Like any longtime stand-up comedian, Judy Gold is used to performing solo. And like many female Jewish comics, most of her material is based on her mother. But in her latest act, the 40-something, lesbian performer channels more than 50 different Jewish mothers — including her own — for a one-woman show called 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, currently playing in New York.
“The play is about my conflicts of being gay, Jewish, a mother and a comedian,” Gold explains. She interviewed more than 50 women across the United States for the production, and she brings them to life with vibrant impersonations.
“They're Conservative, Orthodox and Reform Jews; gay and straight; Holocaust survivors and children of Holocaust survivors; white, black, Chinese, Puerto Rican,” Gold says of the characters she portrays in the play. But they all have two things in common: They are Jewish and they are mothers.
The script, which was five years in the making, was co-written with Kate Moira Ryan — who, Gold likes to point out in a conspiratorial, singsong voice, is not Jewish. But Gold credits Ryan with giving the work its shape. “I'm a Jew; I'm all over the place,” Gold admits. A book version of the play will be published on Mother's Day next year.
Gold's impetus for the project? “I wanted to find out if there were any other Jewish mothers out there like me or whether they were all like my mother,” she explains, “because I kept getting ridiculed by the press for promoting the stereotype.”
Gold's mother shows up frequently in her comedy routines. “She happens to be funny,” Gold says, “and if you think she's a stereotype …” She trails off before voicing the obvious conclusion.
As for the other women featured in 25 Questions, Gold says: “They changed my life. The Orthodox women I was afraid to come out to helped me to come out onstage more, because I had to tell them about my life. I couldn't be dishonest to them and then ask them to open up about their lives to me. And they were really accepting.”
The characters in the play have also affected the audience profoundly, as evidenced by the many letters Gold receives and the number of repeat attendees to the show. “Unfortunately, I hear that some break up [after seeing the play] because they disagree about having kids,” she says. “But most people just go home and call their mothers.”
Gold insists she'll do stand-up her whole life but says that 25 Questions is the most gratifying work she has done to date. “To create this show that's really affecting people's lives … it's unbelievable,” she says.
Gold got her start in stand-up on a dare from a college dorm mate at Rutgers College in New Brunswick, N.J., where she majored in music. She soon started doing open mics in New York City and at a few local clubs.
She then moved to New York, sharing an apartment with a “marijuana-addicted opera singer and his cat” for a while. By day she helped sell ad space in military-base newspapers; by night she took acting classes and continued to do open mics.