Wolf Files: The Mother of All Jokes

Most Comics Poke Fun at Mom, Few Apologize

By Buck Wolf

May 6, 2003 --   Whether your mother wears Army boots or simply subjects you to daily doses of psychological torture, you have to admit professional comedians have a virtual license to publicly humiliate the person who gave them life.

Should a mother be proud or embarrassed when her child bases a career upon a supposed lousy childhood? What if the kid had a happy childhood and just created the myth of a bad mom because it plays well on stage?

And does being a professional comedian mean never having to say you're sorry? Even on Mother's Day?

"My mother treated us equally … with contempt," Groucho Marx once said.

But later in life, Groucho admitted that he and his brothers Harpo and Chico owed their mother, Minnie, a great debt for pushing the boys out on stage as a singing act. "She made us," Groucho said.

But comics rarely apologize to mom. Some of today's top stand-ups — like Judy Gold and Susie Essman — rag on their mothers relentlessly.

But Gold and Essman are just like old-timers Phyllis Diller, Bob Hope, and even Soupy Sales when it comes to turning mom into the butt of their jokes. Apologies are almost never in order. Comedy is not pretty.

With Mother's Day approaching, here's what several comics say about their mothers, on and offstage: The Comic: Judy Gold

The Jokes: Gold's overbearing mother offered a special brand of comfort when the comic was a tall, gawky child and the other kids would make fun of her.

"She'd say to me, 'Judith, don't you worry about it, they're jealous of you. Go upstairs, put on your father's clothes, leave me alone.' "

These days, Gold's mom never stops complaining. "She hired a nursing aide recently, so that she could complain someone was stealing from her."

Mom's Reaction: "No matter what I say, I never feel bad because she loves the attention," says Gold, a 40-year-old Emmy Award winner.

Gold regularly plays her mom's answering machine messages in her act — a bit she even did on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.