Heather Gold is not your typical setup-punchline-laugh-repeat stand up comedian. She bakes cookies during her shows. She helped 20 college students come out of the closet during an hour-long performance. She gives keynote talks, teaches workshops, acts, and, of course, does stand up. Gold, who will be performing at the Twin Cities Jewish Humor Festival on January 23, offers some insight into her unique comedy world.
Sometimes the comedy scene can be pretty brutal. You may get underpaid, not paid at all, blacklisted from a club, and have to suck up to people. What is the scene like in LA?
Comedy is generally underpaid. The only strike I’ve ever heard of was when Letterman, Leno and the comics of that time who played the Comedy Store in the mid-80s went on strike to get paid the rate we are all still being paid when we [work] in clubs. A big myth for the audience at lots of local shows is that they paid the comics when they paid to see the show. Some of the great joy of comedy is that there is no guild, no license, no degree required and it’s really clear that you learn it by doing it. The web is fantastic for comedy.This is where I disagree with a lot of well-known comics. You can build your own relationship with an audience. Everyone doesn’t have the same access to the mainstream clubs or the best connection to the audience for whom they’re producing.
Have you worked any conventional jobs?
I actually went to law school (where I began doing stand up) and worked in Hollywood and in Silicon Valley. Those jobs were sometimes mundane and sometimes not so conventional : I ran a P+L spreadsheet on Dumb and Dumber and I worked for Tony Fadell’s start-up that began to figure out what digital music service and player and purchasing could look like before he went to Apple and worked on the iPod and iPhone.
How did you decide to focus on comedy?
Cliche, but I guess it chose me. I wrote my first play when I was eight and got my cousins to play the other parts so I could do the comedic one. Law school drove me to do comedy more. I needed it for the sanity. When I said the same stuff I would say in class, but on stage, it went over much better.
How do you perform comedy immediately after a Sandy Hook or a personal tragedy?
I did a show in NYC that Jen Kirkman ran a few months after 9/11. As soon as I got into a bit about 9/11, I could feel I’d stepped into completely different territory. I’d actually never felt a room feel like that before or since. I acknowledged what was going on in the room and riffed on that. For me, comedy is like chicken soup after these things. But, then again, I have a dark sense of humor; I’m Jewish.
I had to do a gig hours after my grandmother died. Ironically it was for Hadassah, an organization she had belonged to and loved, and the only heckling I got was from a lady who kept asking whether or not I was going to be a lawyer. So I kind of felt like her spirit was right there in the room heckling me and giving me advice which is Jewish love.
What’s your biggest comedy achievement?
I helped about 20 students come out in about an hour in a show I did at an East coast college.
What’s your biggest comedy goal?
To make great work that lasts long beyond me. ..and to hang out with Mel Brooks.
This interview was made possible in part with support from the Howard B. & Ruth F. Brin Jewish Arts Endowment, a fund of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation’s Foundation, and Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council, an initiative of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.