INT: Cigar Bar, Melrose Avenue. A cold afternoon in early December. A young-looking comedian sits alone, intensely focused, furiously typing through a cloud of smoke and eating a tuna sandwich.
“Oh, please don’t start with: ‘He was eating a tuna sandwich,’ ” Elon Gold says, half playfully, half pleading.
What’s wrong with a tuna sandwich?
“It’s not technically from a kosher restaurant,” he says.
The 42-year-old stand-up comic is hardly the first Jewish entertainer to insist on “looking cool” while exhibiting a healthy dose of religious Jewish anxiety. But he may be the only person ever to have asked “Baywatch” babe Pamela Anderson if she’d adjust her work schedule so he could celebrate Shabbat.
“ ‘Oh, I love Shabbos!’ ” Gold recalls her saying. “She totally got it.”
But their show together, the Fox sitcom “Stacked,” helmed by Steven Levitan, pre-“Modern Family,” only lasted 19 episodes, so Gold will probably have to have that conversation again. And again and again.
Being Modern Orthodox in modern Hollywood isn’t uncomplicated (or uncompromising), but Gold says reconciling his religious life with his professional life has been more blessing than curse. For starters, there is the mine of material, a glut of kitschy stand-up routines like “Elon Gold: Half Jewish, Half Very Jewish” or this week’s “Merry Erev Christmas,” his fifth annual event, at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood.
“You can’t get away from the Jewish thing when it comes to me,” Gold said. “I own it, and I’m proud of it.”
The more pressing dilemma of his life, rather, is that he’s just plain frustrated. “I’m sexually frustrated, creatively frustrated, politically frustrated; I’m frustrated about life.”
This comes as a surprise, given how well he lives (with four kids and his wife, who was his high-school sweetheart, in a big house in Westwood) and how successful he is (a routinely employed actor and comedian who makes a bundle emceeing Jewish events nationally — “I put the ‘fun’ in fundraiser,” he quipped), not to mention, his spiritual proficiency. What could possibly be so vexing?
“At this point in my life, I thought I’d already have a hit show under my belt, a couple of movies, be on my second or third HBO special and my 30th ‘Tonight Show,’ ” he said, explaining that he’s only on his 10th. “If I died tomorrow, there would be nothing on the shelf with me on it — and I want to leave a legacy in comedy before I leave this planet.”
Although he has appeared on several sitcoms and works fairly consistently on television, Gold came up amid a generation of comics that includes Ray Romano (“Everybody Loves Raymond”), Dave Chappelle (“Chappelle’s Show,” “Half Baked”) and Louis C.K. (“Louie”), so, by comparison, he feels a bit behind. Especially since the New York native got his first gig at 16, at the Manhattan hotspot The Comic Strip, following a young Adam Sandler in the lineup. By the time Gold matriculated at Boston University, he had built up a lucrative career touring college campuses with his stand-up show.
“I bought my first Lexus at [age] 20 because of the college tour,” he said. “And then struggled for the next 20 years. I’m still, like, in school, waiting to graduate. You don’t get to do what you can do — what I feel I was born to do — to its fullest if you only get to do a fundraiser here, a Laugh Factory set there, an occasional guest appearance. It’s like you’re doing it in little spurts.
“I want to be Jewish rock-star comedian, not an old-school Catskills comedian,” Gold said.
Gold prides himself on his two acts — his “Jewish act” and his “secular act” — that he’ll perform selectively, according to his audience. “I have a Jewish act that’s for my people, for people that are living Jewish lives that will get all the references,” he explained. That act, which can be seen at the requisite organizational dinners every week, is actually what has sustained him over the years, even though he says Jewish audiences in Los Angeles don’t support Jewish-themed culture enough.
“I love performing for Jewish audiences because of the deep connection we have, but Jewish audiences are the worst audiences for comedy,” Gold said. “They’re more skeptical. We can’t let loose and have a good time. And we’re the worst laughers — it’s more of a reserved laugh, followed by thinking and planning: ‘You know, he’d be good for a fundraiser next month.’ It’s like sex with Jews. It’s always satisfying, but it’s never off-the-charts, blow-your-mind, unbelievable.”
Despite his discontent, Gold is a pretty solidly stable guy who counts being away from his family on Shabbat as his toughest misfortune. “I’ve always had my doubts about religion, but I have really found comfort in it,” he said.
And, for the most part, Hollywood understands. Except for that one time he turned down the season finale of a hit show because it was taping on Passover. “You just don’t do that,” he said. “When those things aren’t, ‘Oh, he’s doing a movie with Spielberg in Europe,’ but rather, ‘He’s staying home with his family to have dinner.’ It’s like, ‘How dare he? We’re not using him anymore.’ ”