Dana Goldberg: My Night With the President
BY Jami Smith
February 21 2012 4:00 AM ET
For comedian Dana Goldberg, the toughest act she’s ever had
to follow was President Obama.
Voted one of the top five lesbian comedians by Curve magazine, Goldberg is keeping her comedy dance card
full these days. She performs regularly at Human Rights Campaign events and
with Olivia Cruises and produces her own show, which brings some of the biggest
names in female comedy to New Mexico every year.
She spoke with The Advocate about giving back to the LGBT community, why government should stay
out of our bedrooms, and her brush with the president.
What was it like being raised in a Jewish household where two out of the three
children were gay?
Dana Goldberg: It was insane.
We kind of raised each other. We had moments of complete sibling abuse followed
by tearing all of the cushions off of the couch, stripping down to our
underwear, and dancing to Funky Town
in the living room. My mom is a brilliant woman, someone who I would choose as
a friend, who worked three jobs to raise us.
It sounds like it was an easy choice to be a comedian.
It was either that or years or psychotherapy! I thought I could make a little
money instead of paying someone else to sort out my bullshit. I think for a lot
of comics, it’s a very public process. We have the ability to go and work out
our own shit in front of an audience and let them laugh at us and for us to
laugh at ourselves. My kindergarten teacher told my mother that I was the
funniest 5-year-old that she had ever met. I don’t know how that translates but
apparently this is how I’ve always been. When you mix in the lesbianism with
the Judaism, I’ve worked out a lot of stuff on stage.
You work a lot of cruises. It’s the one comedy venue
where your audience still surrounds you long after the show is over. Any good
I’ve been with Olivia Cruises since 2006 and have had some amazing trips, but
it’s true that you are with your audience all week, so you are always on. I
actually enjoy talking to the guests. I want people to feel like they have
access to me. Some of my best friends now, I’ve met on these trips. I did have
one bad experience once. In my act, I have a joke about vegetarians not having
a lot of energy, which I know is not true. It’s a comedy show. I come back from
work that night, and it is work. It’s my job. This guest who was a doctor felt
the need to write me a letter about how I don’t support or don’t promote a
healthy lifestyle. He just tore me apart. I was so upset that someone felt the
need — and the right, after I had a long day — to write me a letter, not hand
it to me but give it to the front desk and have them place it on my bed. I
can’t imagine that doctor would’ve liked to have come home with a message from
the medical board saying we want to talk to you about your work. There’s a
patient who complained.
Let’s talk about the Southwest FunnyFest. You’re attracting some of
the best female comics (Erin Foley, Jessica Kirson, Fortune Feimster) to
Albuquerque. What got you
interested in producing your own show?
I went to audition for this show that I
had seen come through Albuquerque called Funny Lesbians For a Change,
which raised higher education scholarships for women. When I was younger,
Suzanne Westenhoefer headlined the show and I remember sitting there thinking,
“I would love to do this.” She was so funny. The show later went defunct and I
wanted to start another show. I thought, what if I could bring four female
comics who don’t get the stage time together normally because women don’t get
nationally booked on a bill together?
My colleagues have all come down to perform, at a fraction of what they
normally make, to help me raise money for the AIDS Foundation in New Mexico.
Over the last five years, we’ve raised over $15,000 for the organization.
Olivia Cruises came on as a sponsor and we raffle off free trips. This year,
it’ll be Alaska. I’ve been very fortunate that it’s had a lot of success.
You do a lot of shows to benefit HRC and AIDS awareness.
Do you do it for the food?
The food is amazing. It’s better than
Jewish food. I decided to come out at the beginning of my career so the
community has always supported me. Why would I not want to give back to the
community that supported my dream? When I got involved with HRC, it was kind of
an accident. I had been asked to do an L Word premiere in Austin by
a friend who was involved in HRC. I did a comedy set in front of a packed house
before the last episode of the last season. There was someone there from San
Francisco and they asked me to do a black-tie event. They needed a live
auctioneer. Any comic will tell you that a live auction is one of the worst
possible things you can do. No one is listening. You don’t get a chance to show
your craft. But I did it pro bono. So I fly to San Francisco and I’m in a dress
and I’m the Belle of the Ball and I walked on the stage and started channeling
a live auctioneer. I ripped through five items in a matter of minutes telling
jokes. I was in some crazy zone. There was a cruise from Olivia being given
away and I was like, “Lesbians, if you’re on a first date, now’s a perfect time
to plan a vacation together!” I get offstage and people are high-fiving me in
the audience. At the end of the dinner, [HRC president] Joe Solmonese came up
to me and said I want you in Washington, D.C. for the National Dinner.
The Obama, Lady Gaga National Dinner?
Yes! Obama spoke and of course you are
blown away. And then yeah, I get called up and step onstage afterwards and was
The president is a tough act to follow.
My mother was like, “so Obama opened for you.” Um, I wouldn’t go that far. But if
you want to say that I opened for Lady Gaga, that’s fine.
It’s been a huge month for marriage equality in several
states. What would you say to Chris Christie to change his mind about vetoing marriage
equality in New Jersey?
I think it’s so strange that someone is taking so much time out of their lives
to intentionally keep two people who love each other from getting married. The
energy being put into hate shocks me. These are people who want to fight for
less government but who want the government to be in our bedrooms. On an
economic note, all of these states that are broke, for them as a capitalistic
society to not realize how powerful the gay dollar is and what it can actually
do for the community blows my mind. It’s all about people’s fear driving their
political decisions. It kills me too that, God rest her soul, but they are
lowering flags at half-mast for Whitney Houston while fighting against civil
rights for another group. It’s hypocritical and makes no sense. This is all
happening the same week. In a state that is going to lower a flag for a citizen
of that state and then tell another citizen that they can’t have equal rights,
trips me out.
Catch Dana Goldberg at the Long Beach Laugh
Factory in California on February 29 and in Cincinnati, Ohio on March 10 for
the HRC Greater Cincinnati's "Laugh Out Loud" show at the Below Zero
Lounge. Follow Dana on Twitter @dgcomedy. And watch a bonus Dana Goldberg clip on the next page.