Judy Gold; Leslie E. Bohm photo.
By Annette Hinkle
As a stand-up comedian, Judy Gold has gotten a lot of mileage out of Jewish mothers — particularly her own.
“I’m pretty sure I’m a comedian because of her contribution,” admits Ms. Gold. “I didn’t get a lot of affection, but she’s really funny, my mother, and says things that are so outrageous I’d be a fetal position if I didn’t laugh about it.”
Yes, the image of the neurotic, overprotective, self-sacrificing Jewish mother may be fertile ground for good humor, but Ms. Gold — A Jewish mother herself to sons Henry, 18, and Ben, 13 — wondered if there might be more to the matter beyond the punch line.
That part of the story is told in “Judy Gold: 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother,” Ms. Gold’s one woman show which she brings to the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor on Saturday, October 11.
“It’s the story of me becoming a mother,” explains Ms. Gold, an actress and writer who took home two Emmy Awards for writing and producing “The Rosie O’Donnell Show.” “Initially, I wanted to see how I fit into that stereotypical Jewish mother role. I was always criticized by the Jewish press for promoting a stereotype. But it’s not exactly a stereotype if it’s coming out of my mother’s mouth.”
So Ms. Gold and playwright Kate Moira Ryan hit the road in an effort to meet with a cross-section of Jewish mothers to see if their philosophies, motivations and relationships were similar to her own. Over the course of five years, they traversed the country talking to 50 Jewish women about their lives and experiences as spouses and mothers.
“We interviewed women all over and they were so not like each other,” says Ms. Gold. “It was an incredible journey, I can’t even tell you.”
Ms. Gold and Ms. Ryan turned those interviews into a book titled “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother.” Ms. Gold’s monologue, based on the book, premiered Off-Broadway in 2006 at the Ars Nova Theater in New York City. In it, Ms. Gold assumes the identity of many of the women she interviewed. The show won the 2007 GLAAD award for Outstanding New York Theater and while she is well-known for her comedic abilities, Ms. Gold notes there are some seriously poignant moments in this piece.
“It’s funny, but it’s also intense,” she explains.
Among the Jewish mothers Ms. Gold and Ms. Ryan met in their travels was a group of ultra Orthodox women living in Queens. Ms. Gold recalls that the husband of one of the women stood by the stairwell all evening listening to their discussion.
“When we were leaving, he said ‘I’ve known most of these women for over 40 years, and I feel like I now know them for the first time,’” says Ms. Gold.
The reason for that was simply because no one had thought to ask them the questions before.
“I feel it wasn’t like an interview to psychoan1alyze them, but an opportunity for them to tell their side of the story,” says Ms. Gold. “I felt like for the first time in a long time, if ever, these women were being asked about their lives instead of their kids or their husbands’ lives.”
One Orthodox woman shared a story about her daughter who was dating a man she didn’t approve of.
“She was so mean to the guy they broke up,” says Ms. Gold. “From the mother’s point of view this was the best thing she could do for the daughter.”
But when Ms. Gold interviewed the daughter, she told her that she never forgave her mother for driving the man away.
Mothers insinuating themselves in their children’s relationships came up more than once in her travels, and Ms. Gold tells another story of a mother who virtually disowned her son after he married and had children with a non-Jewish woman.
“She cut it off and sat Shiva as if they were dead,” says Ms. Gold. “A few years later, the mother was waiting in a doctor’s office with another woman who had little kids with her. She commented on how well behaved the kids were. The doctor came out and yelled for Mrs. Hoffman, and they both got up.”
“She realized those were here grandkids and that woman was her daughter-in-law,” adds Ms. Gold. “She never went to that doctor again.”
And she never talked to her son and daughter-in-law or saw her grandchildren again.
While the women all had very unique and personal stories to share, Ms. Gold found there was one common denominator among them all.
“When we did the interview at a home, they always had food,” says Ms. Gold who adds that the show also includes extremely moving stories shared by Holocaust survivors and their children.
It’s hardly the sort of material one would expect from a stand-up comedian, but Ms. Gold stresses that this monologue offers audiences a much different experience.
“I love doing standup, but I have more dimensions than just telling jokes,” says Ms. Gold. “In a comedy club you have to keep them laughing every 30 seconds. But when you go in a theater, people are sitting and ready to listen.”
And with “25 Questions For A Jewish Mother,” audiences will get an earful. While the show offers an in-depth look at one very specific demographic, Ms. Gold is pleased to report that it has universal appeal.
“So many people come up to me and say ‘I’m not Jewish, but I have the same mother,” says Ms. Gold. “It doesn’t matter where you come from, it’s a story many people can relate to.”
“Judy Gold: 25 Questions For A Jewish Mother” is Saturday, October 11 at 8 p.m. at Bay Street Theater, Long Wharf, Sag Harbor. Tickets are $59 to $89. Call 724-9500 to reserve or visit baystreet.org.