A Jewish Comedian Raised On Sitcoms

A Jewish Comedian Raised On Sitcoms

Ted Merwin’s column appears monthly. He writes about theater for the paper and is the author of the award-winning “Pastrami on Rye,” a history of the Jewish deli.

Nothing encapsulates American culture better than the sitcom. In “The Judy Show: My Life as a Sitcom,” comic Judy Gold fondly remembers the television programs that molded her upbringing and her outlook on life. Co-written with Kate Moira Ryan, the show explores Gold’s obsession with American pop culture and her ongoing sense of outsider-ness as a performer who is both Jewish and openly gay. Directed by Amanda Charlton, “The Judy Show” opens Off-Broadway next week at the DR2 Theatre (103 E. 15th St. For tickets, call [212] 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com).

Gold, a stand-up comic who won two Emmy Awards for writing and producing “The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” is familiar to TV audiences for her appearances on “All American Girl” and her starring role on HBO’s “At the Multiplex.” She is seen regularly on “The View,” “The Joy Behar Show” and other programs.

Her most recent theatrical venture was another one-woman show written with Ryan — “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother” — based on interviews with more than four dozen Jewish women. After winning a Drama Desk Award in 2006, “25 Questions” toured all over the country and was later published as a book. “The Judy Show” had its premiere in January 2010 at Theater J in Washington D.C., and was then presented last summer at the Williamstown Theater Festival.

Growing up in northern New Jersey in the 1970s, Gold was drawn to sitcoms like “The Brady Bunch,” “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons” and “One Day at a Time” because the world depicted in them, she told The Jewish Week, “couldn’t have been further from my reality.” On such shows, “the siblings got along well, the kids had weird things and the parents were really young and wore hip clothing.” Gold and her friends “dressed like the characters, wore shirts with their faces on them. They were real to us. That’s what I thought life was like outside of my home.”

Unlike today, Gold pointed out, when entertainment has become individualized, her family bonded over watching the shows together. On sitcoms, “issues that no one ever talked about were talked about. This made it a palatable way for my family to start a discussion.” Gold claims that she “remembers every word to every theme song. Those memories bring up a lot of feelings.”

Gold’s real goal, she said, is to have a sitcom of her own. “But when you’re a gay mom with two kids, the networks aren’t interested.” While she conceded that women have a tough time rising to the top in many professions, “comedy is particularly hard for women because it’s a masculine kind of job — it’s powerful thing to take control of a room and to make people laugh.”

The performer recently returned from a comedy tour of Israel for the Kobe Mandell Foundation, which raises money for families of terror victims. “Tel Aviv was the only place where I said that I was gay,” she recalled, “because The Jerusalem Post had mentioned it. People have preconceived notions, but they saw that my partner and I are two nice Jewish girls.”

Judaism is paramount for her. “Of all my identities,” Gold said, “I think of myself as a Jew first — the way I think, the way I talk, what I eat, how I look. Being gay is a part of my life, but being a Jew is there all the time.”

Her older son, Henry, recently became a bar mitzvah. The ceremony, at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side, was validating on many levels. “Having his two mothers there as he took the Torahs out of the ark was so meaningful. It made me realize that we are a real Jewish family.” Can any sitcom compare?

“The Judy Show: My Life as a Sitcom” opens next Thursday, July 7, at the DR2 Theatre, 103 E. 15th St. Performances are Mondays at 8 p.m., Tuesdays at 7 p.m., and Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. There are Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. For tickets, $65, call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com.

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