“Poor Man’s Jackie Mason” Making a Name
When Elon Gold took to the stage this summer at the Scranton Cultural Center in Pennsylvania, audience members may have initially recognized him for his recurring role on the Fox television show “Bones.” However, the rising comedy star quickly made sure the crowd’s takeaways were his acerbic wit and keen observations on Jewish life.
“He hit a grand slam,” Rabbi Benny Rapoport, who organized the show, told JNS.org. “His message in the comedy is the relevance of Judaism. His impressions were great too. I especially liked his impressions of Johnny Carson and Jackie Mason. He’s getting the message out about the good things the Jewish people do.”
Gold, who calls himself the “poor man’s Jackie Mason,” has been making his own name as a comedian. He frequently performs on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” The New York native’s show—”Half Jewish, Half Very Jewish”—keeps attracting new fans from around the comedy-club circuit as well as those who follow him on “Bones.”
In his show, Gold draws on various observations about living a Jewish life, from Passover Seders to keeping kosher. He finds humor in his Jewish experiences, and calls that humor “universal”—not just ethnic.
“So many times people who aren’t Jewish come up to me afterward and say, ‘We got everything,'” Gold told JNS.org. “They appreciate it. You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this show.”
In “Half Jewish, Half Very Jewish,” Gold pokes fun at everything from modern Jewish stereotypes to ancient customs.
“As a people, we’re way too mad at bread,” he jokes about Passover. “Why do we focus all our anger about slavery in Egypt on the fact that we couldn’t have a sandwich on our way out?”
Gold brings out a blue-and-white Jewish version of Santa Claus, who instructs his fellow Jews to “be happy,” but not “so happy they forget about the pogroms.”
The comedian’s wide appeal did not come overnight—Gold has been working in the field for more than two decades.
“Right now I’m the go-to Jew. Every school, organization, shul, they like to have comedy,” Gold said. “Instead of just a rubber chicken dinner with boring speeches, people leave happy if they have a comedian. I just got standing ovations in Montreal one night and Denver the next.”
A regular at New York’s “Comedy Cellar” venue, Gold wrote and performed for the “Dana Carvey Show” and worked with Mary Tyler Moore. Recently he worked as the master of ceremonies for the Maccabi Games, where he introduced the 36 delegations with occasionally irreverent shout-outs to their hometowns. The games, held at Rockland Community College’s Eugene Levy Field House in New York, kicked off the largest organized sports program for Jewish teens: Some 1,225 athletes from 36 delegations representing the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Israel, Mexico and Venezuela competed in events like basketball and table tennis, but also celebrated Jewish values, culture and history.
In demand as a master of ceremonies, Gold, along with Larry King, hosted this year’s Chabad-Lubavitch fundraising telethon on Sept. 9. Gold uses these opportunities to polish his acts.
“I have two acts,” Gold told JNS.org. “One is completely secular where I talk about being Jewish but the other one, ‘Half Jewish, Half Very Jewish,’ is material from my Jewish life. It’s my take on our culture and traditions and Jewish stereotypes. I have a big screen behind me and I say this show is close-captioned for the Hebrew impaired. Any time I use a word gentiles may not understand, I put it on the screen with a definition and I say a funny joke after that. For example, I’ll put up the word Seder and the definition would be a constipated Thanksgiving.”
Inspired by Billy Crystal and Jackie Mason, Gold attended Boston University, honed his skills at clubs, and starred in the television series “Stacked” in 2005. He also does impressions of figures such as Gene Wilder (as Abraham) and Gilbert Gottfried (as Moses).
Appearing at comedy festivals from Montreal to Dallas to Philadelphia, his ultimate goal is to take his act to Broadway for a one-man show. “Jackie Mason’s original Broadway show, ‘The World According to Me,’ is, for me, one of the top stand-up hours in history, right up there with George Carlin and Richard Pryor,” Gold said. “Jackie is one of my heroes because he was the Jewish voice of his generation. His observations were unparalleled.”
To some, Gold is what Chris Rock is to the African-American community—a voice of the new Jewish community. They see him as a voice for young Jews, how they view the world, and how they are experiencing the post-Holocaust generation.
“Two years before Sacha Baron Cohen sort of stole it and used it in his movie Bruno, I was doing my bit about Hamas versus hummus,” Gold said. “I did that on Leno’s show. Not a lot of people go on the Tonight Show and talk about Israel. It’s stuff like that that the older generation doesn’t do.”
Mostly unrecognized—except, as he noted, at kosher restaurants—Gold hones his lines and bits hoping to gain more recognition. Perhaps he’ll get that next year when he appears in the new movie “Premature,” a comedy in the vein of American Pie.
The father of four children, Gold is a proud Jew who loves to keep traditions. Rapaport, who brought Gold to Scranton, noted that he “won’t shoot his part in ‘Bones’ if the shooting schedule interferes with his keeping Shabbat.”
Gold is also able to find humor in those traditions, and knows that comedy helps to cure and heal.
“Elon performed a unique blend of comedy with a meaningful message,” Rapoport said. “People felt uplifted.”