Once a month, a member of the theater community will pull up a chair to our cyber table and join us for a little conversation. I’ll edit the transcripts (removing the truly libelous parts) and post the results here every second Wednesday. For August, here’s the story of a lovely lady…
Judy Gold is an Emmy-winning writer, comedian and actress who has returned to the New York stage with The Judy Show: My Life as a Sitcom, a follow-up to her 2006 Drama Desk nominated (and 2007 GLAAD award-winning) 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother. A comedic look at Gold’s growing up, coming out and breaking into show biz (as seen through the lens of the 70’s TV shows she idolized), The Judy Show is bitingly funny and touchingly honest, so much so that I was truly pulling for her family to find their own star-making, Brady Bunch moment in the sun — minus the cursed Tiki idol. (Read my review here.)
Taking time away from the sitcom of her life (busy career, two kids, nearby ex, new love and said Jewish mother), Judy agreed to answer a few questions about the show, stand-up and getting married in New York…and she proved to be just as funny and feisty as she is on stage.
When I saw the show, the computer running your video elements went down. You not only handled it with improvisational ease but it seemed to kick you into a higher gear. Do you enjoy that “high wire” aspect of live theater? What’s the craziest thing you’ve had to deal with on stage during your career?
It’s not particularly enjoyable, but it is certainly one of the reasons live theater is so amazing! You really have to live it. The craziest thing ever for me was when I was performing on a gay cruise and the fire alarm went off. The captain came on the loudspeaker and said there was a fire on board, but not to worry because they had it all under control. The funniest part was that he kept on coughing while he was trying to talk. Most of the lights went off, but the microphone still worked, so I went on with the show. I mean, come on! That captain gave me so much material.
What’s the biggest difference for you between doing a long stand-up set and a play/monologue like The Judy Show?
Great question. They are so totally different in so many ways. When I perform in a comedy club there are so many variables. There are waiters & waitresses, people getting up to go to the bathroom, blenders, alcohol, checks, hecklers, and the biggest thing is that you really have to fight to get the audience’s attention and respect. In the theater, people arrive ready to listen. They have paid a good deal of money for their tickets and they want a great show. There is a lot of pressure, but boy is it rewarding. I must admit that not having a fourth wall can be disconcerting sometimes, but it certainly keeps you disciplined. The other night some guy was eating corn chips really loudly in the front row and I almost ripped him a new asshole, but I didn’t want to disrespect the audience.
Just out of college, I worked as a waiter at the Improv in Chicago and saw first hand how rough the stand-up circuit can be. What are your secrets to surviving that scene? We’re you likely to be hanging in the back bar with the other comedians or hiding in your hotel room?
Oh, hotel room baby!! Every guy comic would get laid – no matter what they were wearing or when they bathed last. I would lock myself in my room and read and write, and by the end of the week – hopefully make some decent friends. I really wanted to be a good comic, and get stage time. That’s what it was about for me. The road is hell.
You work-shopped the play at the Williamstown Theatre Festival last year; what was that experience like for you? (Did you hang in the dorms with the apprentices? Get a sandwich named after you at Pappa Charlie’s on Spring Street?)
No sandwich, but how good is that place?? Williamstown was such a great experience. I did not hang out in the dorms, but I definitely spent time with the apprentices. They are incredible. I taught a stand-up comedy class, and the kids were really funny! I love being on a college campus because I can appreciate it so much more than when I went to college. For some strange reason those four years of my life are a big blur!!
You talk in the play about your TV idols; who did you look up to in theater?
Angela Lansbury is one of my all time faves. Bea Arthur. Patty LuPone. Audra McDonald. Tyne Daley. Christine Ebersole. Julie Halston. Jackie Hoffman. And of course, Ethel Merman and Sophie Tucker. I know I’m missing someone.
If you could be in a play other than your own, what would it be?
Twelve Angry Men.
In The Judy Show, you reference so many classic TV shows from the 70’s but what do you watch on the tube today?
Honestly, I have no time to watch anything. I mostly watch the news or whatever the kids have on. I do love Mad Men though.
So much of the play is about longing to be part of the families you saw on TV, wanting to fit in to the larger culture. As the show was premiering, marriage equality passed in New York; how did that news change your sense of acceptance? How did it change the play?
That was really the icing on the cake. We give a shout out to Cuomo at the end of the show. I feel great that it passed in NY, but I am still disappointed and dismayed by our federal government. The fact that we cannot collect social security, pensions, and are hit with a federal inheritance tax, is just unfathomable. We have a very long way to go. There are 6 states, plus DC and two Indian Tribes that have passed same-sex marriage. That’s a step in the right direction, but we deserve our basic human and civil rights. It blows my mind that convicted murderers, rapists, and pedophiles are entitled to get married and be recognized by our federal government and we can’t. It infuriates me.