With two hit shows on Bravo, an ABC pilot filmed, and a thriving standup career, out, loud and perpetually politically incorrect comic Julie Goldman has hit her stride. Goldman talks career, TV, gender and LGBT politics, and how what’s held her back in the past just might propel her to even greater stardom in the future.
Julie Goldman stood over the fax machine and didn’t think twice about hitting “send.” After all, she’d been working hard—just not at what she was hired to do. Temping as an administrative assistant at American Express world headquarters in New York City, she admittedly spent most of her time at the job using office gadgets for personal projects—something strictly forbidden by corporate policy. But Julie Goldman is accustomed to bucking rules, and she was excited to send her then-writing partner and fellow comedian Sherry Davie a draft of the lyrics to a tongue-in-cheek comedic song that Goldman had written during business hours.
“The name of the song was ‘Black Cleaning Lady,’” Goldman says. “We thought it was hilarious and it was actually calling out racism, not meant to be racist. It was completely sarcastic. Of course, it could all be totally taken out of context, but in fact, the song was supposed to make fun of all these obnoxious white people who have black nannies and housekeepers and take advantage of them.”
She walked away from the fax area feeling a sense of accomplishment over writing up some funny stuff, and was anticipating Davie’s feedback. What Goldman didn’t realize, however, was that the machine spit out a carbon copy of all the documents it transmitted. As she was getting ready for work the next day, her phone rang. It was the temp agency calling to tell her she was no longer needed at American Express. When she inquired as to why, she was asked, “Did you send a poem through the fax machine?” Goldman recalls, “I was like, ‘A poem?! No! I’m not fucking writing a poem!’ I tried to talk myself out of it by saying, ‘You don’t understand! We’re comedians! And it wasn’t a poem; it was a song! And it’s ironic! We’re on the right side here. We’re not racists!’”
The joke was lost on the temp agency—and Goldman’s coworkers at Amex—and she promptly got the axe. But the story doesn’t end there. “I then found out through a couple of my friends still working there that someone found the lyrics to the song and quit over it. They said that the workplace was insensitive and hostile. And then as a result, all of American Express had to do diversity training across the board.” Goldman laughs.“It’s a better place now. You’re welcome, everyone. You’re welcome.”
The fact that a Julie Goldman gaffe may have single-handedly spurred a global corporation’s cultural sensitivity initiatives might be even more ironic than the song that got her fired. A comedian known for her sharp-witted, razor-tongued, irreverent commentary on politics, LGBT issues, society at large and everyday absurdities, Goldman makes a living off offending people. A workhorse comic who’s been performing standup since the age of 15, a self-identified butch lesbian completely unfettered by concerns of political correctness, and a rising TV star in her own right, Goldman has climbed rungs in the entertainment industry without compromising her identity, toning down her messages or appearance, or caving to the pressures of representing several marginalized groups. And right now, her career’s gaining more momentum than ever before.
Like many of us, Goldman spends a lot of time watching TV on her best friend’s couch. Unlike any of us, Goldman gets paid for it. She and her best friend and writing partner, Brandy Howard, compose one of several households on Bravo’s “The People’s Couch,” a show on which the duo mix martinis, settle in on Howard’s sofa with their pooches, and are filmed musing on various broadcasts from “The Golden Age of TV.” Hilarity ensues—as it tends to whenever Goldman and Howard open their mouths.
Those mouths have landed them not only on “The People’s Couch,” but a prime gig hosting Bravo’s “Vanderpump Rules After Show.” Goldman and Howard take the reins romping with stars of “Vanderpump Rules”—the network’s hot reality series that follows sexy young servers as they cavort on and off the clock at West Hollywood super-restaurant SUR (owned by Lisa Vanderpump of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” fame). Goldman also recently shot a pilot for ABC, chock full of gay characters, which could become a hit comedy if the network green-lights it this spring.
Goldman’s face may grace TV sets across the nation these days, but her “overnight” success took years of dedication, grunt work, hitting the road and battling stereotypes. She played a mixed bag of hilarious roles in the former Logo series “The Big Gay Sketch Show,” alongside other comedic luminaries like “Saturday Night Live” star Kate McKinnon. She has since earned her place not only as a community favorite, but as a seasoned standup and TV personality with the confidence to say exactly what’s on her mind, no matter whose feathers she might ruffle. As Goldman knows all too well, an openly butch lesbian doesn’t just stumble upon acclaim (or work) in show business. She fought tooth and nail to get where she is—from performing arts school to a myriad of odd jobs to the tube—never pandering to industry expectations, sacrificing her outspokenness or altering her brave, brash brand of humor to fit any die she didn’t cast herself.
Born in Lexington, Mass. as the middle child to a doctor father and Hebrew teacher mother, Julie Goldman grew up with comedy coursing through her veins from a very young age. Idolizing comic genius Mel Brooks, she’d perform skits in front of her family imitating his characters and reenacting scenes from his movies.
“Mel Brooks, in my opinion, is really the first person who put gay people in comedies,” Goldman says. “I didn’t really realize it as a kid, obviously, but I think a part of me must have been subconsciously in tune with that. Certainly the characters I was reenacting were super gay-acting. People who don’t like him might say he ‘used’ gay people or black people in ‘Blazing Saddles,’ for instance, but I just don’t see it like that. It was so groundbreaking, and I think if people view it that way, they just don’t understand comedy.”
Goldman was the consummate tomboy growing up, drawn to “boy things” and compelled by masculine energy and the nuances of maleness. Asked if she dated boys, she replies, “‘Date’ is a strong word. I was very sexually curious and into boys to an extent. I would get with them and just kind of feel turned off. I was attracted to something about them, though—maybe it was that they were my buddies. Most of my friends were boys and I just related to them.” She continues, “I even remember looking in the mirror thinking, ‘I wish I had muscles and a dick. I think it’s normal and healthy to explore different aspects of gender. But am I transgender? No. Basically, I didn’t know that being gay was an option. I wasn’t a very self-aware person until later in life.”
“Later in life” for Goldman kicked off at Emerson College, a performing arts school in Boston where she majored in theater education. “I mean, hello, it was a theater school! Gay people were everywhere,” she says. “There was a very open atmosphere on campus. My first acting teacher was gay and that was a revelation. His name was Richard Toma and he walked into class, sat down and announced, ‘I’m gay and if you have a problem with it, get the fuck out of my class!’ It was amazing. He was a powerful mentor to me and I think about him a lot.” (Toma has since died of AIDS.) “He influenced me to check in with myself and ultimately, inspired me enormously by being someone who just didn’t give a fuck.
That was a revelation, too.”
Yet another collegiate “aha!” moment came when Goldman had her first experience with a woman. In her sophomore year, 19-year-old Goldman met a girl in acting class with whom she “dropped acid, hooked up, and became girlfriends.” It was life-changing. “My first time with a girl was a total eye-opener for me. Physically and mentally it was like, ‘Oh. Oh. Oh! My God!’ With guys I felt literally nothing. But it’s never been black and white for me. It was always complicated until fairly recently; now it’s all completely clear. I’m 100 percent gay—a lez, queer-ass dyke. And I’m happy and I love it. I’m a woman, I’m gay, and I’m really, really into it.”
At 19, however, conveying her newly discovered identity to her family proved slightly more uncomfortable than her blissful new bedroom adventures. “I called my mom on the phone and told her I was a lesbian and she was like, ‘Ehhh…OK.’ Then my dad called me and said, ‘Your mom said you’re a lesbian.’ [laughs] And I said, ‘That’s true.’ And he went, ‘Uggghhh.’ I met him for lunch in Boston because he worked there and he said he felt guilty ‘cause he somehow thought he turned me gay. Then I had to tell him he didn’t. It was awkward, but my parents are so cool and supportive now.”
Goldman continued the standup career she began in high school. She’d been performing in comedy clubs since the tender age of 15, and at Emerson College, she eagerly joined sketch comedy groups and took to the stage with more standup in the theater program, at open mics and in comedy clubs, immersing herself in Boston’s flourishing standup scene. After college, she moved to the Big Apple and increasingly garnered attention as a sidesplitting, up-and-coming comic. In her mid-20s, she started to feel “official” when she began making money for her gigs, particularly performing at Pride festivals. A booking agent became interested in helping further her career.
Things were looking up, despite the fact that Goldman still needed to work “straight” jobs, many of them temp work (a la American Express), to pay the bills. “I’ve had every single job you can think of, and I’ve been fired from all of them,” Goldman laughs. “I literally have no skills. It’s a travesty. And I still need to work outside of comedy. I still feel like I’m kind of on the fringe, honestly. I have to hustle quite a bit. In some places I can pack a room and in some places I can’t. It’s inconsistent. Even here [in Los Angeles, where Goldman now resides after relocating to pursue her television career], it’s not like I can just walk in somewhere and do a set. It’s very competitive and very challenging. You’ve just gotta hustle. The hustle never ends in this business.”
Not everything was rosy during Julie Goldman’s rise to the small screen. She’s taken a lot of heat for her bold standup, which she uses, in part, as a platform to air her frustrations about growing divisions in the LGBT community surrounding labels, sexual orientation and gender identity.
“When I first started out, I definitely would get shit from lesbians for making fun of the word ‘lesbian,’” she says. “Some people also say I’m too angry, or that only lesbians will like me, but then there are aspects of my act many lesbians found or find too ‘ragist.’ I remember doing Olivia Cruises for the first time in the early 2000s. The first trip was so fucking traumatic. I had thought, ‘Finally, I’m among lesbians and it’ll be great,’ but it was horrible and they couldn’t handle my material. And I was young and I was angry and I was filled with rage. I wasn’t booked again with Olivia until five years later. I’ve been going back ever since, two or three trips a year, and it’s great.”
Reactions to Goldman’s standup, however, still run the gamut—particularly, Goldman says, with gay audiences. “I’ve had every single thing said to me you can imagine. I’ve had ‘You’re too gay!’ from quote-unquote straight audiences to ‘You’re too gay!’ from someone who’s running a diversity showcase! Yet, I find things are tighter and more politically correct than they ever have been, especially with LGBT audiences. If you bring up the word ‘pronoun’ right now, someone will die. They’ll literally have a heart attack and fucking die. You really can’t even say the word. And if you try to make fun of any of it, they can’t deal! And it’s a goddamn living hell.”
Goldman personally takes zero issue with calling and presenting herself as a gay, butch woman. She’s self-deprecating and asserts that she laughs with the community, not at it, though those who find no humor in the increasingly stringent descriptors or attitudes surrounding sexuality and gender may misinterpret the message she seeks to convey. Goldman finds the wide spectrum of labels permeating the community—and many people’s vitriolic reactions when discussing such topics—beyond off-putting.
In her standup, Goldman often borrows material from her real-life run-ins with whom she calls “the pronoun police.” One of her bits follows her transgressions when she was asked to attend a “pronoun workshop” for a wedding in which a transgender man was marrying a biological female. “Everyone went around saying their name, the gender they identified as, and the pronoun they preferred. People said things like, ‘genderqueer,’ ‘no gender,’ ‘their,’ ‘they,’ ‘them,’ and so on. So I said, ‘My name is Julie. I identify as ‘emperor’ and prefer the pronouns of ‘Your Lord’ and ‘Your Lordship.’” The workshop attendants’ reactions probably need little elaboration.
Backlash ensued. On social media and at college events, some called Goldman “transphobic,” and she even had an audience member walk out and give her the finger after that particular joke. Goldman maintains there is no malintent in her comedy, or her personal views on gender and identity.
“As a comic and a human being, if I’m allowed to make fun of religion, I’m allowed to make fun of your fucking pronouns. This isn’t about oppressing anyone. Comedy is a tool to deconstruct, figure life out, question. It’s OK to question! I’m a Jew! We come from questions.”
Goldman has thus found herself in a cycle: She deconstructs her point of view on LGBT political correctness, wraps it in her comedy, gets flack for it and winds up with fodder for more material. As a comic, she can’t resist it. “Just in general, I can’t deal with any kind of self-righteous bullshit in any movement, including LGBT equality. Obsessing over pronouns and gender binary and white privilege and male privilege—it’s all also an entitlement. It’s an entitlement of self-righteousness that I cannot deal with and so I’m compelled as a comedian to rebel, because I can’t deal with that fucking attitude! It drives me completely insane.”
Goldman’s writing partner, Brandy Howard, views Goldman’s no-holds-barred attitude as an asset. “As a stand up, I think she is a phenom. Not only is her point of view unique, but her passionate commitment to her singular ideas enraptures audiences in a way I’ve never seen with another standup,” Howard says. “Her randomness reminds me a lot of Louis CK, but he’s much more calm and understated in his delivery. She takes wildly unheard of notions and delivers them like she’s dropping bombs. And if you think about it, she kind of is.”
Goldman brings it all back to the nature of the craft. “Comedy is nuanced. And gray, and we can’t all please everyone. Believe me, I get grossed out and turned off by a million different things. But I don’t become a victim of that. We are all allowed to believe and poke fun at whatever we want. No one is above or below comedy to me. And I will question every single thing that I find questionable. But it’s important to determine intent. I never come from a place of hate.”
Matches Made—And Lost
Julie Goldman wed her partner Nikola Smith in 2005 in Toronto, Canada. They split in 2009. “There’s no bad guy on either side, but people and circumstances change, and I learned a ton,” Goldman says. “She’s an amazing, awesome person and I hope she finds happiness. She taught me so much and I don’t regret anything. It just didn’t work out. “
Goldman is now single and “having a good time.” She says, “I’m just trying to open myself to the universe. Having already been married, I’m a bit gun-shy. I’m not online looking for a girlfriend or anything like that. I’ve decided I’m going to just live and see what happens.”
She pauses and, with a laugh, adds about her ex-wife: “But it’s unfortunate because I do miss that standup. She provided me with a lot of good material.”
Material, however, is something Julie Goldman unearthed a trove of in a different sort of partnership. In 2008, she found herself on an R Family Vacations cruise ship with a “Big Gay Sketch Show” colleague who had brought along a friend, Brandy Howard. The meeting of Goldman and Howard was one of the minds—the launching point for an ironclad friendship and comedic symbiosis that would forever alter both of their personal and professional lives. The two hit it off immediately and within two months of the trip, began writing together. And they haven’t stopped since.
“Brandy’s the best person I’ve ever collaborated with,” Goldman says. “Since working with her in a writing capacity, I definitely don’t want to write alone again outside of my standup, although she’s inspired parts of that, too. She compliments me and fills in all that I’m incapable of doing. We just round each other out.”
Howard is equally enamored of Goldman’s skills. “It’s always said that comedic actors make the best dramatic actors and I never really understood that until I met Julie,” she says. “Her range is staggering. There is nothing she can’t do. She inspires me and motivates me every day.”
Together, the duo penned five scripts, wrote for the late Joan Rivers on E’s “Fashion Police,” worked on an Oxygen show called “Funny Girls,” co-hosted an online series on Autostraddle, and of course, pair up for “The People’s Couch” and “Vanderpump Rules After Show” on Bravo. They’re also currently shopping a script called “Pushing It,” which Goldman describes as a “hybrid comedy that’s basically us—and a mix of ‘Difficult People’ and ‘Absolutely Fabulous.’”
Goldman knows her partnership with Howard raises some eyebrows, but confirms it remains purely platonic. “People are confused by Brandy and me and don’t understand what our relationship is, so it’s cool because whatever you put on us is what we can be—and we don’t care,” she says. “Lesbians can look at us and think that we’re a couple, but she’s married and straight and we’re just best friends.”
When not working, Goldman and Howard often hang out among, well, the people they work with. “We’ve been to Pump [Lisa Vanderpump’s West Hollywood gay bar] a million times and Lisa and [her husband] Ken definitely know us now and say hello. Lisa’s the queen, she’s fucking amazing, she’s fucking everything, and Ken’s amazing, Jiggy [one of Vanderpump dogs, famous on Bravo himself] is amazing, and we are ‘Team Lisa Vanderpump’ for life.”
One of Goldman and Howard’s best moments on air, Goldman says, was “the first time we really made Lisa laugh. We never realized how cool she was but she started really having fun.” Just what did Vanderpump find so funny? The meandering joke involved a prostitute, a yacht, some sheiks, and Goldman as a plumber. “And Lisa started cracking up. We were so excited.”
Her affection for Vanderpump and the “Vanderpump Rules” cast is as genuine as her appreciation for Bravo as a network. “I really believe it’s Bravo that has stood behind gay people and has showcased underrepresented groups, such as women over 45, more than any other channel,” Goldman notes. “And they never asked me to change my look; they never asked me to do anything other than be exactly who I am, and for that I will always be grateful to and respectful of the network. That’s definitely in part due to Andy Cohen and his influence, and just for me personally, I feel a fondness and gratitude for Bravo for allowing me to be myself—to dress and look and act however the fuck I want—and never asking me to change. When everyone else on the planet would have.”
Looking forward, Goldman plans to write her next standup show on how “sexism is the root of all evil.” She reveals, “It’s basically going to be about how you can connect the dots to see that every single thing in the world that goes wrong is connected to sexism.”
She’s also waiting to find out if ABC will pick up the pilot she shot, as yet untitled. Co-written by Ed Weeks of “The Mindy Project” and Hannah Mackay, Goldman refers to the pilot as a ‘reverse ‘Will & Grace.’” She continues, “It’s about a straight guy and a lesbian who are roommates and best friends and spend all their time together, so it’s hard for them to have normal relationships. She’s kind of a Lothario and he’s straight-laced and a nerd. I play their friend who, with my girlfriend, owns the bar where everyone hangs out. And I’m an Elvis impersonator!” Goldman excitedly awaits news on whether ABC will move forward with the pilot; the network’s decision should be announced in mid-May.
Life’s a Butch
In spite of Goldman’s impressive successes, her climb has at times been hindered by not only the long odds of anyone achieving recognition and regular roles in comedy, but in gaining mainstream acceptance as an out lesbian who thinks, feels and looks butch. “There still exists this attitude of, ‘We’ll put a butch lesbian in a show, but she’ll still be ‘the butch lesbian,’ rather than, could a woman who’s a butch lesbian just be someone who’s working at the place and is funny? But that’s true of everyone. Since knowing Brandy, I’ve seen her deal with her own shit. She has to go in and be a trophy wife or a stripper with a heart of gold or arm candy. Everyone has their bag of rocks that they’re carrying around in this industry,” Goldman says.
“Yet, I do feel for gay people it’s very different, and I think racially it’s different for others, but that’s a whole other thing. I know that my appearance has stopped me from getting further in this career. However, it’s been the thing that’s made me ‘special’ in a way that other people are not. So as much as it’s hurt me, I think it’s helped me, too. Now it also, I believe, could potentially be the thing that’s going to make me a lot of money. It could be. It might not be, but it could be.”
If anyone knows how to make lemonade out of lemons, it’s Julie Goldman. Her cheekiness remains balanced by strong undercurrents of humility and self-effacement immediately apparent when engaging with her, and an obvious passion for her convictions. More importantly, she demonstrates daily a willingness to do something about them by shedding light on tough issues with her comedy.
“The moral of the story is: You’ve got to be able to laugh at shit and not take yourself so fucking seriously! Whatever it is. I don’t care if it’s cancer. AIDS. Comedy is cathartic. And it’s necessary. And I think that people who are holding on to trauma sometimes forget that that shit can be funny. You’re not making fun of that actual thing, but you’re shedding light on and dealing with it. Taking the power away from it,” she says.
“This, for me, is all about finding justice and a way to deal with life. Chris Rock said that standup is the only place where there’s true justice and I think that’s true.”
Standup, comedy—and the fax machine.