Lesbian comic and mother Judy Gold is known for using her own mother as fodder for her act, but her most recent project digs much, much deeper into her understanding of not only that relationship, but of Jewish mothers in general.
Gold will bring 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother to Skokie's North Shore Center for Performing Arts on Aug. 2-5. The show, a collaboration between playwright Kate Moira Ryan and Gold that took five years to complete, is based on over 50 interviews with a diverse group of Jewish women across the United States. This 70-minute monologue weaves anecdotes from Gold's life with the lives of these women.
Gold spoke with Windy City Times about everything from her mother to not judging a book by its cover.
Windy City Times: What the collaboration process with Kate Moira Ryan like?
Judy Gold: …It was funny because she comes from a whole other mindset. She's very structured in her writing and she's very interested in the details. I am so into the emotions. So, the combination of a structured, detail-oriented mind and mine really sort of gelled together.
WCT: Did you end up asking each of those women 25 questions, or did you pick and choose what to ask them?
JG: I would say we asked most of the 25 questions. We shared the interviews, and had the questions in front of us. We'd be sitting in front of these women, and she'd say, 'Go to question nine!' And I'd be like, 'What is wrong with four?!' The women had no idea what questions were in front of us. And then if we hated someone, we'd be like, 'Go to question 25.' [ Laughs ]
WCT: After all that research, what conclusions did you come to?
JG: There were many conclusions, and they are all pretty universal. You don't have to be Jewish or gay to enjoy this show. Initially, we set out because I used to get bad press from the Jewish media that I was promoting the stereotype of the Jewish mother because I talk about my mother, which I still do. I learned that not only is there not a stereotype, although there are stereotypical things, but also I'd say 98 percent had some contact, whether it be e-mail or phone or whatever, with their children every day.
What I also learned was not to judge from this. There were so many things that happened. I was so afraid to tell the ultra-orthodox women I was gay. Just bringing up the subject when I was interviewing them—I didn't say anything. Then, I'm thinking, 'I'm asking them to open up themselves to me, then I'm being dishonest and I want to be very proud of my family.' They changed my life in that aspect because after interviewing those women, I became so out with who I was. Not just at gay gigs and stuff. I also realized I was the one that was going in with judgment, saying 'This is how they think.' But they were so incredible—all of them.
There was a lot I didn't expect. These were well-educated women, and we really ran the gamut. There were Holocaust survivors, conservative, reformed, gay, straight, old, young and one of my favorites was a Chinese-American convert who was Orthodox—she was awesome.
WCT: It could be potentially for anybody.
JG: Yeah. I got letters from Orthodox kids who were gay, and one of them wrote to me that he never wanted to give up his Judaism because it's a part of who he is…and he's now happy with who he is. People come up to me after the show that you would never think would deal with this issue. It's really about judgment and love and acceptance, and the fact that everybody has a story, but you just don't know. You don't have a clue. I found out a lot about my mother, as well.
WCT: How has your understanding of your mother changed as a result of this project?
JG: I now understand why she is the way she is. That was pretty eye-opening. It's funny, because you always see your parents as their sole purpose in life is to take care of you. No matter how old you are, …they are always your parents. To actually have the opportunity to look at them as people with hopes and dreams that we never realized is very eye-opening. …These are questions no one has ever asked them.
WCT: What was your mother's initial reaction to the show? Was it very positive?
JG: Yeah. My mother is not very emotional with stuff you are supposed to be emotional about, you know, but she was moved to tears. It was really validating for all the work that I've done. Not many parents get to see themselves through their children's eyes and what impact they've had on their children. She loved it. She's used to me using her as fodder for my act. [ Laughs ]
WCT: She's very used to it.
JG: Yeah, and this is entirely a new journey, and so much more then just a joke about my mom.
WCT: Of all these women, was there a favorite of yours, or one you identified with the most?
JG: You know, I think all of them, in some way, hit me. There's so many that really, really impacted me.
WCT: They all changed your perspective.
JG: Oh my God, completely. And I just want to give these women justice. My role in the show—I don't know—I feel a responsibility for them.
WCT: And what do you hope people take from the show?
JG: Well, a lot of people leave and they call their mothers. But there are so many issues that are dealt with in the show: life, death, AIDS, the Holocaust. I just want people to realize that no matter what you subscribe to, the whole point is you just never know. You have no control over your life, but how you deal with it is really the most important thing. Also, accepting other people for who they are and not judging them because of your fears or your ignorance or somewhere someone said it is wrong. Also, everyone has a story. It's so true that you can't judge a book by its cover.
If you can't make it to the show, 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother is also a book; see www.amazon.com . Get tickets to Gold's performance by calling 847-673-6300 or visit www.ticketweb.com .