These days it seems like comedian Judy Gold spends as much time standing up for comedy as she does doing stand-up. And that’s a lot standing. With decades of stand-up under her belt, three comedy albums, specials on HBO, Comedy Central, and LOGO, and talk show appearances and performances, the two-time Emmy Award winner and former writer/producer for The Rosie O’Donnell Show is a comedy veteran and expert.
Author of the critically acclaimed book Yes I Can Say That: When They Come For The Comedians, We Are All In Trouble, Gold has long witnessed the societal challenges affecting comedy and comedians and has become an expert on the topics of free speech, cancel culture, and misogyny in the comedy world. Frank, funny, and relevant, Gold does what many lay people and some comedians can’t do these days—she flies in the face of over-sensitivity and points a finger at reality and the audience.
Comedy And Cancel Culture
“I never understood not discussing the elephant in the room,” said Gold whose book sheds light on the biggest elephant in the comedy room these days—comedy cancel culture.
“When the audience decides that whatever way they take the joke is the only way, even when it’s not what the comedian intended, that’s when comedy dies,” explained Gold in an earlier interview.
“The subtitle of my book is When They Come For The Comedians, We Are All In Trouble because, come on people. We’re just trying to make you laugh. You know, the thing that really I struggle so much with is— well first of all, it’s not about you. So if you take a joke the wrong way, or in a way that the speaker, the joke teller didn’t intend, that’s on you,” said Gold emphasizing the importance of free speech in the comedy space.
It’s Not About You
“So here’s the thing everyone needs to understand, no comedian was thinking about your childhood trauma, or whatever happened to you recently, when they were writing their jokes. It’s not about you. And if you get offended, you’re entitled to get offended. But it’s what you do with that. Move on with your life. Just say, ‘I didn’t like that joke. I don’t like that comedian.’ And move on. You don’t silence people.”
Will Smith’s assault of Chris Rock at the Oscars was just one incident, but Gold says this type of comedy content reactivity is influencing the landscape in a negative way.
“I could go on stage and do a joke about how I just got in a fender bender on the way to the club, right? And someone in the audience could have lost a good friend in a car accident recently. You know—like that is how ridiculous it is and [they would] get offended and upset that I did a joke about it.”
“It’s gotten to the point where people are offended by proxy,” said Gold.
“You know, Gilbert Gottfried, rest in peace…I talked about this with him a lot that—your instinct is to laugh. That’s the right thing to do. It doesn’t lessen whatever disaster you’re laughing at. You know, we’re just social commentators and we’re trying to make you laugh. So a lot of audiences are now laughing. And then going, ‘Oh, right. Not supposed to laugh at that,’ and then catching themselves. Like, why would you stop yourself from laughing?”
Gold’s early love of performing would land her in the clubs and on the circuit in the ‘80s after a graduate school audition slam. “The head of the department told me, ‘You’re very talented. You have excellent comedic timing. How do you expect me to cast you? You’re too tall,” relayed Gold who at over six feet tall at a young age was no stranger to being singled out and bullied for her differences.
Today, she refers to her comedy club journey as her “graduate school.” That non-traditional education ignited by Gold’s epiphany moment from those first laughs put the comedian where she knows she belongs, but the playing field has never been fair or easy.
“Joan Rivers, of course, is my ultimate—you know, I think of her as the greatest of all time,” said Gold as she discussed the impact of female comedians like Rivers on her career. Rivers’ ability to ignore restrictive societal expectations for women, step on stage in a brash, non-apologetic way, and make very diverse crowds (including Johnny Carson) laugh, made her a Gold role model.
Rivers influenced comedy history, but Gold says the comedy space remains a biased one with respect to gender. “You know, it’s getting worse…I’m gay, a member of the LGBTQ community. I’m Jewish, you know. And people ask me, ‘Do you experience a lot of anti-semitism?’ which I do, and anti LGBTQ stuff— not as much as the anti-semitism. But the one thing that I experience and have experienced since the beginning of time is misogyny,” said Gold citing the continued slate of men in nighttime hosting slots and on stand-up stages, the gender-driven commentary women have endured in comedy introductions and banter, and age-related gender disparities.
An advocate for comedy and comedians, and host of the hit podcast Kill Me Now, Gold is a pro at using humor to point out the ridiculous especially when the ridiculous feels familiar. With respect to aging and comedy, she says it’s that combination of fearlessness, experience and knowledge that can make your comedy even better, but the one thing that never changes is the rush that comes from eliciting laughter from an audience. “To this day, it’s as exciting.”