I’ve known Chris for almost as long as I’ve lived in Hampton Roads, and when Thomas came on the scene, I knew….I just knew…what would soon follow. These two are crazy in love. After they became engaged and started planning their April nuptials at The Hermitage Museum in Norfolk, I also knew that I had to photograph my friends in that spectacular setting.
I moved to the Outer Banks in the early 1990s to take a job as Director of Marketing and Public relations at The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama, and it was a dream come true in so many ways. Seriously, a job at the beach in theater marketing?
I was a 30 year-old out gay man. My family knew, my co-workers at The Lost Colony knew (90% of them were gay, too), and I had nothing to hide.
I simply assumed that the many gay locals I met were out as well. Surprisingly, that was not the case. The Outer Banks then was generally not an LGBT-friendly community, Lost Colony notwithstanding. My impression was that many of the locals considered the gay enclave clustered on the north end of Roanoke Island to be a necessary prerequisite for having a thriving and professional theater company.
But, boy, if you were a gay native of Dare County, you stayed deep in the closet.
There were no gay bars and social or support outlets in Dare County. When we wanted to go out on the town and dance with our people, we’d pile in someone’s car and make the two-hour (or sometimes three, depending on traffic) trip to Norfolk for the weekend. In the harsh winter months, it seems as if all we did was huddle up at someone’s house and drink ourselves silly.
Finally, a group of my Lost Colony friends and co-workers decided to create those missing social opportunities. The name of our fledgling group was the Outer Banks Gay and Lesbian Community (or GLC for short—because we had to have a secret code).
We began by approaching those few businesses we knew were gay owned. At the time, that was Sam and Omie’s in Nags Head and Art’s Place in Kitty Hawk. We asked and they enthusiastically agreed to host an occasional private party just for us: invitation only, closed to the public. Plus you had to know the secret code to get in if we didn’t know you. Privacy was paramount. There were many prominent people who joined our group as long as we guaranteed it.
We also built a newsletter mailing list by quietly networking and spreading the word—quite an undertaking in the days before email. I wrote it on the computer in my office and printed copies on the company Xerox machine. I figured that was OK after all the gay community had done for The Lost Colony over the years. We funded the postage out of our own pockets.
We started holding GLC Beach Days during the warm months at Coquina Beach (we called it CoQueena). Those beach days were some of the best of my time on the Outer Banks. We flew a ginormous rainbow flag on the dune so that any weary gay travelers on Highway 12 would know where to find our safe spot.
We always had a big crowd. We held ocean kayaking races, fishing tournaments, and best tan competitions. Afterwards, we wrapped it up with a visit to the Oasis Restaurant on the Nags Head Causeway to hear Laura Martier wail the blues.
Eventually, we started collecting donations to fund the newsletter. We collected enough to take out classified ads in regional gay publications such as The Washington Blade and Our Own Community Press (in Hampton Roads) promoting our private parties and beach days to tourists. We often had vacationers join us as a result, and I made some great friends, many of whom I still count among my besties today.
I moved to Norfolk in 1998, and the group kept plowing away. Eventually, my new life took precedence, and I lost the pulse of what was happening with the GLC.
Then eight years ago, one of the GLC’s founding members, David Miller (who has been associated with The Lost Colony since the colony was lost) founded OBX Pride, Inc. and produced the first-ever OBX Pridefest.
Imagine that! A full on, in your face gay pride celebration on the Outer Banks. It was exciting and somewhat disconcerting at the same time. How would the community accept this public display? It had its challenging moments, but in the end all was for naught. The local norms had evolved in both attitudes and acceptance, and the timing was finally right.
Today, hundreds of visitors from Richmond and DC to Raleigh and Charlotte, both gay and straight, come to celebrate. The Dare County Tourist Bureau is our primary benefactor. The list of businesses that participate in the three-day event has grown impressively long. And I am involved once again as a board member and marketing director for Pridefest.
My husband and I are headed down to the eighth Annual Pridefest this weekend, and I’m excited to see my friends from the GLC days.
But most of all, I’m excited to be home again in a place I’ve loved for 50 years and know that our little grassroots underground movement helped change it for the better.
Poppy Champlin’s stand up pedigree is flawless, from her Showtime special Pride: The Gay & Lesbian Comedy Slam and Logo special One Night Stand Up, to The Oprah Winfrey Show, and a featured story on Entertainment Tonight. She was a winner on The Joan Rivers Show and a panel guest on Comics Unleashed with Byron Allen. She is also a favorite on Atlantis and Olivia Cruises.
Champlin has opened for such comics as Ray Romano, Denis Leary, Bill Maher, Bill Hicks, and Rosie O’Donnell. Her club appearances are many. The Chicago Sun-Times calls Champlin, “Blisteringly funny.”
This Sunday, she brings her wildly successful Queer Queens of Qomedy tour to the Virginia Beach Funny Bone. She combines forces with two equally renowned lesbian comics, Vickie Shaw and Jess Miller—plus two special guests from the local LGBTQ community.
OutWire757 spoke with her recently about the tour and her long history as an out–and sometimes not out–comedienne.
Congratulations! This is the 12thyear of the Queer Queens of Qomedy Tour.
Thanks. We started in 2006. I wanted to be recognized in the lesbian and gay community, and for each tour I’ve pulled in two other lesbian comics to go with me. I’ve had some really good bills. At our first show, we had 450 people show up.
This weekend’s bill is great. What can we expect?
With Vickie, you’re going to get that Southern style and that charm. It’s so infectious, her delivery. She was on one of the original Comedy Central shows, Premium Blend. She’s a regular and a favorite on Olivia Cruises. And she always dresses up real nice. Jessi is like a ringleader, she just really engages the crowd and talks with them. I like her style and mannerisms. She’s been working really hard in New York at Caroline’s. We also have a special appearance by an up and coming local comedian, Carmen Crow. And of course, Julie Clark is going to open the show. I performed with her in Provincetown years ago, and she’s one of my absolute favorites.
Tell me a little bit about how you’ve seen comedy embrace the LGBTQ comics over the years.
That whole thing has changed so much since I started in the 80s. I was right out of college, and I was definitely afraid to come out. It just seemed that all the comedy clubs were so straight-male oriented. Not that the regular comedy clubs have changed that much, but as far as having gay comics on the bill, the audiences don’t flinch as much as they used to. They’re much more accepting of gay color. So that’s really good.
What kind of clubs did you work back in those days? Did you have a gay following?
I didn’t come out until 2000. Because a lot of people around me kept telling me that it would ruin my chances of making it. I wanted to be star, to get a TV show, and get all that going on. Because Hollywood is so casting couch, as is being revealed, and those opportunities were there, I pretended I was straight so I could get these guys to give me a frickin’ leg up. But if I didn’t go all the way and walk the walk as straight, I wasn’t going to get it. And I just couldn’t get a break and make it happen. So I just came out, damn the torpedoes, and since then I’ve been embraced by the gay community. Now I support myself by doing comedy just for the LGBTQ community.
You’ve had your own comedy specials, been on Oprah and Joan Rivers, the list is endless. And you have some great comedy connections.
I really do. I came up through the ranks and paid my dues and have some really nice credits under my belt. I was America’s Funniest Real Woman on the Joan Rivers Show!
It seems that much of your comedy is informed, as much is, from observations in daily life. How do you decide what’s good enough to go into your act?
I skew things towards the audience. Like last night, I was in Denver for a show at a Matthew Sheppard Benefit, and I figured the audience would be more gay men. And when I do the Atlantis Cruises, it’s all gay men, so my routine trends more blue, which gets the biggest laughs from them. Whereas the lesbians, they don’t want it to graphically sexual. And if it’s a straight crowd, I don’t try to jam too much gay and lesbian sex down their throats. I try to keep people just on the edge of their comfort zone.
I love your segment comparing lesbians to postage stamps: once you lick them, they stick.
I have that as a bumper sticker!
When you were in college in Rhode Island, was performing on your radar screen?
I went to college to play basketball. I was really good in high school and broke the standing record with 33 points in one game. So, yeah, that was my thing in college. The coach was a big dyke, and I loved her. I always wanted to play under her. So I played for two years, then dropped out entirely to take a break. And when I went back, acting wason my radar screen, so I got a BFA in Acting. I didn’t know my thing was comedy until I landed the role of a fish in a cabaret, and I had a monologue “My Fish Stick.” I killed every night. “Kelp! Kelp! Is there a sturgeon in the house?” I was like, wow, this is so easy, and I can do this as a job. Then I went through classes at Second City in Chicago. Never made it to the main stage, but was there with folks like Mike Meyers, Bonnie Hunt, Chris Farley.
Where does the tour go from here?
I just put them together throughout the year, depending on which clubs will book us. So from here, I have a one-night with Suzanne Westenhoefer in Syracuse, then down to Texas with Vickie for a couple of nights, then Palm Springs and California in September and November. We just go where they’ll have us.
Are your shows all benefits for LGBTQ organizations, such as this one is for the Life Center?
Yes, everywhere I go, I give back to the centers.
When I was 12, in 1974, my parents started bidding me out as a babysitter for all their party animal friends with kids.
“Yes, Eric loves children,” I overheard my mother say to one of their Ice Party drinking buddies. “We’ll bring him over abound seven, and then you can ride with us.”
I hated it. But I loved the cash in my hand at the end of the night.
After I put their kids to bed, I also loved investigating their houses.
A German couple that I particularly enjoyed babysitting for had a wall full of self-help sex books, including the iconic Joy of Sex. I would inevitably be drawn to it, with its pen and ink illustrations of various sex acts: long haired women and mustached men getting it on in every form and fashion.
But artist renderings of heteronormative sex were not quite enough for my burgeoning libido. It wasn’t until my parents pimped me out to our neighbors, Bill and Stephanie, that I experienced the truth of my sexuality.
I discovered Burt Reynolds at their house.
On my first visit, I walk into their den and was greeted by a life-sized version of Burt’s famous Cosmopolitan nude centerfold displayed unabashedly above the sofa. My eyes grew wide as I slowly examined the length of the six-foot long poster, taking in every inch of his incredibly muscled, tanned, and hairy body. He was stretched out on a bear skin rug, one hand placed strategically between his legs, the other supporting his head of jet-black hair, and a mischievous smile that said, “I know what I’m depriving you of.”
After my parents left with Bill and Stephanie, I couldn’t wait to get their girls to bed so I could examine Burt more carefully. Once they were tucked in, I cued up “The Age of Aquarius” by the Fifth Dimension and hopped up on the sofa for a closer look.
Little did I know that what was turning me on had also turned on women all across the globe.
The 1972 photo — Cosmopolitan magazine’s first male centerfold — was a radical statement at the time. With its publication, Helen Gurley Brown put it out there that women had desires that deserved be acknowledged and catered to. Its publication sparked revolution a in women’s magazines.
Looking back after Reynolds’ death yesterday, the centerfold has a powerful legacy. It captivated readers, challenged ideas about sexuality and spawned a wave of new publications. And while it was the start of Reynolds’ legacy as a sex symbol for women, it was also the start of a longtime male crush for me.
From that moment on I was an uberfan. I saw all of his movies of the 1970s, from Smokey and the Bandit to The Longest Yard. I picked up any magazine that bore his face on the cover. And I fantasized that he would someday arrive on my doorstep to rescue me from my dysfunctional household and adopt me as his son.
As I matured, that obsession mellowed a bit, but never dimmed completely. I watched his movies that had been released before I was old enough to see them: Deliverance, White Lightning, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing. I kept my eyes out for old reruns of his episodes of Gunsmoke and his super-sexy lead role as police investigator Dan August.
When Boogie Nights was released in 1997, I was astounded by his performance as the creepy yet lovable porn filmmaker—a role that lead to an Academy Award nomination.
Much to my delight, he turned up in a hilarious cameo on The Golden Girls in 1986—still one of my favorite episodes. I watched Evening Star every week just to watch him chew up the scenery in a role that lead to numerous Golden Globe and Emmy nominations.
He possessed an incredible charisma on screen and off, and he delivered his performances with an infectious grin and twinkle is his eye. He was the complete package, my ultimate definition of strong masculinity and gentle kindness all in one.
And he is still one of the sexiest men in the world.
Here’s to Mr. Burt Reynolds (said in Blanche Devereaux voice) who passed away yesterday at the age of 82.
In 1987, the American AIDS epidemic had ravaged the gay community for six years. Beginning with a smattering of mystifying cases in 1981, the number of reported deaths from the disease doubled every year afterwards. By the end of 1987, the deaths of 41,000 primarily gay men brought the toll nationwide to over 86,000.
Already stigmatized and mostly closeted, the LGBT community was horrified not only by the scope of death, but by the lack of action on the part of President Regan’s administration.
Regan’s policymakers routinely joked publicly about “queers deserving to die.” Misinformation regarding spread of the disease ran rampant without any attempt by the CDC or the administration to research or rectify it. And our president refused to acknowledge the crisis. Indeed, it was five years after the first deaths before he even mentioned the word “AIDS” in a policy speech.
By 1987, the gay community’s frustration had grown into outright anger, and legendary gay activist Larry Kramer had had enough. In March of that year, he stood in front of an agitated gay audience and asked, “Do we want to start a new organization devoted to political action?” The answer was a resounding “Yes!” Two days later, he founded ACT UP.
For those of us old enough to remember, ACT UP gave us the first glimmer of hope that maybe our voices would be heard. On my 25th birthday that year, I lived in Greensboro, NC, the heart of the conservative South. I was one of those disenfranchised gay men, angry, scared and sad. I had already lost one friend. I would lose four more before all was said and done. I had little hope for my future, and remained mostly closeted to all but my closest friends and family.
The evening, I watched a segment on the national news about ACT UP. That day, 250 members arrived on Wall Street in Manhattan and began to protest. Waving signs, including the historic slogan “SILENCE = DEATH,” and chanting “Act Up, Fight AIDS!”, they called attention to the inequitable alliance between the FDA and Burroughs-Wellcome that prevented drug research from moving forward–even though the drugs were somewhat effective in treating HIV. An effigy of the FDA commissioner, Frank Young, was hung. As the day progressed, the protestors sat in the street, stopping traffic and leading to 17 arrests.
Several weeks later, the FDA announced the speedup of other AIDS-fighting drugs. Many groups credited ACT-UP. I became an ardent fan of this revolutionary group, devouring everything I could find about them in the media. Chapters were confined to larger metropolitan areas, but amongst my inner circle of gay friends, talk began to turn towards ways we could join the fight. We took some small actions towards AIDS awareness in our red community, many of my friends came barreling out of the closet, and we began to feel hopeful.
In the years that followed, ACT UP’s membership increased in size and volume. Their urgent and disobedient protests became regular stories in the national media. In 1988, one such protest successfully shut down the Food & Drug Administration for a day. Media reported that it was the largest such demonstration since those against the Vietnam War.
They also took on the Catholic Church, the National Institute of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and the public school system. They even disrupted a 1991 live broadcast of the CBS Evening News.
By the mid 1990s, their demand for a national dialogue about the AIDS epidemic was beginning to show results. Public opinion shifted in favor of the gay community and AIDS research. Government funding became available, first in trickle, then in a flood.
And ACT UP’s mission began to change. Today, they are still an active, albeit a much quieter, gentler organziation. Founder Larry Kramer is still alive and kicking in New York, still leading and challenging the LGBT community at every turn.
He believes (as do I) that the federal government basically murdered over 500,000 men due to their indifference towards the LGBT community. But he also believes that the gay community is partially responsible for those deaths because we took so long to speak up.
In 2007, Kramer wrote, “Our own country’s democratic process declares us to be unequal, which means, in a democracy, that our enemy is you. You treat us like crumbs. You hate us. And sadly, we let you.”
It took years, but ACT UP’s policy of civil disobedience did effect a fundamental change. In fact, their success proves that if any disenfranchised community is subject to the blatant and unfettered murder of its people with no adequate response from our lawmakers, it becomes a requirement.
If you have never felt the utter despair and anger, helplessness and hopelessness that comes from the avoidable death of someone you love simply because your leaders didn’t care, then you probably won’t agree with this statement: Black Lives Matter.
I fully support the African American community in their loud and proud dissent. Because the alternative is silence.
And silence equals death.
Sandra Bernhard has been a show business stalwart for some three decades in a career that has seen her in films (most memorably in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy” as psycho-stalker Masha), off-Broadway, Broadway, television (“Roseanne,” “Will & Grace,” “Difficult People”), and now radio. But it is her solo stage shows where she mixes music and commentary in equal measure that show Bernhard at her pointed best.
For the past three years Bernhard has added radio personality to her resume with a daily show on Andy Cohen’s SiriusXM channel called “Sandyland” that has endeared her to many new fans. On the show, she interviews other celebrities as well as offering her pointed commentary on a variety of pop culture subjects.
“Sandemonium” is an extension of her radio show: a nod to craziness with the wisdom and sanity of someone who’s been here before, plus a touch of her signature sass and snark. “This too shall pass,” she consoles. “Trump’s not going to be president forever. We had Nixon. We had Attila the Hun, and humans lived through that.”
Outwire757 recently spoke with the eclectic performer and long-time LGBTQ advocate for more of Sandy’s Words of Wisdom.
OUTWIRE757: So you are everywhere all the time right now. I love that.
BERNHARD: Yeah baby!
OUTWIRE757: But you’ve always been prolific. I saw your show at Jane Street in 2001. What’s the biggest difference between 2001 Sandra shows and your current ones?
BERNHARD: I just think it’s about shedding your skin as a performer, and every year that you hone your craft as an artist you come closer to your essence. I think sometimes I’m more able to access more of my emotions without becoming maudlin. Of course, that’s a no-no in my world. I just think I’m always able to maintain a certain distance and certain sophistication about my material and my approach to my performing. So, in many ways, it’s a continuum and in some ways, I’ve stripped away more and more of the artifice. But that artifice is part of what makes a performer interesting.
OUTWIRE757: So, from everything I’ve heard, we can expect more of Sandra’s world when “Sandemonium” blows into town.
BERNHARD: Yeah, yeah. My world has always been funny mash up of the outside world and the inside world. So that continues. And as the world keeps spinning on its axis, and you see more and more of the craziness, it’s up to your artists and performers to distill out the crap and give you the diamonds.
OUTWIRE757: You know you’re going to be in the heart of Pat Robertsonland, right?
BERNHARD: Yeah, but I figured this is a performing arts center, and wherever you are in the country right now, there are pockets of people who are starving for alternative entertainment. I’m sure plenty of great people will show up. In my Sirius radio show “Sandyland,” I’ve actually reached people who never knew what I did, and they daily listen to me and call me up and say, I don’t agree with your politics, but I love you. So, it’s a funny thing, and I’m sure some of those people will show up, too. And they won’t be offended by the show. They’ll be uplifted and entertained, and maybe have some light shed on things they might not have ever been exposed to.
OUTWIRE757: Speaking of “Sandyland,” how’s the adjustment to from live performance to radio, and center stage to talk show host?
BERNHARD: It took a couple of months to get my sea legs, but once I got my rhythm, it’s been great. And again, I open up a show with something akin to what I do in my performances–not as well-honed, but some sort of improvisation about what’s happened in my day and or what I’ve heard about from the world, whether it’s music, fashion, or politics. I try to keep it very eclectic, and so it is kind of a natural fit. It’s also more conversation that interview anyway. I mean, I drive the conversation and keep it going, but I just want to bring out the best in the people in have on.
OUTWIRE757: Growing up the 60s and 70s, we had no openly queer role models. But there were plenty of pop culture idols. Who did you identify with?
BERNHARD: Oh my god, so many people. From Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Channing, Barbara Streisand to Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Tina Turner. I mean, all the iconic people of the day. They had a profound influence of the way I perceive the world and how I perform.
OUTWIRE757: Do you kind of miss the rough and tumble queer world of the 60s and 70s? Are we too gentrified now?
BERNHARD: Yes, I do think so. And yes, I do miss it. When I first moved to LA in 1974, and I was out every night dancing at Studio One with all the people celebrating, just going crazy, it was just a different world. It was separate from the straight world, and yet sort of unapologetic. I do miss that, and of course the AIDS crisis had so much to do with the change in the culture. But, you know, wanting the equality naturally moves people to be more mainstream, and you do lose some of the fun and spontaneity of those times.
OUTWIRE757: But now I know kids who are barely teenagers who are coming out not only as gay or bi, but trans. Some are even transitioning with their parents’ support.
BERNHARD: Oh yes, I think that’s really great that parents now just go, well, you’re on your path, and I’m here to guide and support you. As it should be.
OUTWIRE757: Now you’re a parent of an adult woman. How does your experience inform your parenting?
BERNHARD: A lot of it pivots off the relationship I had with my mother. She was great, an artist, one of a kind, but she wasn’t always there in the way I needed her to be. I try to step back and let my daughter be who she is. But when she needs more of me or my partner (of 18 years, Sara Switzer), we’re here. I think that we dole out good advice. We don’t impose it, but when we see her having missteps, we jump in. We give her a lot of space, and a lot of love.
OUTWIRE757: I believe you said that your iconic role as lesbian Nancy Bartlett on “Roseanne” was both a blessing and a curse.
BERNHARD: I never said that, I think that someone must have misquoted me. No, I love the role, she’s back, and my episode airs sometime in May. It’s really fun. It reintroduces Nancy and picks up where she left off. Yeah, I love that character and I love the ensemble. I just wish it was less politicized than it is. But I feel like now everyone is calming down and enjoying the show for what it is: a funny, down to earth commentary on working middle class America.
OUTWIRE757: From Nancy’s perspective, what do you think ever happened to The Lunchbox?
BERNHARD: I think we sold it, or just dumped it, or declared bankruptcy probably.
OUTWIRE757: Will Sandra Bernhard make an appearance on “Will and Grace?” Perhaps with another apartment to sell?
BERNHARD: I don’t think they’re going to bring me back on that show. That’s a story line that played out, and it was super fun and iconic. But I don’t think there’s anything left to tell.
OUTWIRE757: Finally, where is Masha today?
BERNHARD: Masha today is probably running a nonprofit organization. She finally got her shit together.
Richmond native Emily Skinner is the epitome of Broadway’s leading lady.
Over her 26 years in the biz, she has played leading roles in such Broadway productions as Prince of Broadway, Jekyll & Hyde, James Joyce’s The Dead, The Full Monty, Dinner at Eight, and Billy Elliot.
Skinner’s role as one half of a pair of Siamese twins in Side Show earned her critical acclaim and a Tony Award nomination shared with co-star Alice Ripley
She recorded an excellent self-titled solo album, which was released in 2001, and she has sung with orchestras around the world.
This winter, she will appear in The Cher Show as Georgia Holt, Cher’s mother, in the Broadway run at the Neil Simon Theatre which begins previews November 1.
This Saturday night, she comes to Hampton Roads as the headliner at the Hampton Arts 31st Anniversary Gala, an invitation extended by Richard Parison, artistic director and a friend since their days in Richmond together.
It’s amazing to look back over your career how much you’ve been involved in. Just the last two years alone is impressive. When do you sleep?
It’s good to be busy and have diverse projects. I really love my career, and I’ve worked hard to get here.
What can we expect from your concert this week at the Hampton Arts Gala?
I think pretty much everything. Everything I’m going to sing is from Broadway. I like variety, so I try to mix up the program with a wide range of classic stuff and contemporary stuff. I’ve got everything in there: Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein. I even have some Mae West.
You have bounced back and forth from Broadway musical to Cabaret to stage actress and recording artist. What jazzes you the most?
That’s so hard! I really like it all. When I sing a lot, there’s a part of me that says, “Gosh, I wish I was doing a play.” And when I’m doing a play, I want to do a musical. It’s good to go back and forth and hit everything. I sort of feel like when I’m performing a musical or cabaret, it tends to be a little more a giving to the audience. Versus when I’m doing legit acting, it feels a little more internal.
Do you have any new recordings in the works?
The Cher Show cast album will be out at the beginning of the year, that’s the big one.
Speaking of the Cher Show, wow, Georgia Holt. What an iconic role to play.
She’s an interesting mother.
How did you prepare to play her?
I was asked to audition for the show, and I didn’t really know anything about Cher’s mom. So I Googled her and watched lots of footage of Cher and her mom online, including the documentary that Cher did about her. I have this weird thing when I’m asked to go on auditions. I have to be able to visualize myself playing the role, or I don’t bother. And as soon as I started to watch Georgia, I thought, yeah, I know who she is. I can do this.
They put my audition on tape for Cher so she could have final approval on casting. She caretakes her mother in such a beautiful way, so I was incredibly honored when I got the part. I knew Cher sat there in her Malibu home, watched the tape and picked me.
I read that after the pre-Broadway run in Chicago, Cher said she loved it, but in typical Cher fashion, said it needed a little work.
And she’s right. And that’s why we love her. She’s such a straight shooter, uncensored. No pretense, no bullshit.
And now you’re taking that role to Broadway this autumn.
Yes, we start rehearsals right after the Gala on October 1, and then it’s out there.
I was intrigued in your participation in the AIDS themed Elegies for Angels, Punks, and Raging Queensback in the day. How did you get involved in that?
Oh my gosh, this is such a weird story. I had first heard the song My Brother Lived in San Franciscoyears ago when I was in college. And I thought it was a beautiful song. When I auditioned for Sideshow, I actually used that song. At the end of my audition, there were a bunch of people in the room, and a guy stood up from the table and said, “I wrote that song.” And it was Bill Russell, who wrote the music for Elegies and for Side Show.
I was so lucky to be in that production, and I’ve been in different versions of it over the last 15 years. It’s such a moving and beautiful show. The monologues that make it up are knockout, and the songs are gorgeous. I’m so happy it keeps getting done.
You were in the original cast of Prince of Broadway, which debuted in Tokyo. Is there any difference between American theater audiences and Japanese audiences?
Well, you know, I will say in Asia they love American musical theater. They’re wild for it. So our audiences were crazy for that show. There’s really very little book in that show. It’s literally back-to-back 11 o’clock numbers from Harold Princes’ shows. And most of the shows, Phantom and West Side Story, they’re in our musical consciousness internationally. Everyone knows them. I think in the future they’re going to continue to play that show internationally because it did do well in Asia.
I was looking at the impressive roster of your leading male co-stars over the years. Who are some your favorites?
Oh, that is so hard! I did a show with Chris Walken years ago, and he is a riot. He’s so on his own special planet. He was wildly kind and entertaining to work with. He was always trying to keep things fresh, and he always had things in his pockets. Sometimes he would pull out peanuts, shell them, then throw them at me. Or he’d take out a pickle and start eating it. So he was a lot of fun.
So you and Alice (Ripley): you two are so fantastic in everything you do. How in your mind has that relationship evolved over the years?
We sort of yin and yang each other. We’re wacky. It’s funny, they say we become more of who we are innately as we age, and that’s definitely true of Alice and myself. We’re both super busy with our own projects, but we do get together on some concert stuff occasionally. We have a new show coming up in January.
You also have your own show, and I get this affinity from you for the classic Broadway musicals of the last century.
I grew up with a mother who loved classic Broadway, and she had a cast album collection. So I grew up listening to that. That’s always where my first love is. That’s when people really knew how to craft, you know? They knew how to sit down and write a three-page song that would knock you in the guts. And when you have great material, you really don’t need to bell and whistle things up.
I read something about one of your early teachers in Richmond giving you a hot minute in class to perform.
Yup, that’s true. So many times kids these days get diagnosed with ADD, and many times all they need is an outlet. I am a case study of that kid. I was so manic. I was so hyper. They weren’t going to pass me on to first grade.
At some point towards the end of my kindergarten year, my teacher said, “OK Emily, you’re going to get 15 minutes every day to entertain the class.” And that was the opening of Pandora’s box. After about three weeks of this, my teacher called my mother and said, “I just thought you should know that you have an entertainer on your hands.”
That was an early and correct diagnosis!
Yes, she was right. So always think that if I ever won anything in my whole life with regards to the theater, I would stand up and thank that kindergarten teacher.
Judy Gold is one of the most prolific and multifaceted comics working today.
Her career has spanned 35 years, from the golden days of the New York comedy circuit in the 80s to present-day guest starring roles on a multitude of the hottest TV shows.
She also just happens to be a gay Jewish mother, experiences that inform much of her standup act.
Through it all, she has remained outspoken and unafraid to take on anyone and any topic with a twinkle in her eye that let’s you know it’s just a joke. But a joke that makes you think.
OutWire757 had the opportunity to speak with Judy in advance of her appearance this at Outer Banks Pridefest and take a walk through her stellar career and her million-miles-a-minute head.
I love your podcast, “Kill Me Now.” You have had every imaginable person on that podcast. How do you determine who you want to talk to? Is there anyone left?
I have a wish list, and it’s really people I find interesting. I mean, it runs the gamut. I’ll have Amy Schumer, then I’ll have Lorraine Newman. Marilyn Maye was this week. I fucking love Marilyn Maye. It’s sometimes a challenge because the advertisers are like, Marilyn Maye, who’s that? But it makes for a better podcast. Just the showbiz stories she has! I mean, the more you’ve lived, the better stories you have.
And those interviews have become a huge archive that never existed before.
Yeah, that’s what I really love. I just find people interesting, and I want know what makes them who they are. I don’t want to talk about what you’re plugging. I had Christine Taylor (Ben Stiller’s wife) on. She was really popular in high school, and she got some commercial, then they were all mean to her. And she said to me, “No one’s going to care about this.” And I was like, yes they are! We’re all still in high school. Life is fucking high school. Showbiz is definitely high school. And now the fucking bully is the president of the class.
The best part is that are no parameters. I can do whatever the fuck I want. And I love hearing what pisses people off.
You’ve had a veritable Who’s Who of LGBTQ guests, too.
Yes, Rosie, Guy Branum, Lady Bunny, Lea Deluria. One of my favorites was Roberta Kaplan (Edith Windsor’s the attorney in the DOMA case).
It feels a lot like Sandra Bernhard’s Sirius XM talk show.
I was just on her show this morning pimping the Nags Head thing!
You got your start winning Emmys for writing on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show.” How did you and Rosie cross paths?
I knew Rosie before she was famous. She was good friends with this comic Margaret Smith who’s not in the standup business anymore but was pretty famous back in the 70s and 80s. Margaret was staying with me in New York, and she introduced me to Rosie. We all became good friends from the clubs. It’s like all these people! Ray Romano and John Stewart, Louis CK.
You talk a lot about ageism and how its impact on women in the business is much more profound than it is for men. How do you adapt your act to stay relevant and get bookings?
Oh, it’s definitely harder on women. And, look, I love the male comics. I mean, no one is telling Louis Black he’s too old, you know? I focus on the work and doing the job. I could let them get me down and give them power. Or I can just look at the people who have influenced me, like Joan Rivers who was never more relevant at 82 when she died.
There’s this misconception that standup comedy has this demographic of young white straight guys. Well, I’ve never been funnier. And I’m going to get funnier the more I live. I’m fearless. You can’t say anything to me that I haven’t heard before. I have heard it all: you’re too this or not enough that, you can’t say this, you can’t say that. Fuck you! Don’t tell me what to do.
I’ve been doing this for over 35 years. No one is going to stop me. I’m out five, six nights a week doing standup. I was at the Comedy Cellar last night, and I was like oh my God! I look around, and I’m twenty some years older than these people. But this is what I am, I’m a comic, and I love it.
Does the traveling get hard?
Traveling sucks, I never liked it. When I started travelling it was horrible because we had no cell phones, no computers. I had one suitcase that was a junk drawer. I would literally throw all my shit in there. I travelled with a two-cup coffee maker and coffee from Zabars because it was pre-Starbucks. And it was so isolating. You couldn’t use the phone in the hotel because it would chew up your whole salary.
Travelling now is way better than it was because you’re much more connected. But I still hate the packing. I’ve been doing this so long, and whenever I have to pack, it’s two days of anxiety. I’ve been stranded so many times that now I’m like, OK, bring enough antidepressants in case there’s a fucking terrorist attack or natural disaster.
But once I get there, I love it, getting in front of the audiences who love you back.
You have cobbled together this patchwork career of television and movie cameos, and my husband and I cheer when you pop up. The latest thing we saw you in was your quick turn on TBS’ “Search Party.”
I love that! You know, it’s so nice that these people just ask me to do these things. I did “Broad City,” and I just did “Friends From College.” But I want the regular thing, not the cameo. You know what I’m talking about?
Is that in your future?
You tell me!
You’ve also done a ton of writing, and you received accolades for “25 Questions for Jewish Mothers,” which earned you a GLAAD Award.
That show was the first show I wrote with my writing partner Kate Moira Ryan. I had just become a mother, and I said I can’t with these going to clubs and travelling. I want to do a one-person show, but I don’t want it to be my standup act with music behind it.
So, we actually went around the country interviewing Jewish mothers. Initially it was to find out if the stereotype was real. But it ended up being this amazing journey that morphed into a stage show and a book.
In the show, I talk a lot about coming out and being gay and a Jew and a mother, and it was so cathartic for people. Gay kids would come see the show, then bring their parents back with them and come out . I got so many letters from kids who had been shunned by their families, who said they never thought they could be Jewish and gay until they saw that show.
What was your personal experience growing up gay in a Jewish household in New Jersey in the 60s and 70s?
Well, I always knew I was gay. You don’t know what it is until you’re an adolescent. You’re like, wait, I’m different. I’m not going to get a Barbie, I want to mow the lawn. You realize what it is, and to grow up in that era…I mean you’re my age, and you know how it is thinking it’s the most horrible thing. You can’t tell anyone else, and you think it’s going to be over if you tell anyone else. The fear.
And then the AIDS crisis hits, oh my God! But that actually brought the community together, so that was one positive. I think that was the catalyst for marriage equality as well. But it just wasn’t easy keeping that secret.
I feel you, but there’s a part of me that kind of misses those hard knock days when we had to fight for our lives. Our community seems so splintered now that we’re acceptable.
I spend the summers in Provincetown, my girlfriend and I have a house there. And I sit on that same beach that I’ve been going to since the mid-Eighties. Now we have our equality, and there’s straight people there. I’m like, NOOOO! Go to Hyannis! You have the whole rest of the Cape.
There was something about being on that beach in the Eighties, and everyone single one of us was going through the same shit. But there we were, just for one week a year, living our lives, having fun. There was such a connection.
Now it sometimes feels like the community is just kicking itself in the face. Now we have gender politics going on. I’m like, hey, I fought for your rights, and if I make a joke about you, and you get offended, don’t give me that “I don’t feel safe” shit. Sorry, the world is not safe place. Plus, it’s a fucking joke!
I am very proud to be a part of this community. I have seen a lot, and I’ve been through it. And I have a lot to say about it. Because, come on, let’s stop taking ourselves so fucking seriously.
In the late 1980s, I began the work on a genealogy of my father’s family. At that time, all I had to guide me was curiosity, a few newspaper clippings in a family scrapbook, and my father’s dim recollections of his family tree.
This was long before the advent of the internet, and most of the work involved diving deep into musty old papers, wills, land deeds and marriage records in the libraries and county offices of North Carolina.
Fine with me. I love research and discovery. I was living in Greensboro, halfway between my father’s ancestral home in the Appalachian foothills and the state archives in Raleigh, so all was in easy reach.
I did not know then that I was about to embark on what would ultimately become a 20-year search (that continues today) for the Hause family. What I found was a tale that is as American as America itself.
I found immigrants who had fled the religious conflicts in Germany in 1763 and braved the North Atlantic Ocean for the promise of a better life.
I uncovered the forgotten challenges faced by pioneers who carved their lives out of the North Carolina wilderness.
I met patriots who rose up against the oppression of King George III.
I met every day laborers and farmers trying eke a living out of an uncivilized land.
And I found my connection to the Civil War.
Like most Southerners, I’ve always held a fascination with the subject. Part of that stems from my childhood in eastern North Carolina where I was surrounded by friends descended from the Confederacy. As young child who didn’t know any better, and I tended to mimic some of the racist behavior I saw and heard on the playgrounds.
My I rode the school bus one year, and there was a black kid on the route who mercilessly bullied me. One afternoon, after I arrived home, my brother and I were sitting at the kitchen table having a snack. My mother was across the room working on dinner. I was telling him about that day’s encounter with this bully, and I used that word.
Out of the blue, my mother’s arm grew 20 feet, came at me from across the room, and connected with the side of my head in a full-fisted right hook that knocked me out of my chair.
When the stars cleared, she was hovering over me.
“The next time I hear you say that word,” she said, “I’ll kill you.”
I learned a valuable lesson that day. First, she wasn’t having that bullshit in her house. Second, I had no doubt she would keep her promise of murder.
Fast-forward 15 years to the day I met my Civil War ancestor, Andrew J. Hause, in the North Carolina State Archives. His colorful life was well documented, and he became the focal point of my research.
He was a bricklayer born only a mile from where his great-grandfather had settled after emigrating from Germany. Two days after Fort Sumter fell, he and 12 of his brothers and cousins enlisted in the Confederate Army. He served under Robert E. Lee’s command in the Virginia Theater. In 1862, 80 miles up the road from where I live today in a battle outside Richmond, he was shot in his left eye.
He survived that egregious wound, spent nine months in a Confederate hospital in Richmond, and was released. He returned to his home in Spartanburg, South Carolina, blinded in one eye, the bullet still in his head. He died in 1906 at 83 years old, the last Confederate veteran in his county.
His tombstone is inscribed with this:
“No monument of fame rear o’er the lonely bed
But carve beneath his name on a stone above his head
A man who wore the gray here slumbers with the dead.”
As I dug deeper into the records, I realized that he and his people were not landed gentry. They were millers and small farmers and house painters. Andrew was a bricklayer by trade and didn’t own slaves.
I thought they couldn’t have possibly fought against the Union because they supported the “peculiar institution.” I assumed that like their grandparents who had rebelled against an unjust King, their motivation was rooted in protection of their homeland against foreign invaders.
What a story. I had found my Civil War hero, and he was evidence that not all Southerners who fought in that war were racist.
In the following years, as I strode deeper into the wider world, I began to more fully comprehend the terrible impact of slavery on our collective psyche. I began to cultivate friends who were working to heal the racial divide, and I engaged in conversations with African American scholars and friends who explained that deep injuries remained which had their roots in slavery.
It was our original sin as one author labeled it–a moniker that resonates with me today. Slowly, I began to question the pride I felt in my Confederate people.
And then came the Internet.
One evening about 20 years ago, I sat down at my computer and Googled “Andrew J. Hause.” Several results returned, and one caught my eye: “AJ Hause, LD Wright, and WD Hardy to Abraham Lincoln: South Carolinians Offer to buy Hamlin.”
It was a letter archived in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Papers in the Library of Congress. I pulled up the letter’s image, and in a handwritten scrawl that may have been my ancestor’s, I read the words.
At first, they made no sense:
“Spartanburg, S. C.
Nov 27 1860
We understand you have a very likely & intelligent mulatto boy you would dispose of on reasonable terms being engaged in negro trading if you will let us know what you will take for the boy Hannibal known as Hannibal Hamlin and your price is reasonable we will purchase him and are prepared to meet you with the cash at Richmond Va on the 18 Decr inst. Your early attention to the above will oblige
J D Wright
W D Hardy
I had so many questions. Who was Hannibal Hamlin? Why were Andrew and his friends offering to buy him?
After further Googling, I discovered that Hannibal Hamlin was a Senator from Maine and Lincoln’s running mate in the 1860 election. Southerners were terrified that Lincoln and Hamlin would win the White House and abolish slavery.
To exacerbate that fear, Southern newspapers perpetuated a rumor that Hamlin, who had dark hair, a wide nose, and vaguely dark features was of mixed race and thus an agent in Lincoln’s abolition agenda. Most Southerners took it as gospel, and apparently my ancestor did as well.
Along with that discovery came some disturbing, long-forgotten memories of my father’s family. They floated up from my childhood like lava from a long slumbering crater.
I remembered my grandmother’s housekeeper Rosa. She was 300 pounds of pure African love, had a huge grin and raucous laugh that I loved, and spoiled me rotten on my summer visits to my Mema’s house.
I loved her to death.
We sat in her tiny back room, watched soap operas, and poured peanuts into our Coca Colas while she ironed every napkin, every sheet, and every stich of cloth in that huge house.
My grandmother, while never overtly ugly towards her, was stern and treated her with only minimal respect. Rosa was not welcomed in the main house unless she had been tasked with flipping mattresses or invited to fix a plate to take back to her room.
I remembered our next-door neighbors, the Norcotts, a black family with a son about my age, Joe. We were carefree kids, and my brothers and I played together with him every day after school.
Joe was frequent visitor in our house. My Mema was visiting when he came over one afternoon to watch TV. After he left, my grandmother sat me and my bothers down and admonished us. “Boys, it’s fine to play with them,” she said, “but it’s not right to invite then into your house.”
I remembered William, my best friend in junior high school. He lived across the river with his adoptive aunt. He would often come home with me after school, and we’d hang out, listen to records, and gossip about the day’s events.
He and I talked on the phone every night after dinner, and we’d turn each other on to the music of the mid-70s by playing each other the latest 45s we had bought. We walked the halls of the school dishing on everyone and laughing our asses off at those who didn’t get it. We were writers and to each other’s delight, swapped putrid little stories we had banged out on our manual typewriters.
Twenty years later, I caught up with him briefly, and we told each other what we already knew: that we were both gay. Then we drifted apart again.
I miss him now because I realize now that he was my first real “sister.” I love him, and I hope he’s reading this because he was at the center of a shift in my understanding of my family and their history.
The pivot point was one stellar Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1976. William and I hadn’t seen each other since school recessed, so at my invitation, he rode the City bus to my house.
We went up to Pitt Plaza where we bought a hot dog and fries at Eckerd’s diner, then went next door to the Record Bar where the clerk put on some of the latest albums we wanted to hear.
When we got back to my house, we were hot and sweaty.
He asked, “Can I take a shower before I go home?”
I directed him to my dad’s bathroom so he could have some privacy. Afterwards, my mother drove him home. While she was gone, my father came home.
“Did you take a shower in my bathroom?” he asked. He was very proprietary about his space.
“No,” I answered, “My friend William was over here, and he did.”
“William?” he asked. “That black kid?”
I nodded yes.
He was very quiet for a minute. Then, without another word, he went into his bathroom and scrubbed the shower from top to bottom.
As I sat in from of my computer 20 years ago with Andrew’s letter in front of me, these memories jostling for space, the epiphany that racism had woven its insidious tendrils through the succeeding generations of my family, right up to my father, cast a cold shadow of bloody original sin right at my feet.
My ancestor’s role in history was clear to me. He was a racist, pure and simple.
There was no way around that now, and all the hero worship in the world could not excuse it.