Playboy: How long were you on welfare?
Goldberg: Seven or eight years. Until I started at the Dance Theater Workshop. I did auditions, kept saying, "I can act, I really can," worked with groups of theater people, did improvisations and, finally, started getting parts at the San Diego Repertory Theater. I played five characters in A Christmas Carol. I did Mother Courage. And then I'd do late-night-theater stuff with my partner, Don Victor. We put together a tape of our material and submitted it to Saturday Night Live around the time they made the first big cast change.
Playboy: What was their reaction?
Goldberg: We didn't hear, didn't hear, didn't hear. Finally, the tape came back mangled. We called and they said someone had accidentally smashed it. "Sorry."
Playboy: When did you decide to go solo?
Goldberg: I didn't. Don and I had been working together for three years, had done the S.N.L. tape. It never dawned on me to do it until we were invited to perform in Berkeley and he couldn't go. I was in a panic. But out of the panic came characters. Fontaine was one of them.
Goldberg: Yeah. I know I'm supposed to say I do a lot of work on these characters, but I don't. They kinda live in me. It's a residence hotel. They say things and express stuff that I would never express. It's exactly like being schizophrenic. Whoopi disappears. I've learned that I have some control over them, but once the performance experience begins, there's not much I can do. I'm just the one who takes care of all the business. It will sound just as crazy as can be when people read this, but that's the way it is. Anyway, at the time, I just figured, OK. I can do this. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. So I did a lot of talking real fast so no one would see that I didn't know what the fuck I was doing, but it would look good. And that was the birth of me as a solo character artist.
Playboy: What made you decide on Fontaine--your junkie past?
Goldberg: Not really. Fontaine is a junkie because he just got tired. He was very straight. Very brilliant guy. He actually has a degree. He wanted to be a teacher but got no respect. So he started doing a lot of drugs and more drugs and more drugs and said, "Fuck it," and became a thief. Which he's not real crazy about, but he's taking care of business. Now he goes off and learns a lot of stuff that pulls him further and further away from drugs. When he shows up on stage again, I think he will just have cleaned up.
Playboy: Is that a reflection of the country's current antidrug mood?
Goldberg: It's more because I didn't realize how many kids watched and liked my show on HBO. I was surprised. When I'm in a movie, you see me smoke cigarettes, but you don't see me drink alcohol. And there are no drugs in my films--just because I think of my kid. If other kids are saying, "I really love your work! I can't wait till you do something else," I have to take that into consideration. I don't want to promote drug use, because Fontaine makes drugs look very hip. For him, they work. That's how he gets through. So, somehow, he's going to clean up.
Playboy: What was the response to your solo debut?
Goldberg: People got up and stamped their feet and screamed and hollered and carried on. But no one was more surprised than I was. I kinda went, "That was pretty interesting. An hour ago, you didn't know what the fuck you were going to do! Where did this come from?"
Playboy: But your characters do reflect your political ideas, right?
Goldberg: They're not always my values or politically correct. I have a character who's like Phyllis Schlafly. A very nice woman. She really does care. But she's close-minded in that she doesn't think long term. She will make blanket statements that she really believes. I feel that if I can do that as a character and still entertain, people will listen and say, "Now, that's bullshit. How can she feel like that? That doesn't make sense." People will talk about her.
Playboy: Are those moral judgments?
Goldberg: Not judgments. It's just more information to listen to. Like my surfer. That's not a pro- or anti-abortion piece. It is only a slice that says, "Your kid could end up in the women's bathroom with a hanger in her crotch." That is why abortion is legalized--so that women do not have to be on bathroom floors anymore. Women were killing themselves, ruining their bodies forever.
Women are always going to give themselves abortions. If a woman wants one, she'll get one. But you don't want her doing it with metal objects. You don't want people drinking acids in the hope that it's going to abort a kid.
The safety of it is my crucial issue. I don't want any more teenagers bleeding to death. I'm tired of that. I'm tired of giving people loaded guns. Taking a woman's right to a safe and legal abortion is a loaded gun. And these anti-abortion people don't think. They're very callous sometimes. Getting an abortion is a hard thing to decide to do. That's a killer thing to decide. It's very painful and it's very frightening. You feel awful for a long time, because you're thinking about this baby. And so if, on your way into the clinic, you hear some asshole who is not going to help you after you have this baby screaming that you're a killer, scum, that's not exactly what you want to hear!
Playboy: Do you speak from experience?
Goldberg: I lived across the street from a hospital in Berkeley where the anti-abortion people used to picket all the time, and it got so awful that I went out with a man I used to live with--David Schein--and started handing out a hanger for every leaflet they handed out, because these people would harass women going in and say devastating stuff. It's just mean. It's certainly not the way to get people over to your side. Let's talk about more sex education. Let's talk about really finding programs that will help people remember to use birth control. Let's find some methods of birth control that will work and that are mutual--male and female.
Playboy: Have you had an abortion?
Goldberg: Yes. I've had an abortion. But I didn't have the protesters. That's new.
Playboy: With the new Supreme Court configuration and a possible review of Roe vs. Wade, what will you do if abortion is outlawed?
Goldberg: I will fight. I will scream. I'll go do whatever I have to do to get out there, which I do. I try to do as many benefits as I can. But before that happens, I just want to keep people thinking, reminding them of what the outcome of that could be. And we're not just talking about adult women. We're talking about teenagers. With the sex education that's going on, we've got a problem. There are a lot of teenaged mothers out there.
Playboy: What do you think sex education should be?
Goldberg: Big topic. Sex education, to me, is contraception education. My theory is probably going to get me into a lot of trouble, but ... I think one thing they oughta talk about when discussing women's sexual needs and desires is oral sex. You cannot get pregnant from it. You also have to keep yourself clean with oral sex.
Playboy: We could probably round up some votes for that.
Goldberg: Yes! It's certainly an alternative to insertion. It should be discussed.
Playboy: Let's continue with your characters. Fontaine and the Surfer Chick are, of course, best known from the Broadway show Mike Nichols produced. There are a few others: a cripple, a Jamaican woman, a little girl. It's been suggested that you have most in common with the cripple.
Goldberg: No. But she's my favorite, because she is very gentle. And very wry. And very understanding of people, because the first thing she does is ask, "Are you OK talking to me, because some people are uncomfortable with handicapped people." A lot of people, when they first see that character, laugh, because they're afraid that I'm going to start making fun of handicapped people or because they don't know how to handle it. What she does is talk to people. Soon you forget that she's handicapped and start focusing on her story about falling in love with a guy who isn't fazed at all by her handicap. He invites her to go swimming and she says, "Look, no. Forget it." And he goes, "Well, why not?" So she does these things and discovers he's right. She's human. All that's wrong is a physical inability. Oh, yeah! You got a mind in there. You're a human being. You're in love. Sex! Yes! Handicapped people have sex! Of course! It's a revelation.
Playboy: Any characters we haven't seen?
Goldberg: I have Inez Beaverman, a 77-year-old woman who used to be a lounge singer. She always talks about her days with Sinatra. "Oh, I introduced him to Ava Gardner, you know?" Then I have a guy who is in a mental institution. When you see him, he is eating rose petals and making a thank-you speech.
Playboy: Are you concerned about what the politics you put into your shows could do to your career?
Goldberg: I don't think about solidifying my career first. I'm going to get out there. I know that people ate up Ed Asner when he talked about the U.S. and Nicaragua, and they ate up Jane Fonda when she was talking about Vietnam. But they're not going to eat me up.
Playboy: Why not?
Goldberg: Because too many things have happened in the past that people have to listen to. You have to listen. You cannot deny that homelessness in America is fucked. There's no way to negate it. There's no conversation. You cannot deny that the Government has done little or nothing to alleviate the problem. I don't understand why anyone would take offense or be pissed at me for saying that the issue with abortion is choice. Your children are at stake. Your children are at stake with the toxic-waste issue. If you don't know what they're dumping into your drinking water--it ain't even like they're dumping it into your house; they're dumping it into your water! And you don't know about it. And they don't have to tell you! They don't have to say a fucking thing to you! Why would you want that? Don't you want to know how they're killing you? As an American citizen, I have a right to speak out. The LaRouche people are crazy. Think Nazi Germany. Think about it. I gotta keep people aware. And I will for as long as I can.
Playboy: You did the Comic Relief show with Robin Williams and Billy Crystal last year to raise money for the homeless. Did it live up to your expectations?
Goldberg: It far surpassed them. And what's best is that we've already got the money out there actively working.
Playboy: Being so busy, how involved could you actually get with the homelessness issue?
Goldberg: We saw things. We went to shelters and we read articles about the homeless. A guy said to Billy, "Just tell them we're not all bums." If you go to a shelter after having read what some dickbrain says about their all being filled with homeless junkies and you see a five-month-old baby, you wonder, Where are your tracks, kid? You know, how much wine do you drink? It was a great response. Kids called up wanting to know if they could send in a dollar. Everybody wanted to help, because it was us, all of us, taking care of us.
Playboy: On that positive note, any messages to your people out there?
Goldberg: I got lucky. I know that. So I'd like to have people remember that all I've gotten is a little bit of recognition and not to be afraid of me. Please cool out.