Yes, I Can Say That!

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Photo: James Leynse Review
Quads are the biggest achievement in current figure skating. So there’s something Olympian about “Yes, I Can Say That!,” now being presented by Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Performer Judy Gold (along with co-writer Eddie Sarfaty) earn high marks – in their case, lots of laughter – for their unique theatrical quad, which combines a stand-up comedy routine, an autobiographical solo show, intelligent political commentary, and a necessary history lesson in one hilarious and powerful 80-minute piece.

Smartly directed by B.D. Wong on a deceptively simple set (by Lex Liang) that allows for Shawn Duan’s clever projections, the work is adapted from Gold and Sarfaty’s book of the same name -- which came out at the beginning of the COVID pandemic and was, according to Gold, largely ignored by a population more obsessed with toilet paper and “Tiger King” than reading.

And if that’s so, it’s too bad, because there are obviously words of wisdom on those printed pages. For all of the show’s expected, expletive-filled humor on such topics as Gold’s typical Jewish upbringing, her coming out publicly as a lesbian and her frustrations with dealing with the male hierarchy of comedy, what Gold and Sarfaty (who co-wrote the script) really want to discuss is the subtitle of their book: “When They Come for the Comedians, We Are All in Trouble.”

As Gold pungently reminds us, we live in a country that once tried to legally persecute people like Lenny Bruce for speaking the truth. And although times have changed, the day can easily come – or has come -- when politically minded comics like Trevor Noah, Jimmy Kimmel or John Oliver can find themselves the target of both governmental and personal wrath. In fact, Gold herself found herself the target of “hate mail” (on social media) when a joke she made about Hasidic women and their wigs was taken out of context.

She also lists the names and shows the faces of people such as Ablikim Kalkun, Lee Choon Hong and Bassem Youssef, who have been punished by their governments for their words, as well as Afghani comedian Khasha Zwan, who was murdered by the Taliban for speaking out.

And, as a child of parents whose friends were all Holocaust survivors, Gold educates many of us about the “Treachery Act of 1934” in which Germans who made anti-Nazi jokes could be imprisoned or put to death. Can something like that happen here, perhaps in the near future?

Don’t worry, though, the show is far from a downer. Gold also lovingly pays tribute to the many comedians who work at this craft despite their physical disabilities, and she honors the women who blazed the path for all female comedians, such as Joan Rivers, Totie Fields, Phyllis Diller, who proved they could make it in a man’s world. (Her impressions of these ladies are fairly spot-on!)

And yes, there are many unforgettably funny bits, including one about a PETA campaign to transform famous sayings involving animals, another making fun of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, and one gently teasing U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer’s vocal delivery.

And yes, the best part of all these jokes is knowing that Gold can say “that” not just at your show, but at the next night’s show and show after that!

By Brian Scott Lipton

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Open/Close Dates
Opening 3/21/2023
Closing 4/16/2023

Theatre Info
59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th St
New York, NY 10022