Elon Gold: Catskills Comedy from California to Coney Island
Story by guest writer: Tammy Mark
From his childhood in Pelham Parkway to his summers spent in the Catskills, Gold’s early bio reads like a cliché Borscht Belt comedian’s. Getting his very first taste of laughs at Yeshiva, Gold followed his dreams all the way to LA, making a name for himself appearing on several mainstream TV shows and performing opposite some of the biggest names in show business. His current gig is Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, which Gold is, indeed, very enthusiastic about.
No matter how “Hollywood” Gold gets he always remains close to his community, still performing at the occasional fundraiser or Passover program, with his witty bits like “If Jews had a Christmas tree” -- complete with the hypothetically detailed Gemara instructions. Gold proudly takes full ownership of his religious and marital status in his comedy special "Chosen and Taken", available on Amazon Prime.
He even tries his hand at matchmaking on his weekly Saturday night live Instagram episodes of “The Bachor”, his Jewish take on The Bachelor. This summer Gold is hosting The Chosen Comedy Festival in Coney Island, alongside fellow talented comedian Modi Rosenfeld and Dani Zoldan of Stand Up New York, with an impressive list of Jewish talent. Together they are hoping to ignite a Jewish comedy renaissance.
Wearing a “Bronx” t-shirt on stage as he returns to his roots and the stand-up circuit in New York City, Gold entertains and schmoozes with fans and friends, old and new. He took a break to share some of the ups, downs and insights of his career, as well as his deep love of G-d, family and comedy — very emphatically in that order.
Thanks so much for taking the time out to chat! How many years have you been in the business now?
Let’s not say years, let’s say decades – three decades.
Tell me about your Hollywood experience. What was your big break?
I’m still waiting for it…
Ok…so let’s go back a little bit. How did you get started in comedy?
I started with stand-up in high school at MTA (Yeshiva University High School), literally after a Purim
shpiel in front of the whole school, hundreds of kids. I wrote and performed these two skits – and then I “got the bug”. It was one of the good viruses though…
I just thought ‘This is the greatest, most rewarding feeling’ – just writing comedy and doing it and being successful at it. I always had a knack for impressions and for writing jokes, so by the time I was a junior in high school I hit the Comic Strip and I actually followed Adam Sandler – pre-SNL, who nobody knew at the time. It was open mic night and he was a club regular. Every single comic before him bombed and I turned to my brother Steven and said ‘this isn’t going to go well, and if it doesn’t I’m never doing this again – this is humiliating watching these guys get up there and bomb’. Then this guy Adam Sandler gets up there and he was hilarious and finally the audience laughed. I went up there, and because I was doing impressions and it’s an easy laugh, I did well. It’s rare to do well your first time doing stand-up – but the
audience instantly loved it.
Did you ever connect with Sandler throughout your career?
We do know each other – he’s a different madreiga, he’s stratospheric – but when we run into each other it’s always nice and cordial. Early on I was envious of him…then I got to admire him. I got over it. Everyone has their own trajectory and their own career path. The only person you’re competing with is yourself, and that’s true about comedy and that’s true about so many things. He’s a household name and I’m Jewish famous – but I got over that!
What was next for you?
Then I went to college in Boston and I never stopped doing stand-up. I was student by day and comedian by night, doing all the clubs in Boston and touring up and down the East Coast performing at other colleges. I was working so much that I was able to by a Lexus by 20 – but the cheap one. The truth is, I only bought it because I got so sick of getting stuck in the middle of like Ithaca on my way to a gig in my old car that I just saved up everything. All I wanted was a good car to not get stuck in the dead of winter in upstate New York – and also to impress my future in-laws in Scarsdale… After college I kept getting these TV pilots and series and development deals and some would air and some wouldn’t…it was just a lot of successes that ultimately were failures. Even the big sitcoms that I did were still considered like failures. So I’m the guy who has made a career out of a string of successful failures…! Every now and then I’ll pop up on a huge smash hit like Frasier or now this season’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. That’s why when you ask about the big break – they’re all breaks. Every opportunity you get is a break, whether it’s the Tonight Show or a stand-up special. It’s just a series of breaks while you’re building a career. Some of us just get really lucky and a sitcom takes off and goes like seven years and some don’t. Every now and then you get to do something really special like work with Larry David --
but we’re all just in the game of doing comedy and making people laugh.
So now tell us a little about your experience in Hollywood –
Since I’ve been on Curb the only two questions I get are ‘What’s Larry David like?’ and ‘What do you make on a show like that…?’ That’s what the Jews usually want to know.
I’m going to ask you what it’s like being there as an observant Jew – I have one good example – I actually have a video on Instagram about this. I went to my trailer to eat
matzah and a hard-boiled egg and avocado in the middle of the set. When you break for lunch there’s craft services catering and everything – and I’m alone in my trailer eating my matzah because it was chol hamoed Pesach. It’s a balance like everything else.
You have to balance work with your belief system and your faith and your heritage, and it’s always my faith before my career; that’s why they wrote me out of the show Bones when I was doing a recurring role. They had asked me to do a fourth episode and it was being
filmed on Friday night and they wouldn’t let me get out of that schedule. I said I couldn’t do it and they wrote me out. I was supposed to be in the season finale but Shabbos was more important – you have to know what your priorities are in life. It’s very simple.
The big three for me are G-d, family and comedy – it’s in that order – you have to prioritize. Why is G-d before family? Look at the story of Abraham and Isaac – if G-d ever speaks to me I’ll be like ‘hey kid we’re walking up that hill…!” Luckily I haven’t had that request yet…But it’s always G-d first, because G-d is the source and the reason for everything.
Tell me about your family – are they funny and do they think you’re funny?
Each of my kids has an amazing sense of humor and says funny things, but my youngest daughter Emily actually is funny. We did a “Hebrew who’s on first” – you can Google it. It’s an amazing two-minute bit that parodies the classic Abbott and Costello bit but with Hebrew – how some Hebrew words are confusing. I’d say they’re all funny, but she’s the performer.
Do they think I’m funny? Short answer is no, I’m their annoying dad. They’re aware that others think I’m funny, and at rare moments they find me funny. My oldest son Brandon confided in me that I’m in his top five favorite comedians – which made me so happy. Like you would think why aren’t I his favorite? But no, I don’t have to be his favorite, the fact that I’m in his top five and he’s 21 – all I care about is that I’m up there! I do have an interesting story about Brandon. I was in the Comedy Cellar 20 years ago when Robin Williams walked in with his son Zak and his son said ‘Dad I’m going to come down and watch you’. I’m standing right there and I thought ‘Oh my G-d – I just had a baby and I can’t imagine having my son ever watch me’, because you don’t want to know people in the audience because you’re just thinking about them and if it doesn’t go so well, then it’s really embarrassing. You never know when you’re going to have that ok to bad set. I remember having that thought of dreading my baby being a 20 year old kid and asking me that – then there we are 20 years later and my son Brandon asks me ‘Can I watch you?’.
He had seen me at Pesach programs and the like but I was like ‘Oh my G-d. This is it.’ It was so nerve wracking! It was more nerve wracking than a few months earlier when Robert De Niro was watching me! But then I had the set of the year and I was so happy that he saw that.
Does your wife find you funny?
She used to…I think after 28 years it just fades…!
How about your parents?
Were they supportive the whole way through?
The whole way – they’re too supportive! To the parents I can do no wrong, I’m the greatest comedian that ever lived to them. They’re at every show – that I allow them to be at. Stand Up New York is a few blocks away from their apartment so there’s no excuse there – they’re at almost every show. They will be at the Chosen Comedy Festival. I always have to have an excuse to not let them come or they’d be at every show so it’s always like it’s too far, it’s a schlep…I tried that with this and they were like ‘no no no we already got a ride to Coney island!’. So they will be there!
Tell me about The Chosen Comedy Festival
It’s the first ever Jewish comedy festival you would think with how prominent Jews are in comedy since vaudeville and to the Catskills to early television, all of comedy was Jewish – Jack Benny, George Burns,Milton Berle. You would think there would be a Jewish comedy festival by now celebrating it – there are documentaries about it and the history of Jewish comedy in museum and books – but there’s never been a festival. What I love is we’re not just talking about it we’re doing it – just Jewish comedians doing Jewish comedy. It’s the brainchild of Dani Zoldan who owns Stand Up New York and he just said that it’s long overdue. There’s this gorgeous venue, the Coney Island Amphitheater – it’s outdoors but with an awning, so it’s safe for Covid and safe from the rain – and there’s plenty of parking so you don’t have to worry about anything, just go and have a great time.
A portion of the proceeds is earmarked for charity?
Yes, for the Ukrainian Emergency Performing Arts Fund. The focus is the comedy. We need this festival, we need to celebrate and do Jewish comedy like this and it’s just the start – we’re going to do them all over the world from Miami to Tel Aviv and annually, so this is the inaugural one, like the first Woodstock. This is a thing you don’t want to miss – there are 4000 people coming and it’s almost sold out. It started as a little idea and then we had a billboard in Times Square and there’s a lot of hype around it. And it’s not just hype – it’s going to be a fantastic show with Jessica Kirson, Jeff Ross, Alex Edelman with his hit show – and Modi and I host the whole thing. It opens with a musical concert with amazing acts like Nissim Black. Birthright Israel is hosting an after party…it’s a whole night of celebration.
What would say about the importance of laughter in general and especially for Jews?
The obvious answer is…don’t we suffer enough? Here I am doing this interview on Tisha b’Av, fasting, suffering and mourning the Temple…Jews are always suffering but we’re also always looking forward to something, whether it’s Mashiach or a first ever Jewish comedy festival – so it’s a balance of career and faith, and then the balance of laughter versus the serious stuff in life. If life is just one or the other you’re not living it well, if you’re not laughing and crying then you’re not living the full life experience. I prefer to laugh a lot more than to cry, like 98 percent to 2…there are so many reasons to cry, but even more to laugh and enjoy. Jewish comedians have been such a part of the culture, not only for Jews but for everybody. It’s just so important to feel joy and happiness, and for me personally to have a purpose. It’s so nice to have a purpose. When your purpose is bringing joy to the world it makes it even more special and meaningful.
It’s so nice to wake up every day and say ‘Today I have to write jokes and tell jokes and make people happy’. The Jews have contributed so much more than comedy – science and arts and medicine – for me it’s just to be a tiny part of making anybody happy. I stopped trying to be the best comedian in the world when I realized I’ll never be, because nobody is – not even Seinfeld – nobody is everybody’s favorite comedian. I realized about 10 years ago, nobody. So why don’t you just be a few people’s favorite comedian or even a lot of people’s favorite? So right now a few and I’m aiming for a lot. It’s a nice purpose and a calling and it also ties into my Judaism – I make our rituals and heritage and our rich culture a part of comedy, not by making fun of it as an outsider but by poking fun as an insider, and
out of love, not mockery.
What’s your most popular Jewish bit?
Definitely the Christmas tree bit. It’s so popular that people go over to Modi and tell him that they like it.
So you and I go way back to the Yeshiva days and I have this memory of you working on a writing a story about a boy who invented call waiting …I know, quite a time warp.
What ever happened to that?
That is so crazy, wow. That is so funny. I don’t think I ever got to finish that project! Like so many ideas that never come to fruition…so many great ideas. But I do have a couple of ideas that I’m working on right now – so stay tuned and hopefully it will be even better than the one about the boy who invented call waiting!
Follow @elongold on Instagram for more laughs and see Elon, Modi and a full lineup of tremendous talent at The Chosen Comedy Festival, Tuesday 8/16.
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