“I can’t f—ing believe these motherf—ers.” Judy Gold doesn’t mince word talking about the White House. The comedian and I are talking about the new documentary “The Last Laugh,” which looks at jokes about the Holocaust, from Charles Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” through “The Producers” through “Curb Your Enthusiasm” through numerous Sarah Silverman bits. Gold is one of many comics who weighs in on joking about Nazis and other deeply funny topics, in august company with the likes of Mel Brooks, Gilbert Gottfried and Susie Essman.
But we can’t help talking about another obscenity: what’s going on in America. Gold has been livid about the current administration (especially on her Twitter feed), and during our chat about finding humor amongst unspeakable horrors, Trump and his cronies couldn’t help but come up.
I watched “The Last Laugh” twice. The first time was a year ago, when it played the Tribeca Film Festival. Back then we had no idea the Nazis were going to come back into the mainstream.
I don’t think they ever left. They just didn’t have this platform. Now they have a platform.
They lurked in the Breitbart commenters sections, where we could laugh at how powerless they were.
Now Breitbart’s running the White House. Talk about fake news, you know?
There’s been debates about, “Is it OK to laugh at Richard Spencer being punched in his stupid face?” I’m not a violent person, so I can’t condone it. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bring me great, great joy.
Oh no, he deserves to be punched in the face. That punch is nowhere near as violent as his words.
Since this film premiered a year ago, another thing that’s changed is the role of comedians. Even moreso than before, we almost look upon them as the saviors, the people who will tell us the truth those in power won’t, in the most entertaining and cathartic way possible.
We can call people on their s—. We’re fearless. Most comedians are fearless. To get up and say stuff that people normally wouldn’t say. We’ve been through a lot. Humor is also disarming, and it trumps — I hate that word now — it trumps everything. You see someone getting a laugh at a table in a restaurant or out at a bar, it’s like their feathers are puffed up. I remember being on the road with comedians. Most of the time I was the only woman. You’d see guys after the show — they could be wearing sweatpants and not bathed, and they’d have women all over them. And I’d be like, “Uh, can I get a ride home?” It’s unbelievable what funny can do.
And it’s a coping mechanism. But Trump and them, they have no sense of humor. You look at Jeff Sessions: What do you think he laughs at? He probably laughs at, “Oh, look, they’re beating up that immigrant over in the corner,” or whatever. I don’t know what the f— they laugh at. They just take themselves so seriously. I mean, Donald Trump’s not funny. Now he won’t go to the Correspondents’ Dinner, because he couldn’t make a joke about himself if Putin paid him.
Someone smarter than me once said humor is a sign of intelligence.
It’s looking at something from a different perspective. If you’re a comedian and you talk about the Holocaust, you talk about 9/11, you talk about any horrible tragedy, your brain immediately goes to the joke. It’s the way we think. And when you’re telling a joke about a tragedy or something horrible, it’s got to be a decent joke. You can’t write a s—ty joke about the biggest tragedy in the world.
Humor is really difficult to explain. Often times people are too literal.
My girlfriend is very literal. I’ll say something that’s obviously sarcastic, and she’ll say, “Really?!” I’ll say, “NO! We’ve been together for 10 years, you don’t know me?” Comics talk to one another completely differently than they talk to other people. We’ll say things to one another we would never tell people who aren’t comedians.
Even on the left — sometimes especially on the left — there’s a tendency to be too sensitive. I know Patton Oswalt has battled Salon a number of times, when they’ve written things like “What Patton Oswalt’s Joke Gets Wrong About X.”
People react to their triggers instead of what you’re saying. You have to be aware of the intent and the person’s it’s coming from. A comic’s not evil; a comic has a point of view. You can’t even be a comedian unless you have a point of view. But does their joke come from evil? No. David Duke told a joke. We know it’s not funny, because he f—ing is an evil person. You ever notice that evil people are just not funny? People who are evil, they’re just not funny.
When Mike Huckabee tries to make jokes on Twitter they suck.
Because he’s such a hateful person. The jokes come from a mean person. He likes to parade himself around, saying, “Oh, I’m such a good guy, I’m so fun, I’m gonna do ‘Ellen.’” And he’s just a f—ing asshole.
I almost feel bad for right-wing comics, because they’re almost never funny. They tried to do a right-wing “Daily Show” a decade ago, and it lasted, like, five episodes.
I don’t feel bad. They’re not funny. The fact that Rick Perry is the head of the Energy Department — a department he said should not exist. I mean, what the f—? How could he take that job? It just shows you you cannot trust them. There’s nothing real about these people.
They might benefit from watching this movie, whose central argument is that humor is not easily defined, and that it’s helped the Jewish people well before the Holocaust.
As my mother always said: “If we weren’t laughing, we’d be crying.” Think of the plight of the Jews: We’ve been slaves since the beginning of time, yet we still think with humor. We think outside of the box. The people in Borough Park, Brooklyn who study the Talmud: You spend the entire day studying a text we’ve studied for thousands of year, trying to find something new. That’s what a bar and a bat mitzvah are: I’m going to take this text and make it my own. I think we’re taught to think like that, to think there are other perspectives.
I have a hackish-sounding question, which is: Have you ever felt you went too far with a joke you made?
I don’t think I’ve gone too far; the audience couldn’t deal with it. I went too far for them. The only times I’ve felt bad was, for example, this one time on the stage there was a guy wearing sunglasses. I said, “Look, you are so cool wearing those sunglasses.” Then I looked and there was a cane. So he was blind. Those are innocent cases, though. But who’s to decide where the line is? It’s a “sense” of humor. Not everyone thinks the same things are funny. Not everyone likes salty foods. I feel like it’s more, “Who the f— are you to decide where the line is?”
It’s not a scientific thing.
There are just so many factors that make a good joke. It’s the writing, it’s the timing, it’s what’s in the zeitgeist, it’s a combination of two things you would never put together. It’s a way of thinking. When your mind is closed and you can’t open it to what the intent is, then you lose.
Those people are probably already losers anyway.