Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Heather Gold is Allowed to Suck

Written by Vanessa Bombardieri
      Active Image                            The stage is bare except for a flip chart, a music stand and a computer.  As comedian Heather Gold enters, she greets the audience like any comedian would.  But what follows is not ordinary stand-up nor is it, thankfully, a monologue show. Rather it is a hybrid performance that combines rehearsed storytelling with audience participation and my personal favorite off-the-cuff bits.  When talking about her own law school experiences Gold asks the audience, “Anybody here a lawyer?” and one man rises his hand.  When talking about her Jewish background Gold asks the Jews in the audience to out themselves, I raise mine to halfway as does another woman in the audience who Gold then picks on stating, “As a half Jew, you would have at least gotten this answer half right?” 

The stage is bare except for a flip chart, a music stand and a computer.  As comedian Heather Gold enters she greets the audience like any comedian would. But what follows is not ordinary stand-up nor is it, thankfully, a monologue show. Rather it is a hybrid performance that combines rehearsed storytelling with audience participation and my personal favorite off-the-cuff bits. 

 

When talking about her own law school experiences Gold asks the audience, “Anybody here a lawyer?” and one man raises his hand.  When talking about her Jewish background Gold asks the Jews in the audience to out themselves, I raise mine to halfway as does another woman in the audience who Gold then picks on stating, “As a half Jew, you would have at least gotten this answer half right?”  The Law Project is a work- in –progress, where sometimes Gold stops to look at her notes, or to read text from her computer and sometimes draws ideas for the audience on her flip chart.  Though her interactive style, Gold takes the audience though her Law School Project from difficult childhood, to out-of-place law student, to her study of Oscar Wilde and finally her very own law suit.  I sat down with Gold after her show to discuss what a work-in-progress means to her.

 

Heather: I don’t have any formal theatrical training at all.  I didn’t study traditional writing.  I don’t sit down and write. I have done a lot of stand-up, so I write by doing stuff with people, like in front of a room.  I record all my preferences  and I eventually record all my shows because my goal is to have a show where parts will change. So sometimes something new will come out that will be very funny and a good keeper line, and sometimes it will be a moment.  My new thing is mapping. For me, to see how things are related… that is my interest in the world.   And people, I’m hoping that by the end of a show I’m connecting with people

 

Vanessa: What are some of your determining factors for success? Especially because your  audience is always going to change. 

 

Heather: What a good question.  Well in a weird way, when you are writing something and you are like, I’m going to re-write this sentence, nah this works, nah that kinda doesn’t work, I want to say this a different way. I think when you get the right word, isn’t it really a sensation that you feel?   With each individual thing that I’m trying to do, am I connecting this idea and this idea next, this moment and this moment. If I’m having a hard time saying it, than I can’t deliver it.  Part of the pleasure is writing live as much as possible, because for me my biggest influence has been the internet. Some of my peers who started on the web early are just amazing web entrepeneurs, designers and builders.  They believed in really throwing shit up and making it.  Yes, the audiences change but at the very least, I get a sense of connection.  I write more like set lists, there will be sections that are scored and sections that change.  Right now I’m working with director Linda Mancini to really tighten-up the story parts and start opening-up the interactive side more.

  

 

Vanessa: In the project you talk about your experiences in law school.  How does one go from law school to comedian?

 

Heather: I’m asked that a lot and there used to be a lot more of it in the show. When you get a laugh in a room, especially when you hate your life, it proves pretty awesome.  I did a little stand-up and I did all this improv when I went to LA. I thought that maybe I would try to write TV and write films, but you know I didn’t think I could because I had worked on the business side.  So, there were a lot of internal things I had to get over until I felt I had permission.  The more I was around people who weren’t creative, the more I felt permission to be creative…I started out producing actually.   I was at this show called “In Bed with Ferry Butch,” it was kind of a sex stripper show, where my friend Sabrina Matthews was co-hosting.  Her co-host was sick, she said, “who wants to host?” My girlfriend at the time, who had been calling me an arm chair comic, literally held my arm up for me.  A few of us got picked to go up on stage. I said the raunchiest thing I could think of and I just killed.  It felt like having sex with a hundred people at once. 

 

Vanessa: So you didn’t think about yourself as a performer prior to that?

 

Heather: I liked doing improv, but I couldn’t imagine doing it.  But I would get laughs in the classroom.  Also, I felt I wanted another point of view on things. I guess in a weird way, because I was so unpopular as a kid, I was sorta inoculated to certain things; because I knew what it was to have everybody give you crap.  So then I started doing some stand-up at the show I was producing.  And I was learning, getting better at it, and I was like ok, I’m allowed to do this.  But it was a very slow process of permission.  For me, this show is very much about authority.  First what you perceive to be and second that it has that because you gave that to it.  Essentially, the thing you think is so important is because you actually perceive it as important not because it actually is on its own.  Especially for women. I had not seen so many people do the things I was doing.  Once I saw Janeane Garofalo on stage and she had a notebook.  That was so important to me.  And she had not memorized everything and she wasn’t totally confident.  That is part of why I felt it ok to do it, I needed to see that it was ok to have insecurities.  I used to do some really bad stand-up when I was first trying, and still now every once and a while, I will still do it, if only to tell myself that I’m allowed to suck. I was so good at encouraging other people but then I would be terrified. I’m still scared, talking about family is one of the most vulnerable things I have done.  It was very hard and I avoided it for years.


Vanessa: Having gotten your start at the very beginning of widespread Internet usage, I’m curious about how you see the role of the Internet in your work?  Do you think that using the Internet as part of how you connect with people, as you do in the Heather Gold Show, makes it easier? 

 

Heather: I have taken the things I learned from it and am trying to bring some of it to live experiences.  Because to me the exciting thing about the net is allowing people to connect.  The same is for theater.  That is what I like about that world. People want to get together, they want to talk to other people. For me that was missing in stand-up.  I wanted people to feel more connected and not so much like everybody was watching me remember things.  The internet is catching-up with what I have been doing live. The average person is more like a performance artist.  The average teenager sends 80 texts a day.  So in that way, it is also the mall.  It is also where people hang out. Being more experiential is more meaningful to people.  The act of creating a social experience that is going to bring people together is for me a show whether it is live or online and online I can reach more people faster.  But to me, I would always want to be able to do it live too. 

 

Vanessa: That’s interesting. Isn’t there part of you that just wants to see people’s faces?  On my way to your show, I ran into somebody I knew and I was like, oh how nice it is to actually see you.  Not just your facebook status but to see you.

 

Heather: For me, part of the magic I’m trying to create is a social feeling as social space. I figure that if I could use solo performance, not just about me opening-up but I know that by opening-up it tends to open-up other people.  So if I could get the audience to open-up more you would get more of the feeling of the intimacy.  The net has given me a better idea about how people consciously want to connect.  Part of my problem with the law was the whole binary thing.  I just think that having lots of points of view makes things more interesting.  It is about subjectivity in many ways.  We all walk around with our own experience and that colors everything and that kinda helps you see that my way is not the only way.   Just knowing the other perspective is there is a step.

 

Catch Heather Gold in her interactive cooking show, I Look Like an Egg But I Identify as a Cookie, November 1st and 2nd, at Dixon Place.

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