Alumni Profiles

Comedy Gold

Judy Gold

Amid the pandemic, a comedian finds ways to speak her mind and keep her audience laughing.

By Sean Downey

Even last year’s COVID-19 lockdown couldn’t keep comedian Judy Gold from looking for laughs—albeit in her own living room. “Every night at 9 p.m. while everyone was relaxing, I’d get this burst of energy and start saying, ‘Hey, how’s everyone doing tonight? Where are you from? You look so familiar.’”

While it was a far cry from her usual routine—doing stand-up on the road—Gold RC’84 says her work had prepared her well. “I think performers were more emotionally equipped for the uncertainty that we all experienced, because it’s the nature of our job,” she says. “We’re so used to these precarious situations.”

Gold considers herself fortunate to have found ways to work during the shutdown. In 2020, for instance, she performed outdoors twice a week in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and at a drive-in movie theater in Queens, New York, where a flatbed truck served as her stage and audience members blinked their headlights in lieu of applause.

She also took her act online, performing live on Zoom, where audience members became accidental participants. They didn’t always mute themselves, she explains. “I’m in the middle of a bit and all of a sudden you’d hear, ‘Arthur, shut the window!’”

So she was overjoyed to return to the comedy clubs in May 2021.

At a time when so many people continue to face losses associated with the pandemic, Gold describes live comedy as healing—for both performer and audience. “When you are performing stand-up, it’s a sort of give-and-take. A comic’s timing changes according to how the audience laughs, and the material changes according to what the audience laughs at,” she says. “It’s a very musical art form. And comedians talk about a plethora of sensitive and subversive topics.  Laughter doesn’t disparage the gravity of an event, it acknowledges it—it’s how we cope. If you are going to talk about a touchy subject, the jokes better be funny.”

A class act

Gold’s willingness to connect with people through honesty and humor can be traced, in part, to her early family life. Her relationship with her mother has been the basis for countless jokes. She grew up in a household that also included several once and future Rutgers alumni—father Harold Gold NLAW’38, UCNB’53; brother Alan Gold RC’79; and sister Jane Gutman DC’80—where communication was highly valued. “A good joke, a quip, a sarcastic comment, something really clever,” she says, “that’s what got their attention—that was the ace in the hole.”

But Gold says that her fearlessness—she doesn’t shy away from any topic, including politics, sexuality, religion, and mental illness—has its roots in her time at Rutgers. She was majoring in music when a resident assistant, Howard Rosenstein RC’82, dared her to perform stand-up in the fifth-floor lounge of Campbell Hall in New Brunswick. “That first laugh and, ‘Oh, my God,’” Gold remembers thinking, “this is what I was meant to do.’”

While still an undergraduate, she won the opportunity to perform on a show called Campus Comedy with New York City comedians who performed regularly at Catch a Rising Star. She started spending time there and making professional connections.

Gold also recalls the importance of being at a progressive university like Rutgers. Growing up in the New Jersey towns of Elizabeth, then Clark, Gold hadn’t yet come out as a lesbian to friends and family. She recalls how impressed she was by the courage of openly gay people on campus. Her commitment to the LGBTQ+ community continues to be an important part of her life.

Speaking freely

It would be a few years after leaving Rutgers before Gold was able to support herself through stand-up alone, but opportunities gradually opened up. Her many credits include stand-up specials on HBO, Comedy Central, and Logo; acting roles in theater, television, and film; two Emmy awards for writing and producing The Rosie O’Donnell Show; starring in two critically acclaimed off-Broadway one-person shows; creating a podcast; writing for an upcoming season of Pamela Adlon’s critically acclaimed TV show Better Things; and publishing two books. Her latest, Yes, I Can Say That: When They Come for the Comedians, We Are All in Trouble (Dey Street Books, 2020), reflects her commitment to free speech and her concerns that political correctness and cancel culture threaten the livelihood of comedians who don’t play by the so-called rules.

She describes writing the book as a daunting task, but adds, “I want people to understand, we’re here to make you laugh. No one is trying to offend you because it’s not about you. And most of the time, we don’t know where the line is until we’ve crossed it.”

When it comes to the issues she cares passionately about—misogyny, antisemitism, racism, and homophobia—she’s not about to stay silent. Paraphrasing Joan Rivers, one of her comedy idols, Gold notes, “I say what everyone is thinking but is too afraid to say.”