Double Sunday (DS): What is Jewishness to you?
Matty Goldberg (MG): Jewishness to me is being yourself. People have always said I am a stereotypical Jew. I guess, by the way I look, my stature and glasses. I do not aim for this. I aim just to be Matty. I see cultural Judaism as being an individual and always raising questions. I love that there are so many great Jewish writers, comedians and artists.
DS: What was it like to grow up Jewish?
MG: I didn’t have a typical Jewish childhood. My parents were very anti-religious, so I was never bar mitzvahed. All my friends had to go to Hebrew school. I actually felt lucky I didn’t have to go. I was never one for school. I was ashamed of my last name because it was so jewish and I felt [the] anti-semitism. It wasn’t until later in life how proud I am of my last name. Goldberg is beautiful. I’m proud to be a Goldberg.
DS: Is Jewishness a part of your life now? If so, how?
MG: Culturally, yes. I’m just proud to be part of a great community and now super proud of who I am. I don’t know how religious I’ll ever get. I’ve never been through the rituals and I know if I tried, it could feel forced. I do enjoy going to Shabbats where a bunch of Jews shoot the shit about life and try to answer big questions. I plan on being myself, but I’ll never run from my identity.
DS: So Matty, you have written a memoir that recounts your childhood briefly and, in greater depth, your recovery from a brain tumor. You also shared intimate accounts of a friend’s death. What inspired you to share your story?
MG: I am a stand up comic, and as much as a run away from it. I can’t. Three to four years ago, I had time off and I started writing about my experience with having a brain tumor. After my diagnosis in college, I became reclusive. I had the surgery and had to recover for 6 months with no communication to the outside world. I’ve had to relearn my social skills. I was so scared. My best friend was helping because we did comedy together. But, after he died, the loss, everything was hard to do what we were doing before. The comedy. Nothing mattered without him.
So, I wanted to stay creative and I started writing. I wanted to tell my story with his because I learned what I was doing because of him.
Matty Goldberg and Double Sunday screen shot of Skype interview.
DS: Your book seemed less about you, and more about your friends.
MG: That’s true. Life is a weird bizarre game. People define who you are. I started writing in 2006, and I wrote 3 to 4 chapters, but when my friend died.
DS: You talked a lot about your friend and his death. How was it to write on someone’s behalf?
MG: I talked to his mother, and I asked her if it was ok. I sent her the chapters, and she gave me her blessing. And then we talked about him, his comedy, how he loved porno—and all of his interesting pictures..like when he was 27 playing the guitar naked. Weird shit like that about him, and we loved him. She gave me carte blanche. Nothing was censored.
DS: The book is written in a conversational tone. What that intentional?
MG: Yes, I don’t have the best vocabulary, so my editor helped me dig deeper. That helped keep it in my own voice. That’s what its like to do stand-up. And what’s it’s like going on in my head. Like, suddenly, you’re 20 years old and you might actually die. So, I wanted [my voice] to be vivid, like how I felt.
DS: Why is being funny important?
MG: IIt goes back to my awkward time in college when I didn’t know how to talk to people. And when I did stand up, I felt like, ‘WOW! I’m important.’. I gained self-confidence. I don’t even know what funny is. Funny is funny. It gave me self-confidence. The stage gave me poetic license to be myself. Confidence is beautiful.
DS: Have you always been a reader?
MG: In high school, I was not. In college, I was reading 3 to 4 books a month. And now I love the Kindle. My favorite writer is Philip Roth. Wonderful Jewish man. He’s brilliant. I’m low brow—but he understands the human psyche. And, he also understands the Jewish man.
DS: Do you think understanding the human psyche important for comedy?
MG: Absolutely. You go up there, and they read you in 5 sec. The audience thinks, ‘this guy is this or this that’. And you can either stand there to agree or not. So you go from there. You have to be in touch.
DS: Do you have any written work prior to “Brain Humor”?
MG: I wrote a few essays about cats during my surgery (here).
Matty has also appeared in Jessie Kahnweiler’s short film Meet My Rapist.
Matty Goldberg will be attending a book signing on March 26th 2014 at New York Comedy Club at 9pm. You can also purchase a copy of his new book Brain Humor from Amazon.com.