BY TARA DUBLIN
TALKING TO ELON GOLD was like having a conversation with a cousin I hadn’t seen since his Bar Mitzvah in the early 80s. We’re both Gen X Jews (in fact, we spoke the day after he turned 52) from the Tri-State area (he grew up in the Pelham Parkway area of the Bronx, while I was a 15-minute drive from the Jersey shore), and we both agreed we came up in the “prime time” for Jewish comedy.
Before we got going, I warned Elon–who is very observant, down to the daily tefillin–that I am a self described “Bad Jew,” but this didn’t faze him at all, because Elon Gold embraces literally all humans at any stage in their belief systems. We actually did not linger on the topic of religion, sticking more to how our similar backgrounds informed our cultural Jewishness, specifically our humor. It’s our defense mechanism and our great strength. There’s no one funnier than Jews, we agreed (comedy is just tragedy plus time, with additional suffering for us), and Elon Gold is one of the funniest.
One of three creative and talented sons who tried the typical straight-and-narrow paths taken by a lot of smart Jewish kids (medicine, Wall Street) only to eschew it for show business (his brother Steven Gold is a composer and music producer, working primarily in the areas of television and film; his youngest brother, the prolific artist/rapper Ari Gold, who was also openly gay, passed away in February 2021 after a long battle with leukemia), Elon was obsessed with comedy from a young age and never once shied away from his Jewishness when performing. In fact, he learned not only to embrace it, but he made it a central part of his stand-up after he inadvertently learned an important lesson in embracing his Jewishness from his father.
Elon’s father worked as an assistant principal, but he and his wife loved Broadway. So with the little bit of extra money he had, he would go to “backer’s auditions” where he could invest in plays and musicals before they got to Broadway. “So I invested in many shows that opened and closed,” Elon says, relishing the eventual punchline that only he knows is coming. And then there was one show he saw before it ever went to Broadway and he said, “This is an amazing show. It’s probably the best show I’ve ever seen, but it’s too Jewish. I’m not going to invest in it.” Then, after the perfect dramatic pause for effect: “Of course, that was ‘Fiddler On the Roof,’” Elon delivers. “And thanks to that decision, we grew up in an apartment in the Bronx instead of in a nice house up in Westchester. That taught me a lesson. Never be afraid to be too Jewish or to invest in anything that’s too Jewish.”
Elon’s first special, which was released in 2014 on Netflix and is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, is called “Elon Gold: Chosen & Taken.” He equates his comedy to how Jennifer Lopez has albums in both English and Spanish for “her people.” Elon has one act where he has bits about being Jewish but then he has another act that’s so Jewish that non-Jews would not understand many of the references. “Sometimes I put on a warning label, ‘Some material may not be suitable for gentiles,’” says Elon. “We did that on a poster of my first one-man show that premiered at the Montreal Comedy Festival, which was called ‘Elon Gold Half Jewish, Half Very Jewish.’” “I never shy away from my Jewishness in my comedy, in anything I’m doing in show business,” Elon said. “Over the last decade or so, I’ve had two careers and certainly two acts. I call it showbiz and shul biz.” *rimshot*
Aside from his acting work on the 11th season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” as “The Hulu Executive,” Elon also starred in the sitcom “Stacked” with Pamela Anderson, guest-starred in “The Mentalist,” “Crashing,” and “Frasier,” and has appeared on “The Tonight Show” an impressive 10 times. But for me, the first thing that pops into my Gen X brain is Elon’s spot-on impression of Jeff Goldblum, which is absolute genius. He also does killer impressions of Howard Stern, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Alec Baldwin, and more. And leave it to a smart, creative, and clever son of an educator to figure out a great way to maximize his time during a time of historic stagnancy: the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not only did Elon use everyone’s forced captivity to his advantage, he somehow managed to become somewhat ubiquitous while never leaving his LA home by turning his back office into a makeshift studio with cameras and lights and started “My Funny Quarantine” on Instagram Live. Every night, Monday through Thursday at 7 pm, Elon hosted A-list guests for much-needed comic relief. He also created another show on Instagram Live called “The Bachor” – a Jewish dating show that started as a suggestion by his friend, screenwriter Jeremy Garelick (“The Hangover”). One favorite guest: the 60-year-old woman who only dates 35-year-old men. “It’s almost too easy to mock the situation,” says Elon. “My favorite line was when she took out a cigarette, and I go, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t smoke. You have your boyfriend’s whole life ahead of him.’” At this, I casually mentioned that at 53, I’m the most single woman alive. “Oh, I’ll have you on next time we do it!” he promised, and I’m now lamenting I didn’t make a Yente-Fiddler joke there at his father’s expense. It certainly sounds like a fun way for those of us who actually enjoy being shut-ins to pass an evening, I told him. “It’s a very weird thing. It’s this fascinating train wreck – like what is going on here? These people are just such characters,” Elon laughed. “I’m having a drink. I’m smoking a cigar, and I’m just cracking jokes and having fun. So it’s fun for me, and the audience loves it.” And if that wasn’t enough to do, Elon also lends his talents to Merry Erev Xmas, a cross-cultural holiday show aimed at making everyone laugh–mostly at themselves–during an otherwise stressful season.
Despite the levity in his work and the obvious joy he takes in bringing joy and laughter to others, Elon has also unfortunately experienced Antisemitism, both personally and professionally. While Jews have always been a target (not for nothing is our non-official slogan, “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!”) and we’ve always had to have a thick skin, nothing can prepare you for the kind of hate incident Elon and his family experienced as they simply walked home from a Shabbat dinner at a friend’s house in Los Angeles in late August of 2014. They were waiting to cross a street when an SUV with four Middle-Eastern men in it pulled up alongside them. The man in the back rolled down the window and yelled, “Free Palestine!” Then another man opened the car door, stepped onto the street and yelled at the family, “I hope your children die! Just like you are killing children in Gaza!” Elon wrote about the impact on his very young children for the Jewish Journal. “We all know too well that “Free Palestine” means free Palestine from every Jew,” he wrote. “As they chant ‘Free Palestine, from the river to the sea,’ that doesn’t mean they want a two-state solution — they want Hitler’s Final Solution and a Jew-Free Middle East.”
We talked about how hard it is to watch our children learn that not everyone in the world is going to love them, and that some people are going to simply just hate them. But my two half-goyishe sons aren’t going to be targeted in the same way the children in an observant family are. And they aren’t targeted online like their Jewish mother is.
“Your kids were so young at the time,” I said to Elon. “What did you tell them, how did you explain that there is so much hate in the world?” “I told my children that there are just some really bad people out there who don’t have what our family has,” Elon replied, “which is love in their hearts for all people. They just have hatred. And they’re mean people who are just mean to anyone, like bullies.” Elon and I both have had to explain to our kids, like all Jewish parents, that some bullies are mean to people within their circle, and then others “express their hatred by attacking someone because they are gay, or black, or just different in some other way,” he said. “The bullies that yelled at us, their tool of bullying is antisemitism.” “And all bullying is rooted in jealousy,” I added, and he agreed vigorously.” So they see what they don’t have and attack us for having it.”
Aside from never hiding his Jewishness, Elon is incredibly proud of his family’s deep connection to Israel–even though it took him 30 years to return after having his Bar Mitzvah there. Once they made a trip as a family, he admits they became “addicted” and go every year or every other year. His son had his bar mitzvah there, and two of his kids have already spent extended time there – one for a gap year and one for the summer- with another one heading there soon, giving him another reason for another visit.
Elon has done tours in Israel and has even become quite the celebrity. His videos have gone viral in Israel and he often gets recognized on the street whenever he’s there, and remaining connected to the Israeli culture is one of the most important parts of his life. “I went from just being a tourist to selling out theaters there,” says Elon. “And now when I go there, I’m always performing and enjoying and touring. So now Israel’s a regular stop, and we just love it. We’re all about Israel in our family. We are a big Israel-loving family.”
As we wound up the conversation, I asked Elon what he wished for his children’s future. “I wish the same thing for your family, for my family, for everyone’s family. “Love and peace. Joy and happiness. All of that good stuff. All of it.”