Comedian Judy Gold doesn’t have to mine too deep for material these days. Just flip on the news or scroll through social media, and you’ll be bombarded with the insanity of modern-day politics. But speaking her mind has been increasingly dangerous and is the topic of her new solo show, Yes, I Can Say That!
Gold is part of a legacy of modern-day queer comedians and came out publicly long before contemporaries like Rosie O’Donnell and Ellen DeGeneres. Might it have damaged her career? Possibly, but she didn’t care. Upon the birth of her first son, Henry, there was no looking back.
“I was not going to give up my material about being a same-sex parent,” Gold told LGBTQ Nation. “Before that, I didn’t really have material about being gay. Because of my internalized homophobia, I couldn’t find the humor in it. What really did it was having Henry. What kind of message was I giving him? I was like, ‘No, I am proud of this family. I want my kids to be proud of this family. This is my act. This is who I am.’”
Gold’s brazen style often echoes what her audiences are feeling (and wish they could say in the real world), but the safety of the stage has recently been challenged by both sides. Free speech is the subject of her 2020 book, Yes I Can Say That: When They Come for the Comedians, We Are All in Trouble. Published during the height of the pandemic, Gold responded to the increase in cancel culture as an assault on our First Amendment rights.
The book serves as source material for Gold’s new show, directed by BD Wong, who she met while appearing on Margaret Cho’s short-lived 1994 sitcom All-American Girl. Gold says Wong has “the greatest” sense of humor. “When the show was canceled, we all gave each other goodbye gifts,” said Gold. “He gave me the c*nt coloring book. And I still have it. His sense of humor is unbelievable.”
Laughs aside, Gold tackles tough topics, like women’s fight for visibility in comedy and attacks on comedians from both the right and left. Gold chatted with LGBTQ Nation between performances and recording her popular podcast Kill Me Now. We also asked for quick takes on recent LGBTQ+ headlines.
LGBTQ NATION: The tagline of your show is “When they come for comedians, we’re all in trouble.” Do you feel there’s been a tipping point where things have gone off the tracks, or has it been more like a slow descent into hell?
JUDY GOLD: It has been progressing in the wrong direction for a long time. But one of the moments that really stuck was the fact that [Trump] couldn’t go to the White House Correspondents Dinner. That is an American tradition. The fact that we had a president who tried to get Saturday Night Live investigated by the Department of Justice.
It’s been progressing since the creation of social media, and every moron’s opinion being equally valid, but the sh*t that Trump did — comedians speak the truth. And that’s why it is so frightening. Tyrants cannot deal with comedy as a weapon, which it is. If you have no self-awareness and you want to be a tyrant, humor is not part of that equation. I feel like comedy and stand-up especially, is a natural extension of our First Amendment rights.
LGBTQ NATION: It’s interesting that you’re not just preaching to the choir. During the show, you literally cross the line (with the help of lighting designer Anshuman Bhatia and projection designer Shawn Duan). Why was it important for you to hold up a mirror as well?
JG: You can’t make a point without telling all sides of that point. If you think about a joke, it’s a surprise. It’s either marrying two things that don’t belong together, or it’s like, “Oh, I didn’t think of it that way.” You can’t make an argument about this topic without coming at it from all different angles. It’s a cautionary tale and a call for action. You’re not going to listen to someone who’s always on one side of an issue.
LGBTQ NATION: You talk about crossing the line, both in your own work and that of other comedians, as part of the creative process. Is there anything off-limits?
JG: For me, if the audience is laughing for the wrong reason. People always say, “Well, how do you know?” You know. I’ve been doing this for 40 years.
LGBTQ NATION: What’s an example of that?
JG: You can tell if you haven’t even finished the joke or the thought, and the audience is laughing at a word — they don’t get the entire context. One of the biggest problems we have is that a person now will take a joke a certain way or hear a word in a joke, and that will trigger them instead of taking the time to think about the comedian’s intent. There’s no comedy without intent, nuance, and context.
If you’re getting offended at something and that’s not the way the comedian intended it, that’s on you. This is an art form where the audience is a vital part of the creative process. We don’t know where the line is until we’ve crossed it. You have a responsibility when you go to a comedy club: Know that you might get offended. Know that it’s not a safe space; people are going to be talking about things that might make you uncomfortable. Deal with it.
LGBTQ NATION: You’ve toured for so long and been in the company of many comedians in various capacities. Is there anything that offends you as an audience member or the person backstage?
JG: If you watch comedians watching other comedians, rarely are we laughing, we’re like, “Ah, good, yes — I wish I wrote that.” Or, “Meh.” There are many times I watch a comedian, and the audience is hysterically laughing. It’s not my style of comedy, but I know where the joke is. It’s when I don’t know that it’s like, “Are you just trying to be offensive?” I believe you can joke about any subversive topic as long as it’s a well-crafted joke. So it’s the laziness that really gets me.
LGBTQ NATION: Your show taps into your childhood, growing up Jewish in New Jersey, and watching Holocaust films in Sunday school. I had a similar experience and thought, who would do that? It’s horrific.
JG: I asked my sister if she remembered how old we were, and she was like, “I don’t remember them.” Please! So then I asked someone we grew up with, and he said he thought we were maybe eight or nine. I talk about the Holocaust a lot in the show, but if you think about it, they were trying to warn us. The book It Kept Us Alive: Humor in the Holocaust by Chaya Ostrower was a big part of why I have to talk about it so much. Jews, throughout history, have used humor as a weapon and also as a disarming device.
One of the quotes I use is, “We joked about everything that helped us to remain human beings, even under trying conditions… humor during the Holocaust did not lessen the objective experiences, but alleviated the emotional response to the horrors.” You were asking where the line is — I have Holocaust jokes. It doesn’t mean I’m lessening the horrors of the Holocaust. I’m acknowledging it happened every night when I get on stage.
LGBTQ NATION: You pay homage to some of the great comedians from our past, but I was curious specifically about female comedians — Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, Lily Tomlin, etc. — was there one in particular that you remember seeing as a young person that inspired you?
JG: Totie Fields, even though she died when I was 15, because she was fearless. The thing I loved about her was that she was self-deprecating, but she loved herself. You could tell that she was saying the sh*t before anyone else could. She was owning everything. She didn’t care about looking dignified or acting the way women were supposed to act.
And Joan. No one has made me laugh more than Joan Rivers. She is an icon. When she died, Chris Rock said she was the Mount Rushmore of comedy.
LGBTQ NATION: You also mention a comedian Steve Moore, who disclosed his HIV status onstage during the height of the AIDS crisis.
JG: During that time, a lot of the straight male comics were using it as, “Oh, I don’t wanna get that, f*ckin’ AIDS” — it was horrible. That kind of sh*it pissed me off. But it was so brave of Steve, and fans loved him. That’s the whole thing: You see the comedian, you love the comedian, you encounter someone with a similar issue, and you become more compassionate.
LGBTQ NATION: Before we say goodbye, let’s get some quick reactions to some recent headlines.
JG: Okay! There will be curse words.
LGBTQ NATION: Congress to vote on federal bill requiring schools to out trans kids to their parents — The House of Representatives is expected to vote on a bill that could restrict materials available in school libraries and require schools to get parental consent before referring to a trans or nonbinary child with the correct pronouns and first name.
JG: All they talk about is less government. Get out of our f*cking lives. This is not what they were elected to do. They’re a bunch of f*cking homophobes afraid of anything that isn’t white and cisgender — go f*ck yourselves. Teach your f*cking kids that everyone is not like you.
LGBTQ NATION: Lauren Boebert asks Democrats to declare human fetuses an endangered species — Boebert (R-CO) walked into a Water, Wildlife and Fisheries Subcommittee hearing recently and, before speaking, pulled out pictures of human fetuses even though she was supposed to talk about her opposition to the gray wolf being listed as an endangered species.
JG: Lauren Boebert is a f*king dumb idiot. And the fact that people vote for these elected officials who have never read a goddamn book, don’t even know how the government works, has a 17-year-old son who is pregnant with his 15-year-old girlfriend. I was 34 when my first kid was born. And I was like, oh my God, am I prepared? You take your Christmas photo with your f*cking guns. You could give two sh*ts about fetuses, which are a bunch of f*cking cells. This is why when we go to other countries, they’re like, “Are you okay? That what’s going on there?” This is what happens when you elect dumb f*cking propagandists who can’t read.
LGBTQ NATION: Viral video shows gay magician being attacked by passenger during show — A Royal Caribbean cruise ship magician has criticized the company he works for after he suffered an attack on stage. He says a man jumped him for getting too close to his female audience participant. This is despite the fact the magician is gay and mentions it in his act.
JG: Who was the guy, the boyfriend? Oh, f*ck him, jealous piece of sh*t who needs to attack an entertainer and show his f*cking inverted penis manhood. Did Royal Caribbean do anything?
LGBTQ NATION: As yet to be determined.
JG: Okay, Royal Caribbean — how dare you not protect your staff and entertainment. And this guy should never be allowed inside a theater again. That really pisses me off. And you know who did this? Your f*ckin orange president who validated this sh*tty behavior. This is exactly why comedians are frightened. Because there are no boundaries anymore, there’s no respect.
LGBTQ NATION: Any final thoughts?
JG: I just really hope people come and see the show. I’m so proud of it.
Yes, I Can Say That! plays Off-Broadway at 59E59 Theaters, presented by Primary Stages, through April 16.