Playboy: Did you act as a child?
Goldberg: I started when I was eight. I lived near the Hudson Guild in Manhattan. They had a children's group. It's a settlement house. You went there after school to do whatever you were interested in--until your parents got off work and came for you. For me, it was like being in a candy store and being able to have any piece of candy I wanted. I knew right away that I liked it.
Playboy: Did you do characters early?
Goldberg: No. I just wanted to do what I saw on television. I wanted to be a Dead End Kid. I wanted to be Carole Lombard. I watched The Million Dollar Movie. I didn't even know these movies were old or that they were all in black and white. I figured they were in color--only to discover I was wrong when I got a color TV. But ultimately, the absence of color made it easier to fantasize along with the movies. Like Psycho. All the color you see is nonexistent. But it was perfect for me, because I love to live in my head. I love to pretend: Watching The King of Comedy was scary for me, because I sat at home and had conversations with Johnny Carson.
Playboy: Apparently, you had lots of time alone, since your mom raised you by herself. What happened to your father?
Goldberg: They separated soon after I was born. One thing about my family: It's pretty closemouthed. My mother doesn't talk about this or her age or her parents or her relationship with my father. She's like the Mystery Woman.
Playboy: Have you ever met your dad? Spent time with him?
Goldberg: Yeah. He and Mom never divorced. I never found out why--and to learn about it now would probably only piss me off. I grew up in an apartment with my mom and older brother, Clyde, but we were like three separate islands. I love them very much, but it was distant.
Goldberg: No. My mom was distant but generous. My brother is six years older. He was out playing softball and didn't want to hear from his little sister. There was not a whole lot of John Boy stuff going on. But, hey, we always had enough to eat. We could always get a hug. There was some affection. There just wasn't a whole lot of talk about family. Or a whole lot of communication. [Pauses] I should balance this boohoo tale out, because there were lots of great times. Mom is a wonderful lady, just very dry. We've grown closer in the past four years.
Playboy: Has having your own child affected your perspective?
Goldberg: Yeah. I couldn't know how tough it is raising kids until I had mine. One day I called my mom up and said, "Shit. I'm sorry for being such an asshole." For my mother to have done what she did--she was a nurse and then a Head Start teacher--is phenomenal. We never wanted for anything. We were always clean and Christmas was always fun. [Pauses] I'm realizing now as we're talking that maybe what I thought was her distance was simply her taking needed space for her time and private thoughts.
Playboy: You've apparently resisted or overcome the temptation to be bitter.
Goldberg: Man, I've done too much stuff to be bitter. There's no point in it. I'll give you an example. When I was going to go to the Dance Theater Workshop, which is the first theater that I played in New York as an adult, I wanted to go back to the neighborhood. I figured, I'm going to show these guys. They had laughed at me. Treated me like shit. But when I got back there, I found that a lot of the people who'd made it tough for me hadn't moved an inch. They were still in the neighborhood. They were still in their parents' houses. They hadn't seen anything outside the neighborhood. And that killed, for probably the rest of my life, that infantile desire to just have a little bit of revenge, to twist the knife a little bit. It was a revelation. Now I feel joy that I was the odd man. It gave me an out that I didn't recognize at the time. I've spent a lot of time recovering from the feeling of being inadequate. I'm building from that now. But then, I did all kinds of weird shit to try to get people to like me.
Playboy: For example?
Goldberg: Well, just saying things that I didn't mean and trying to be ways that I wasn't. See, I'm a hippie. I was born a hippie and will be one till I die.
Playboy: Still a child of the Sixties?
Goldberg: Yeah. When I say hippie, I mean humanist. Environmentalist. Someone who wants world peace. Zen politics. Sunshine and rainbows. God. It all appeals to me. [Pauses] But that was not cool in my neighborhood. I knew I had to be black. It's not something I could ignore. I saw myself in the mirror. Brown-skinned woman. But somehow, one also had to be hip and black. And I wasn't hip. I was just this kid who liked theater and music and guys. It didn't matter to me what color people were. But then, I'd be with a white guy and we'd get hit with eggs.
I didn't understand this. And I tried. I tried really hard to get into it and I couldn't, because it was bullshit to me. Why the fuck should I be worried about whether or not the guy's white? If he's an ax murderer, then I'm concerned. My instinct was always to just go one on one and see how it went.
Playboy: Did you go out with black guys, too?
Goldberg: Yeah. I went out with anybody who wanted to go out with me. Guys were so hard to find. I was just not a popular girl. I couldn't get a boyfriend. I couldn't get into a clique. I felt I wasn't hip enough or smart enough or fast enough or funny enough or cute enough. I couldn't even dance well. The people who were those things were the people who were going places. I am an overly sensitive person. It's very easy to hurt me. Only I know that, though. People can say things to me and I'll just respond, "Hey, fuck you!" But inside, it hurts, because I'm still this kid. The best way to explain it is I wanted so much to be accepted that I'd hang out in the park with some of the girls and guys, and when they'd say, "Well, we want to get some candy," I'd run and I'd get some candy. But I'd come back and they'd have gone. And I'd sit and I'd wait. What hurts so much about things like that is that I didn't learn. I'd get the candy again. But it contributed something to me, because I don't let myself do that to people. [Pauses] Sometimes I get so busy, I get callous. I forget stuff. But that memory has made me concerned about how I treat other people, because it's painful, still.
Playboy: Did those experiences push you into your drug-taking phase?
Goldberg: It's hard to tell. [Flatly] I just did drugs.
Playboy: When did you start?
Goldberg: [Hesitates] I was young. Young. Acid, pills and heroin were in vogue. I did everything. And large quantities of everything.
Playboy: Do you have a problem with this topic?
Goldberg: Yeah. Only because it involves my family and Mom. If I start talking about how young I was, it doesn't look good for her. If I related my full drug experience to you before relating it to her ... it would not be the way I'd want her to find out about it. I don't want a million people reading about it before I make my peace with her. I'll talk about it all some other time. It happened, I did it, it's done. I'm not ashamed. Suffice it to say I was young when I started and I don't do them now. And I don't encourage their use, because they're too fucking dangerous.
Playboy: Why did you latch on to drugs?
Goldberg: I had something to say to myself. It's the greatest thing in the world, to me, to have done drugs and survived them. Besides, they changed me forever. The drugs of the Sixties were social drugs. Everybody got high. Everyone smoked pot, did ups, downs, opium, acid. Everyone was in the same condition. It was almost normal. You could be real open and do good stuff when you were loaded.
Playboy: As opposed to today.
Goldberg: Yeah. Drugs are cut with rat poison and shit. I could never do now what I did then. Today's drugs are too powerful.
Playboy: What changed?
Goldberg: Money changed it. Money is a funny thing. It's the biggest killer of quality in any venue. Once you find a product and realize you can make lots of money with it, the mass production overpowers the quality. When money people started getting interested in drugs, the quality dropped.
Playboy: You also did heroin.
Goldberg: I did heroin. Yeah.
Playboy: Shooting it? Snorting it?
Goldberg: Shooting it. At the time, it was just another drug.
Playboy: Just another drug?
Goldberg: Look, strychnine, rat poison and Clorox will all kill you. They're all fucked. Acid will get you killed. Opium. Pills. [Annoyed, tired] For me, it was just another drug. I did lots of drugs. I was a junkie. I was chemically dependent on many things for many years.