Jewish mom Gold chats about show, stereotypes
By Cathalena E. Burch
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona Published: 03.21.2008
"25 Questions for a Jewish Mother"
Presented by: Invisible Theatre.
Starring: Judy Gold.
Written by: Judy Gold and Kate Moria Ryan.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Berger Center for the Performing Arts, 1200 W. Speedway.
Tickets: $42 through Invisible Theatre, 882-9721.
Online: Hear snippets from the show at http://www.25-questions.com/.
Comedian Judy Gold walks down a busy street in San Francisco, ear glued to a cell phone, mind on lunch.
"I just want to order some food," she said, ducking into a cafe.
Through the muffled sounds of her hand over the phone you can make out her order: sandwich, hold the bacon, bag of chips.
Lunch on the run in a brown bag — one of the disappointments of being on the road with her one-woman show, "25 Questions for a Jewish Mother." She began touring the production last fall and will present its Southwest premiere this weekend at Invisible Theatre.
The biggest drawback to the road: being away from her two sons, 11-year-old Henry and 6-year-old Ben.
"When I'm on the East Coast I go home the minute the show ends because I miss my babies," said the 6-foot-3 Jewish lesbian stand-up comedian who gave birth to her youngest son through artificial insemination. Her ex-partner gave birth to the older son. Same conception method, she notes.
In an accent that mirrors the one she uses to mimic her mother — stereotypical New York, leaning more toward Long Island, clocking in at at least 100 words a minute — Gold chatted during last week's cell-phone interview about "25 Questions," motherhood and shattering stereotypes.
How did this show take on a life of its own?
"I always wanted to do a one-person show. I've been doing stand-up my whole life. A friend of mine, Kate Moira Ryan, who is a playwright, we were in Chicago together . . . and I said to her, 'Look, I want to do a one-person show, but I didn't want it to be me doing therapy on stage.' And I was telling her I get bad press from the Jewish press for promoting stereotypes when I talk about my mother.
"We initially decided to go around and interview Jewish mothers to see if there really was a stereotype. What ended up happening was these women were so incredibly fascinating, they basically changed my life.
"We realized we had something here. . . . We ended up going on the road. I would call local synagogues. We initially started with 49 questions, then ended up with 25. And these women were unbelievable. . . . At first I thought I'm going to go to these Orthodox women and they're going to be like 'I cook for my husband. I do the kids' laundry.' They were nothing like I thought. . . . I realized these women had never been asked these questions — What's your biggest regret? What would you have done had you not had children?"
Did it confirm or rebuke your stereotypes?
"Totally rebuked. There were certain things that were stereotypical, like an accent."
A lot of us, when we think of a Jewish mother, we assign that Long Island accent.
"Oh, exactly. We interviewed Southern Jews. That's the most hilarious. I hear a Southern accent, I want to run in a corner. They have Southern accents and wear cowboy hats. It really opened my eyes."
What was common among the women?
"The only thing that these women had in common besides the fact that they were Jewish and they were mothers was that they all spoke to their children every day. The other thing was, whenever we went to someone's home, there was always food there."
So has this redeemed you with the Jewish press?
"It was one newspaper in particular, and this woman would accost me at all these events, saying, 'When are you going to leave Jewish mothers alone?' And I'm thinking, here you are in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Little Israel, criticizing me. And I am traveling around the country talking about my Jewish mother to these people, some who had never seen a Jew."
Are you and your mom close?
"Oh my God, yeah. I talk to her about 100 times a day. She wants residuals but she's not getting them because it went to my therapy. She's pretty incredible. She has an incredible sense of humor. She's very smart; she reads all the time. And yet she is the epitome of what one might call the stereotypical, overbearing Jewish mother."
How's your mother as a grandmother? Has she elevated that stereotype onto grandmothers?
"Here's the thing. My mother . . . has this really unbelievable personality that I was never privy to as a child, which was called being nice and happy and supportive. So I don't know where the f--- that came from. I'm like, where was this personality when I needed it?"
She likes the kids?
"Oh my God, loves the kids. Here I am, I've done nothing conventional in my life. I'm gay, I have two kids through artificial insemination. I'm a comic. And if you ask my mother, who does not want to talk about me being gay. . . if she's missed out on anything because I'm gay, she'll say no. She's got grandkids out of this."
Are you and your partner still together?
"No, she is my ex. We still live in the same building. I have a new partner who I love who is great. She's Jewish and a therapist. My older son said, 'Isn't it great that mommy's girlfriend is a therapist because now she can have therapy 24 hours a day.' "
She wasn't your therapist before you started dating, was she?
"No. No. What are you, mental? Come on. That is so psychotic."
Are you a stereotypical Jewish mother?
"Oh my God. I talk to those kids so much. I hear s--- come out of my mouth. My mother's in my body and I can't take it. I said to Henry the other day, 'I hope you treat your teacher better than you treat me.' Oh my God! Where did that come from?"
If I'm not Jewish, am I going to get "25 Questions"?
"It really is a universal story of parent and child and acceptance and love and tragedy. It is a play and it's a story. If it was about an Irish guy or an Italian, no one would say, 'Oh you have to be Italian to appreciate this.' "
What are five questions you still have to ask your mom?
"Who's your favorite child? She'll say, 'I have no favorites.' She won't admit that my brother's her favorite. The thing I don't get from her is that she's proud of me. That's the thing I would love to hear — that 'I'm proud of you.' But that will never happen."
So what will your sons ask of their Jewish mother?
" 'Why are you so annoying? Why do you have to go away? Why do you have to work at night? Why do you have to be a comedian? Why do people have to stop and talk to you all the time?' They don't realize that when they get older, they're going to think I'm cool."
Do you think people stop to talk to you because you're just so tall.
"I really don't think that has anything to do with it."
Basketball ever cross your mind?
"I tried out in eighth grade. The coach told me I was too tall; it wouldn't be fair to the other players. I was the band nerd."
● Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4642.