Jeff Gould – A Playwright with a Poker Face

Ashley Alva, Alexander Hall, Jake Gould, and Victoria Ogbonna in LOVE, SEX, AND MISERY - Photo by Sean Dube
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For twenty-five years, playwright Jeff Gould has been making audiences laugh as he explores the territories of love, sex, and marriage in his full-length plays, including “Troubled Waters,” “It’s Just Sex,” “The Marriage Zone,” “Is there Sex After Marriage,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Divorce,” and  his newest show, “Love, Sex, and Misery.” Clearly, Jeff is a man with a keen eye for people trying to make relationships work – and the ready wit to keep the laughter flowing. On November 9, 2023, Jeff took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to interview for Splash Magazine. His responses offer a fascinating peek at the inner life of a successful writer.

Jeff Gould – Photo courtesy of SkyPilot Theatre Company

What attracted you to writing plays as opposed to novels, essays, etc.?

Jeff Gould:  I like dialogue. Novels and essays are too much description for me. There is too much time spent writing about the sun shining through the trees and the chirping of the birds. Of course I recognize that many, and maybe most, of the people who write all that description, are far better writers than I will ever be. But it’s just not my personal favorite thing.

How did you happen to focus on love, sex, marriage, and even divorce in your plays?

Jeff Gould:  As I have said in the past, I love writing about marriage and sex, two things I someday hope to be good at. I like these topics; and even though it’s all been done before, I think it can keep being done and entertain people forever. It’s relatable to almost everybody, and ideas keep presenting themselves in everyday life. I would love to write a murder mystery or some kind of thriller, but – unless I kill someone to get a good story – that won’t come easy for me. But maybe someday.

BriAna Wagner, Olivia Spirz, and Domenick DeDiana – Photo by Sean Dube

Are your plays autobiographical? Do they reflect actual events/incidents in your life? Or the lives of those close to you?

Jeff Gould:  Definitely autobiographical with some obvious embellishment.  I have based tons of dialogue and situations on my 20 year marriage. I used to tell my ex-wife that she was the greatest source of material that I could ever find, until I realized that I had so many quirks and idiosyncrasies that I was an even better source. But it wasn’t just us. I would also observe other couples and occasionally strike gold. If you want to be a writer, I have two suggestions. Be a little crazy, and hang out with some crazy people. Friends that are too sane are of no value.

Shelby Janes and Corbin Timbrook – Photo by Sean Dube

Your latest show, “Love, Sex, and Misery” is a departure from your usual format in that it is really eight distinct stories told in a collection of eight short theater pieces. What gave you the idea of making this departure? Do you feel that it makes your “message” stronger? Funnier?

Jeff Gould:  I have often noticed theaters doing evenings of ten minute plays; but I had never done it, so I thought it was time. I had also worked with SkyPilot Theatre Company last year, when they did such a great job producing my play, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Divorce.” I knew they had done one acts before; and Shelby Janes, the president of the company, couldn’t have been nicer or easier to work with, so it seemed like a perfect combination to make this happen. Then I started talking to my son Jake about it, and he was full of ideas. So we started tossing things around, and one thing led to another. Actually, when he was a teenager, Jake would ask to read whatever script I was working on and then give me his critique. I didn’t give it much thought, and I said, “Sure, kid, whatever you want”. Then I was amazed that not only were his ideas good, but they were also very funny. Now if I could just get him to stop breaking my balls about every single line that he thinks isn’t totally perfect, I could sit back and enjoy this. And fortunately SkyPilot has helped me enjoy it, by providing a bunch of excellent directors to split the load with me, plus terrific actors and technical people.  Finally, since you asked, I still think full length plays are stronger and ultimately more satisfying. But I love doing both.

Are you planning on making co-writing with your son Jake a habit?

Jeff Gould:  I hope so. He has lots of good ideas; and I’m running out of them, so I’ll say yes.

Kriss Dozal and Anthony Backman – Photo by Sean Dube

You are also a professional poker player. What led you to that profession? How long have you plied your poker trade? Won any big pots? Have you written any plays about poker?

Jeff Gould:  Yes, I am basically retired now; but I was a professional poker player for 31 years. I still find it hard to believe, but it’s true. What led me to it was having no other way to make a living. I was your typical starving actor who waited tables and delivered pizzas, and then I found poker. I actually had a job at one of the casinos in LA as a house poker player. The casino hired me to play in short-handed games, to start them or keep them from breaking. But I gambled my own money, so it was a roller coaster at times. I could lose or win an entire week’s pay or more in an hour sometimes. But the good news – in addition to ultimately winning more than I lost, they actually paid me to play poker every day. What a country! I also played in some tournaments over the years and had some nice wins, but nothing like the giant sums of money that you see on televised poker games. I haven’t written any plays about it. I just don’t think it would present itself that well on stage. But maybe I should think again. 

I understand that you also write articles for Card Player magazine. What sort of articles? Are any of them funny?

Jeff Gould:  Yes, I have also written several articles for Card Player Magazine. They were all funny….I hope. Most of them were based on all the nut cases that I often played with. Don’t get me wrong. I also met lots of wonderful people at the tables; but sooner or later, there were nut jobs who sat in the games. Fortunately, instead of letting them bother me, I just observed them for material to write about. Some of them were a gold mine. The more I think about it, it’s almost embarrassing that I haven’t written a play about it. Ok, maybe it’s time.

BriAna Wagner, Jean Fiumara, and Jason Pierce – Photo by Sean Dube

What are your future plans – both in playwriting and in poker? Can you give a preview of coming attractions?

Jeff Gould:  I don’t have any poker plans, other than to drop in and play here and there. But I definitely want to keep writing plays. I’m dating a terrific woman right now, but the problem is that she is too nice and too sane. She isn’t giving me any material. How did I let that happen? I don’t have a new script at the moment. But I do want to bring one or two of my plays back. I had some very long runs in LA, but I think I have only scratched the surface with a few of them. And I can’t think of anyone better to do them with than Shelby and SkyPilot. So it looks like love, sex, marriage, and divorce are still in the cards. 

Victoria Ogbonna and Ashley Alva – Photo by Sean Dube

LOVE, SEX, AND MISERY runs though December 10, 2023, with performances at 8 p.m. on Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays (dark 11/25/23 and 11/26/23). The 905 Cole Theatre is located at 905 N. Cole Avenue, Hollywood, CA 90038. Tickets are $40. For information and reservations, go online.


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