“There’s a fine line between being Jewish and gay,” Heather Gold says matter-of-factly during a recent interview.
There’s the history of persecution, she explains, plus both are identities that people can sort of cover up if they want to. Humor and storytelling are also major commonalities.
“You know it’s true!” Gold quickly adds.
Gold is a comedian, no doubt. She calls the small Canadian town she grew up in as “the last shtetl in the world.” But to say the Oakland resident is only a comedian is missing the point. She’s also a writer, an activist, a performer.
Her body of work — which ranges from podcasts to public-speaking workshops to comedy shows — subverts not just the stereotypically sexist content of most stand-up comedy, but also the way stand-up comedy is usually delivered. With Gold, it’s not just a comedian behind a microphone telling jokes to an audience; it’s a more interactive experience.
And often a very Jewish one, at that.
“Growing up as a little queer Jewish kid in [a small] town made me funny,” she posits.
Gold will be performing in Oakland next week at “Yarn 6: Comedy Storytelling,” the sixth go-around of an event she has been organizing for female comedians who are over 29 and, therefore, “Hollywood old.”
Others on the bill are Julia Jackson, Alicia Dattner, Andre the Wonderwoman and Natasha Muse. Dattner is a name J. readers might remember. A few years ago, she had a one-woman show called “The Oy of Sex” that tackled issues like hooking up with the wrong guys and being addicted to love; in it, she took on multiple roles, including God (played with a Yiddish accent).
“Yarn 6: Comedy Storytelling” is set for March 7 at the Octopus Literary Salon in Oakland. However, the online listing invites people to “come early to shmei and hang out” — shmei being either an obscure Yiddish term for going shopping from store to store, or a made-up Yiddish word by Gold. Funny either way.
Gold credits her affinity for interactive comedy to her experiences at Friday night dinners, which she attended weekly in Niagara Falls, Canada, until leaving for college at 19.
“Within that community, I felt known and cared about by many, many adults. There’s a safety and comfort in knowing that people care about you,” she says. “My work explores what it means to give that kind of attention to someone, as opposed to only asking for that attention from the audience.”
Though she remembers writing plays when she was 9 years old, it wasn’t until law school that she came to realize her calling was as a comedian and performer.
“I couldn’t speak the language of law school, and that pushed me to really think about where I could get heard and how to feel better about it,” she says. “What blew my mind was when I would say things in class, everyone would roll their eyes. But on stage, they would laugh.”
Growing up as a little queer Jewish kid in [a small] town made me funny.
Shortly after graduating from Northwestern Law, Gold a) came out as a lesbian and b) decided to pursue her flair for comedy, writing and performance. Much of her work strives to create spaces for audience and performer interaction.
For example, her debut solo show in 2003 was what she describes as “an interactive baking comedy.” It was called “I Look Like an Egg but Identify as a Cookie” and featured Gold doing stand-up while baking cookies.
“Cookie” ran for more than a year in San Francisco and was then reproduced a decade later and presented in Berkeley by the Shotgun Players. The show received several honors, including “Best of the Bay” from the Oakland Tribune
Gold also put out a comedy record called “Nosh” shortly after “Cookie” finished its San Francisco run. Some of the titles of the bits are “Straight Outta the Shtetl,” “The Only Jew in San Francisco” and “Nice Jewish Boy.”
For a while, she did a podcast with fellow comedian Katie Halper called “Morning Jew.” The co-hosts tabbed themselves “the Morning Jewz” and, in a radio news format, they took on a variety of topics ranging from Pesach to Monica Lewinsky to the separation of church and state.
These days, in addition to her comedy, Gold teaches a workshop about how to make quick connections with people and speak in public settings, and she’s writing a performance piece that utilizes the rituals of shiva to work through communal experiences of grief and loss.
A lot of what Gold has to say is about media, a hot topic in last year’s election and even more so nowadays in the Trump era. One of her points is that in a mere 10 years since its 2006 founding, Twitter has managed to “tear this country apart.”
“As someone who worked in early tech, I advocated for change,” she says. “But what I’ve learned is that there’s an emotional impact for change that we are not prepared for.”