Whoopi Goldberg promises ‘a lot of foolishness’ at Ravinia
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Whoopi Goldberg is an EGOT.
That is very, very cool, because it means the 62-year-old comedian/actress is among an elite group of entertainers who’ve won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards. Pretty cool indeed.
An Evening with Whoopi Goldberg
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 3
Where: Ravinia Festival, Lake-Cook and Green Bay Roads, Highland Park
She’s also a strong, independent woman who’s not afraid to speak her mind. As one of the co-hosts since 2007 of the ABC gabfest “The View,” Goldberg has demonstrated all of those attributes and more, alienating some viewers and endearing others. Her philanthropic efforts run the gamut, from LGBT rights to UNICEF and HIV/AIDS research. Her film work boasts an Oscar-winning best supporting actress turn in “Ghost” (1991) and a best actress nomination for “The Color Purple” (1985). She has hosted the Academy Awards telecast four times.
But at her core, Goldberg remains a comedian, a funny woman in what used to be (and what some might still argue continues to be) a man’s world. She’s been entertaining audiences for more than 30 years and says making people laugh is what it’s all about.
Goldberg hopes to make quite a few people laugh Friday night at Ravinia, where she’s presenting “An Evening with Whoopi Goldberg,” a look at the state of the world but more importantly, she says, a glimpse into the things about her life that she finds quite amusing but true.
Goldberg recently chatted with the Sun-Times about her live show, the state of comedy and what’s funny and what’s not. The following is an edited transcript.
Q. It’s been a while since you’ve performed in Chicago. What can the audience expect from your Ravinia show?
A. A lot of foolishness. It’s all about getting old and watching things fall and drop and not being the hot thing in the room anymore. [Chuckles] You know? I talk about the old days and what it was like and all that craziness that comes with the [age of the] Internet. Just trying to survive as a human being in a crazy world. … We’re all having the same issues. How do you communicate with people who are not even different from you but just don’t talk like you do or look like you do? Is there a basis where you can connect?
I know that prior to last year we were working it out. Then it was: What the f— just happened? But [in the show] I try not to make it about politics or the man in office because that’s too limiting. And I don’t want to stay angry.
So it’s all about crazy, wonderful stuff. I feel that in a 24/7 news cycle, what can I do that’s different and have fun doing it? That’s my job, to keep folks laughing.
Q. It’s a brave new world out there. Do you approach your comedy differently than you did perhaps 20, or even 10 years ago?
A. Not at all. My stuff is 80 percent improv and the rest is more structured. The truth of the matter is that funny is always funny. And not funny is always funny, too. Everyone has an opinion! I blame it on “American Idol.” Before [that show] nobody cared what your opinion was. That [show] entitled people to believe that what they said mattered. And then comes the Internet where everybody thinks that what they do … carries weight. Well, I don’t want to hear from everybody. Basically I say f— you and keep your opinions to yourself. I’m not asking for it. You came to see me. …
We all thought the “Jetsons” world would work out, but convenience doesn’t always bring intelligent thinking. Now it’s all about how we survive this. I know there’s really good stuff you can do with the Internet. It’s all that crappy stuff that’s out of control.
And quit [photographing] your god—- food! I don’t care what you had. It’s like everything is important to everybody, and to me that’s an issue that makes it harder for us to talk to each other.
Q. What’s funny to Whoopi Goldberg?
A. It depends. I couldn’t tell you till I see it. I won’t know until I laugh. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Leslie Jones makes me laugh! I just saw her do me on “SNL” and I was really knocked out because she had me down! And it made me laugh. I’m usually [impersonated] by men, so that was thrilling to have a woman do it! [NOTE: During a 2016 appearance on “The View,” Jones talked about her idol, Goldberg: “When I was young, my dad always let me listen to comedy albums and I always knew about comedy. I always loved comedy. The day I saw Whoopi Goldberg on television, I cried so hard because I kept looking at my daddy going, ‘Oh my God! There’s somebody on TV who looks like me! She looks like me! Daddy! I can be on TV. I can be on TV, I can do it!'”]
Q. Have we lost the ability to laugh at ourselves?
A. No. They’re trying to get us there, but we’re not there. We can still laugh.
Q. Do you find comedy audiences to be different with respect to your work, depending on what city you’re in?
A. No. Funny is funny and people recognize funny. It’s universal. There’s some things that just work on everybody. Subtleties don’t always work on everybody, but there are universal realities. So if you say something that’s funny, for example: People love the word “bitch.” If you say “bitch” at the end of a joke, people laugh. It doesn’t matter who it is. It’s all about the tone, the sound.
But still, you never know. Some audiences are just not good. Doesn’t mean the material is not good, just means you need to try it with another group. And if at that point you find they don’t respond, then you have to think about changing pieces of what you do. My [material] is of the moment.
Q. Do you feel there are more restrictions on comedians’ material nowadays?
A. No. I think comics make hits and misses. Some things seem really funny at the moment and you do it and it’s not as good as you thought it was gonna be. That happens for me from time to time. The things that are really funny [in my material] are things having to do with me: I talk about “the dryness” everywhere, not being able to release air the way I used to because you’re not sure what else you’re releasing. Sneezing is a new thing for me! You know what I’m talking about! [Laughs] I talk about the stuff that women of a certain age are going through or about to go through. When I talk to guys it’s: Listen, your nuts are gonna drop. Gravity! It’s the nature of the stuff.