antisemites. Though he didn’t experience antisemitism during his younger days, that all changed on one Shabbat night in 2014.

He and his family were walking near their home, when unprovoked, someone in an SUV rolled down their window and shouted at the random Jewish family. 

“Free Palestine,” the man shouted, then got out of the vehicle and yelled at Gold, Sacha and their four young children: “I hope your children die! Just like you are killing children in Gaza!” It left Gold and his family shaken, but still unabashedly proud to be Jewish. 

Gold wrote about the incident in an article in the Journal. 

“I always distinguish, poking fun and making fun. You poke fun as an insider and out of love; and you make fun as an outsider. I love talking about antisemitism because I am obsessed with finding the funny in hate. When you shine a light on it, you get to expose the ignorance of bigotry. And that’s the best thing to mock: hatred.” Gold sees his mocking of antisemites as his way of firing back. His Netflix special “Chosen & Taken” (now available on Amazon Prime) was full of the best of his career to that point—impersonations, Jewishness, and skewering antisemitism.

He also went viral with his bit, “Why Jews are Better Off Without Christmas Trees.” 

At this point, he had a Netflix special, a growing family and a comedy niche that would get him booked for performances around the world. But Gold still wanted to be on “Curb.”

On his birthday on September 14, 2016, Gold woke up and told his wife Sacha, “Honey, I’m going to say hi to Larry David for my birthday.” 

On his birthday, September 14, 2016, Gold woke up and told his wife Sacha, “Honey, I’m going to say hi to Larry David for my birthday.” She was bewildered. He reiterated that he was going to just crash David’s office and pitch himself as a potential character on the show.

Luck was on his side and Gold ended up in David’s office that day and demonstrated his comedic prowess. But he was not offered a job on the spot. Gold’s skin had to grow thicker. Like anything else he accomplished, getting more than a foot in the door was going to take polite persistence. 

One year later, he went back again on his birthday, but Larry was in New York. The next year after that, he went back a third time on his birthday—this would be the meeting that ended up being his audition. He was riffing with David in his office and things seemed to be going well. Months later, Gold would get the phone call that he lusted after so much. He was offered a small part on an episode during season ten of “Curb.” Gold was ecstatic. Unfortunately, Gold’s scene with David was cut and never made it to air. It was devastating. But David was kind enough to call Gold on the phone and tell him the bad news himself. He said that he was sorry but the episode ran long but and the scene got cut.

“It was a hilarious scene but I will find you a place next season,” Gold recalled David saying. 

At this point, Gold brought back some of his impersonations in recent acts. He does the late Jackie Mason advising you not to touch your face. He also does a spot-on Rodney Dangerfield impersonation, but from the perspective of Dangerfield being as religious as Gold.

“Oh, when you got married in our shul under the chuppah, you stepped on a styrofoam cup, you know!” he said in the Dangerfield voice. “Oh, and the holidays were tough too. I’ll tell you the holidays were rough. You know, I remember one year, the bank foreclosed on our sukkah!”

Gold kept touring the world, performing to both Jewish and non-Jewish crowds and garnering more and more fans.

Courtesy HBO Max

Eventually, he got a call to be a part of season 11 of “Curb.” He was ecstatic, and even more so that it was in a recurring role of a studio executive who reminds you that he’s Jewish every time he speaks. On one hand, it didn’t require much range for Gold to play that role. On the other, it’s the culmination of being his most authentic self on stage and unapologetically pitching himself backstage. 

The anxiety still never went away. Season 11 was filmed entirely during the pandemic. Gold was as COVID-cautious as he could be, fearing that if he tested positive any time he was on set, the show would recast his role in an instant. That anxiety kept him safe and he filmed all of his scenes as planned. His first episode aired on November 7th. 

Even though Gold is on the show, he still remains a fan. And it’s evident from the artifacts he keeps in his home office. There are a few printed production photos with David, Jeff Garlin and other members of the “Curb” cast and crew on his walls.

“This room represents everything,” he said while giving a tour. “I love family, Judaism, Torah, comedy, cigars, wine and whiskey.”

“This room represents everything I love,” he said while giving a tour. “Family, Judaism, Torah, comedy, cigars, wine and whiskey.” There’s a director’s chair from the set of “In Laws,” and a book featuring a collection of eulogies and news articles about his late brother, Ari.

There’s also a drum set. Gold said his favorite song to play on the drums is “Easy Lover” by Phil Collins. He’s played the drums since he was 13, but only bought his own drum set recently because he no longer lives in an apartment and wanted to spoil himself a little.

“Jokes paid for that drum set,” he said. He reminds himself daily how grateful he is that jokes that pay for the life he lives. Gold knows that comedy is a continuous grind, and despite the treacherousness of show business, he loves it.

“I always have hope. I live on hope. That’s everything to me because there’s so much rejection in Hollywood daily. So all you have to do is just keep hoping and doing. Keep hoping because you never know when your dreams and your teenage son’s dreams may come true,” Gold said as advice, J to J.

Gold will host the annual Erev Christmas show at the Laugh Factory Hollywood on December 23.

http://www.laughfactory.com/clubs/hollywood/date/2021-12-23 

Season eleven of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” can be seen on HBO and HBO Max.

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