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Yes, I Can Say That!

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - March 21, 2023

Judy Gold
Photo by James Leynse
Call it entertainment, or call it an unabashed tirade. Loud and brassy comic Judy Gold has more than chuckles on her mind as she brings her solo show Yes, I Can Say That! to 59E59 Theaters, where it opened tonight in a sea of rant-infused gags and potty-mouth language. Done in the style of a standup act, the play, co-written by Gold and fellow comedian Eddie Sarfaty and directed by actor BD Wong, draws from her book of the same name by focusing on its subtitle: "When they Come for the Comedians, We're All in Trouble."

A production of Primary Stages, the 80-minute show starts off with what can best be described as a kvetchy screed about a canceled book tour during the COVID-19 pandemic and a scheduled appearance on the TV talk show "The View" that was preempted by the funeral of Congressman John Lewis. "So fuck me!!!" Gold adds at the end, presumably as a demonstration of the show's title.

Fortunately, that's pretty much all the whining we get for the rest of the evening, and, more true to form, the jokes fly fast and furious and decidedly unfiltered. But underneath, the real focus is on the threat to our democracy by efforts to wring the life out of the First Amendment and, more specifically, to censor and silence comedians, whose only goal, after all, is to make us laugh.

"Can you imagine getting sent to prison for telling a joke?" she asks, using as an example the arrest, conviction, and jail term imposed on comic Lenny Bruce in 1964 for using "obscene language" in his act. "People remember that Lenny was locked up for swearing," she says, "but what the authorities really wanted to get him for was speaking the truth about segregation, government corruption, abortion, and the Vietnam War."

Gold, who was born just two years before Bruce's arrest, talks a lot, as well, about the gutsy women comics on whose shoulders she gratefully stands, most notably Totie Fields, Joan Rivers, and Phyllis Diller, some of whose one-liners she tosses out as examples. These women, she says, were "brash and fearless" as they paved the way for others to join what was essentially a man's club. "You'd think they'd want to book more women, just so they could save money," she adds.

Altogether, Gold's performance is a scrambled mix of untethered wisecracks, praise to many of her predecessors and contemporaries in the field (including some men), and snarky bits about those she doesn't admire very much. Jerry Lewis, for instance, was a "misogynist pig," and Caitlyn Jenner "reaped the benefits of living as a white male for 60 years" and now complains that "being a woman is difficult because it's so hard to pick out shoes."

Still, she manages always to find her way back to her main theme, about efforts from both the left and right side of the political divide to silence and censor. For every member of the ultra-right who "spreads conspiracy theories, lies, and disparages people," there is a "bleeding heart lefty" who will loudly complain that song lyrics are "hurtful and offensive to visually impaired unhoused queer indigenous people of color with one Jewish lactose intolerant grandparent."

This is the essence of Yes, I Can Say That!, a scripted act that has an improv feel to it, thanks to Gold's delivery that bounces with seeming ease between going for the yuks and seizing the opportunity to "pass on my courage, strength, and determination to all the little girls laughing at my jokes from afar."

Yes, I Can Say That!
Through April 16, 2023
Primary Stages in association with Jamie deRoy
59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St., New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: