Following in the footsteps of Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller and Totie Fields is Judy Gold. Except that she has bigger feet, is a lesbian, and is over six feet tall. Like these legends, she’s not to be trifled with.
Gold is a comic, an actress, an author, an advocate for equal rights, a mother, and a Jew. All of which, despite her humor, she takes very seriously.
She’s been in show business for over three decades, has made countless TV appearances, most recently appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Gold performs stand up regularly, has a recurring role in the upcoming season of Nightcap with Ali Wentworth on Pop TV, and hosts a podcast called “Kill Me Now.”
I stalked her for months to get this interview, which took place at a coffee shop on the Upper West Side and at The Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village.
Periel Aschenbrand: You’re the best.
Judy Gold: Oh, stop.
PA: You have such an important voice. I’m serious. I love you. Are you–
JG: — gay? Yes.
PA: I like your ring. Is that antique?
JG: This is my father’s high school graduation ring from 1933.
JG: Yeah. He’d be 101. [Breaks into song] They were older when they had me. My grandmother would be 121, this year. Born in 1896 and she died when I was 25.
PA: Where were they from?
JG: New York.
PA: You’ve always been very outspoken about LGBT rights.
JG: I moved to NY from NJ in 1984, when I graduated college, in the middle of the AIDS crisis. And I volunteered and I fought. It was a movement, like, We’re bigger than this disease and we have a voice and we’re not going to allow people to die. And look how far we came—to marriage equality. I never thought, when I was a little girl, that I would be able to marry another girl. But we banded together. Lesbians and gay men came together. Women, really, were really the primary force in the AIDS crisis.
Thank God for Edie Windsor, she was the real face of changing marriage equality. And she was the perfect plaintiff for it. She and her partner had been together for 40 years and they had to fly to Canada—with three aids because she was a parapalegic with MS—and go to some airport hotel and get married. Thea Spyer was a psychotherapist and Windsor worked on the first computer at IMB–both contributed so much to society. So it’s just ridiculous that these two can’t get married but Jerry Sandusky or Eric Menendez or Mary Kate Letourneau can? Those people have more rights than these two women, who are great citizens!? It drives me crazy. Why is that okay? Why are we not valid? Why are our families not valid? When we traveled when the kids were younger, the comments we got were like, “Well, who’s the ‘real’ mother?” And we would be like, “Oh, we forgot.”
PA: And what did people say to that?
JG: I taught the kids that you have to correct people. Kids of gays have to come out a lot. We have to come out of the closet every day, because people make assumptions. If we’re in a cab, and I’m with my 16 year old, who is 6′ 5.5″ and the driver asks, “How tall is the dad?” I will politely say, “He has two moms, his sperm donor is 6’3.” You might say, “Well, why bring it up?” But you don’t know. The cab driver, when he is in a voting booth, could think “Oh, those people in the cab, I loved them.” You don’t know how powerful it can be.
PA: Or he could have a kid who’s gay.
JG: Exactly. I mean, look at Dick Cheney. I never thought I’d agree with him on anything.
PA: You don’t. Tell me about your parents.
JG: My mother was born in 1922 and my father was born in 1916. I was not a child of Holocaust surivors but my mother was obsessed with the Holocaust. She was constantly telling us, “Everyone hates us, you have to understand that.” We would boycott brands, like we would never buy a Ford because my mother saw a photo of Henry Ford shaking Hitler’s hand on the cover of The New York Times. We’d get Hess gas because they were very positive towards Israel. And I am exactly like that with my kids. Like, they will not go to Chick-Fil-A. I tell them, “You give them our money and they spend it to make sure our family doesn’t have equal rights.” I feel like you not only do you have to talk the talk, but you have to walk the walk.
PA: I agree with you. So you grew up with that mentality?
JG: I was born in 1962, 17 years after the liberation of Auschwitz. When I was in Hebrew school, they showed us films about it because they wanted to make sure that we knew about it and it seemed like it was so long ago, but it wasn’t.
PA: And your mom?
JG: My mother loved being Jewish. She grew up on 94th Street. Everyday she would voluntarily go and sit in the boys Hebrew school class because she wanted to learn and girls didn’t go to Hebrew school then. All the boys had a bar mitzvah and they did something for her, too. She went to a shul that is actually connected to my building and recently, on Rosh Chodesh, they honored her at the synagogue.
PA: That’s so lovely.
JG: When my grandmother was in her late ’80s she was in a nursing home and I would go visit her and we went out to a restaurant one day and she ordered a BLT and she said to me, “Don’t tell ya mother!” I couldn’t believe it. We grew up in a kosher home!
PA: You did?!
JG: Yes! My mother used to make sukkahs. She even buried the utensils if we used the wrong one.
PA: Was she really funny?
JG: So funny and sarcastic. She loved being Jewish and she loved being around Jews but she was also extremely aware of anti-Semitism. When she was 17, her brother who was 15, was playing ball with his friends on 89th on West End and the doorman came out and said, “You can’t play ball here,” and took his jacket and ran inside with the jacket and was playing keep away. Her brother ran in to try to grab his jacket and the doorman pushed him and he slipped and hit his head on the marble floor and died. When she came home from school, her uncle was standing on the corner and brought my mother upstairs and told her what happened.
PA: That’s an awful story.
JG: In my book, 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, I talk so much about how hysterical my mother was but there was a reason for it. It took until she was in her late 80s until she said to me, “The thing I don’t understand is, that he died in the morning, and they let me stay in school all day.” That’s what stayed with her. That she was in school all day, thinking everything OK when it wasn’t. So my mother had that happen and she was hysterical and there was an explanation for that. But no matter how negative or sarcastic my mother was I never felt unsafe or unloved. If you think about it, we’ve been kicked out of everywhere, since the beginning of time, of course there is that overbearing, “Where are you? I need to know that you’re safe safe safe.” L‘dor vador. It passes from generation to generation. Do you know the Holocaust is only in the curriculum of public schools in six states?
PA: That’s insane…
JG: This professor interviewed college kids and most of them can’t answer the most basic questions. Who is Mengele? No idea. When was Auschwitz? 1890? It’s un-fucking-believable.
PA: Come on.
JG: I swear to God. And they do hate us. And Israel. Let’s talk about Israel. The notion that you can’t be liberal, Democrat, and pro-Israel [at once] pisses me off so much. It’s ridiculous. Here’s the deal: If you hate Israel so much, then live without the contributions Israel has made.
PA: I agree. But I also have a bunch of questions to ask you.
JG: Go fuck yourself.
PA: After this. What’s your favorite drink?
JG: Black coffee–French press. Peaberry beans.
PA: How do you eat your eggs?
JG: That’s complicated. I don’t trust people to make poached eggs correctly, so if I’m in a place where I know they can do it correctly, I’ll get eggs benedict with the hollandaise on the side. Or, I do a spinach, mushroom, and swiss omelet.
PA: How do you drink your coffee?
JG: Strong and black.
PA: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?
JG: Probably Shabbat. It’s the greatest. When the kids were younger I didn’t even work on Friday nights. Like, here we are, this non traditional family… I want them to know they are Jewish.
PA: Did you have a bat mitzvah?
JG: Of course.
PA: What did you wear?
JG: An orange dress. And there’s only one photo because they wouldn’t take photos after Shabbat.
PA: What shampoo do you use?
JG: I switch off. Oribe once every two weeks and the Moroccan oil.
PA: Gefilte fish or lox?
PA: Five things in your bag right now?
JG: My cell phone and charger, my business American Express card, some sort of lip balm, and the key fob for my apartment.
PA: Favorite pair of shoes?
JG: I have a 12.5 foot. There was a Tall Gal shoe store on 38th Street and I was the fourth generation in my family to have to go there. And I have an extra bone in each foot. I love sneakers. I’m a very big sneaker head.
Periel Aschenbrand, a comedian at heart, is the author of On My Kneesand The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own.