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Judy Gold Stands Up for Comedy in Her Book ‘Yes, I Can Say That’

The veteran stand-up, actress and Emmy-winning writer-producer weighs in on serious topics including free speech, censorship and cyberbullying, while paying tribute to her Jewish comedy heroes.
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July 20, 2020
Judy Gold; Photo by Anne Whitman

Comedian Judy Gold doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind. In her new book “Yes, I Can Say That,” the veteran stand-up, actress and Emmy-winning writer-producer (“The Rosie O’Donnell Show”) weighs in on serious topics including free speech, censorship and cyberbullying, while paying tribute to her Jewish (and other) comedy heroes by telling some of their best jokes — and her own. 

“I wanted people to understand what good comedy is, how powerful it is,” Gold told the Journal. “It’s the most palatable way to talk about uncomfortable and subversive topics and to deal with differences. That’s what a joke is: taking circumstances and personalizing them, having a point of view. It’s disarming. Even in the darkest of times, people make jokes. It unites people.” 

Nevertheless, Gold, her peers and comics who came before her have somehow been held to a higher standard, facing backlash from easily offended monitors of political correctness.   

“I believe in free speech. I think everything is fodder for comedy but it has to be a smart, well-crafted, funny joke,” Gold said. For example, jokes about COVID-19 “would be about wearing masks and gaining weight” in quarantine. The same applies to race issues. “If you’re trying to incite hatred or division, it’s not funny.”

Gold also spends time talking about herself, her family and what it was like growing up to be 6 feet 3, Jewish, female and gay. “The world identifies you by a physical characteristic and that’s not who you are. Everybody has to make a comment. It’s hard to embrace when you’re a young kid and you want to look like everyone else,” Gold said. “It was hell, but it gave me a sense of humor and a thicker skin.”

A Newark, N.J., native, Gold grew up with two older, quieter siblings. “I was always funny and had this sense of humor, but I also wanted to control what people were laughing at,” which directed her into stand-up. She first tried it on a dare while in college at Rutgers University, and hasn’t looked back. 

Her comedy always has been very Jewish. “It’s in my DNA. It’s generation after generation of being kicked out of countries and anti-Semitism,” she said, noting that she has been a victim of Jewish hatred “way more than anti-LGBTQ. I’ve gotten it on stage and it’s way worse on the internet.” But it hasn’t stopped her from joking about her shocked reaction to her son’s desire to add a New York ZIP code tattoo to his arm. “I mention the Holocaust every time I get on stage.”

She “sees the world through Jewish eyes” and believes activism is an integral part of that. “I love the social justice part of being Jewish, tikkun olam. We have to give back and repair the world,” she said. “There’s so much we can do for one another. We share the planet and I think it’s our duty to contribute for the good and the betterment of society.”

“I wanted people to understand what good comedy is, how powerful it is. It’s the most palatable way to talk about uncomfortable and subversive topics and to deal with differences.” — Judy Gold

She speaks fondly about her religious education and love of tradition. “There was a sense of pride in our house in being Jewish. My mother loved being a Jew. She was very observant. We kept kosher, did all the holidays, Shabbat dinner every Friday, we had a Sukkah. Everything. I went to Hebrew school and Hebrew high school. Our synagogue was Conservative, leaning more toward Conservadox.”

While on tour, she attended services all over the U.S. to say Kaddish for her father during the year after his death, and recalled going to a service at a Swedish synagogue two years ago. “Wherever I went they were singing the same songs. It felt familiar, and there’s something very comforting about that,” she said. 

These days, celebrating Shabbat with home-made challah keeps her connected to her faith during the pandemic, which has derailed her plans to appear in “Last Summer at Bluefish Cove” on Broadway. “I had so much planned,” she said. Personal and universal frustrations provide fodder for her podcast “Kill Me Now,” in which she and celebrity guests discuss the things that make them mad. Upcoming guests include Beth Lapides, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Jordan Carlos.

Unable to tour to perform or promote her book, Gold has done both via Zoom. She performed on the back of a flatbed truck at a drive-in movie theater in Queens, N.Y. “You can’t hear them laughing so they just flash their lights,” she said. “It was fun, but there’s nothing like live performance. The world without the arts is really a sad place.”

She eventually hopes to do a one-woman show based on “Yes, I Can Say That,” write another book and marry Elysa Halpern, a therapist, real estate executive and her partner of 13 years. “She’s someone I want to grow old with,” Gold said. She has two sons from a previous relationship: college-bound Ben, 18, a 6-foot-8  basketball player, and Henry, 23, a production assistant. 

In the book’s acknowledgements, she thanks her boys for putting up with her screaming, “ ‘Keep it down! Do you understand that I have to write a book?’ I love you both more than anything. And remember that I’m counting on you to pluck my chin hairs when I’m lying in my own urine at the Hebrew Home for the Aged.”

Asked about the lessons she has learned from her career, Gold provided several. “You can’t measure your success by someone else’s success. It’s really about reinventing. No one is going to do the work for you. If you get the chance, you have to be prepared,” she said. “And you have to enjoy getting there.”

“Yes, I Can Say That” is available starting July 28.

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