You might know Whoopi Goldberg from her standout film roles in “The Color Purple,” “Ghost,” “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” and “Sister Act.” Or maybe you’ve gotten a rise out of her outspoken opinions as moderator of ABC’s daytime talk show “The View,” or chuckled while watching her yukking it up on “Hollywood Squares,” which she also executive-produced, or watched in amazement as she recently demonstrated how to roll a joint on Bravo’s irreverent talk show “Watch What Happens Live.”
Perhaps you’ve read one of her hilarious books for adults, or charming books for children. Maybe you caught her on Broadway in “Xanadu” or “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Or maybe you simply admire her humanitarian efforts on behalf of the homeless, the LGBT community, education and the battle against AIDS, or the fact that she’s a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations.
The point is, Whoopi Goldberg is a woman of myriad talents. She’s one of the elite few to have won an Oscar, and Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony award – and then she tops that off by adding the coveted Mark Twain Prize for humor and two Golden Globes.
You can catch her Saturday night at downtown Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts demonstrating yet another skill – stand-up comedy. Goldberg talked to Miami.com about the show, her favorite film role (it’s surprising) and her brief stint as, yes, a phone sex operator.
You’re known for so many things, but what’s a Whoopi Goldberg stand-up show like?
It’s a lot of fun – it’s a little strange, a little bizarre, but ultimately fun. And sometimes if I’m in a really good mood, it can be sort of informational. You can learn a lot from me, but you know, maybe not.
How do you mean “bizarre”?
Just strange s---, the way that I think. I just think strangely, and so when I do my show, sometimes the things that have been in my mind – they’re strange. They’re just weird – you have to come and see.
Are you saying that a lot of your show is improvisational?
It’s all improvisational. Yeah. I know there’s certain things I wanna talk about. Here’s what’ll happen: I’ll arrive there, and I’ll think, OK, what am I interested in talking about. And so, the night of the show, I’ll write the show, and I’ll go out and do it.
Does it make you nervous, or pump you up even more?
Well, it’ll either work, or it won’t [laughs]. That’s how I look at it. But I’m never boring.
You’re one of very few people to have won an Oscar, Grammy, Emmy and Tony award. But you’ve also got a Mark Twain Prize. Is that a first?
I don’t generally keep score, but I don’t know. They’re all fantastic, though. It’s nice when people say, “Hey, you did a good job. I like what you do.” And since I think people don’t get a lot of validation in the world, I kinda like that.
Anything else you’d like to win? Pulitzer? Nobel Peace Prize?
Umm, no Pulitzer. Maybe Peace Prize, if I can orchestrate some peace somewhere. You never know with me – I might just do it.
With your Oscar for “Ghost” in 1991, you became the first black woman since 1939 to win the award, which is pretty absurd. How is it possible that there was such a long gap in between?
Well, the same way that it was possible that we didn’t get the vote in the full U.S. until 1968. You know, it’s just the same old s--- to us. Same old stuff. But it doesn’t stop you – you don’t let it stop you.
It seems like things have changed quite a bit, though, wouldn’t you say?
I think things have gotten better – I don’t know how much they’ve changed, but they’ve definitely gotten better.
Would you say your big break was “The Color Purple”?
Yes. Or my Broadway show – one of the two. Or HBO – one of those three. Hard to tell with me.
So how surprised were you when Steven Spielberg approached you to be in “The Color Purple”?
I was a little surprised, because we had never met, and I didn’t know him. I just thought it was kind of silly. I said, “OK, well, he’ll change his mind.” But he didn’t. And I went on to do it.
Oprah was dying to do it as well – that must have been quite an experience.
Well, I think so, but none of us were the people that we’ve become, so it was just sort of normal.
Did you have any idea of the magnitude of what was happening?
Well, nothing was happening except we were getting our asses kicked by people who were pissed off that Steven did the film. When the movie came out, the NAACP lost their minds and boycotted, and really sort of made it a rough experience, because they said, “Oh, this doesn’t represent the black experience.” Meanwhile, the woman who wrote the book? Black woman. This was an experience either out of her head, or whatever it was – this is what she wrote. But they said, Why is Spielberg doing it, and how dare he, and you know, the bottom line is, nobody else stepped up. And he wanted to make it.
But it just kind of surprised me that people did stupid stuff like that.
What’s been your favorite movie role so far?
Probably “The Lion King.”
Wow, and you didn’t even have to show your face for that.
No, I didn’t. But, the reason I love it is because my granddaughter was about 5 or 6, and we went to the premiere, and ended up sitting next to James Earl Jones. And I said, “This is James Earl Jones, and he plays Simba’s dad.” And she looked and smiled, and then he said, “Hello.” And I felt her whole body freeze. And I was like, what’s the matter? And she just couldn’t say anything, and I said, “What’s the matter!?” She said, [whispers] “Darth Vader!” So for me, that’s why it’s my favorite, because it’s the first one I could take her to. She’s now 25.
And while we’re watching the movie – she’s sitting on my lap – she leans back and says, “You’re not very nice in this, Granny.” And I said, “But I get better. I promise I get better” [laughs].
To bring up a very different kind of role, is it true you were a phone sex operator at one time?
Yeah, once, a long time ago.
Were you good at it?
No! If I was good at it, I’d probably own the company [laughs].
So you must not have liked it too much?
Well, I was also raising a little kid, so you had to do it when she was asleep. So it was just not the best way for me to do it. But it was good money and the hours worked for me.
Do you think you might be the only member of the NRA who supports gay rights and is pro-marijuana?
No, there are a lot of us, actually. There are a lot of folks who are members of the NRA and who also say, well yeah, I also believe in a woman’s right to choose, and I believe that you should be able to buy weed. The mistake I think that Americans have made is that we in our minds don’t think only one way – we have lots of opinions. We’re not all just “Democrats” or “Republicans” – that’s some bull---- from television. That’s not the reality.
About your fondness for marijuana – do you think all 50 states will end up legalizing it?
I do. But you know, I had a fondness for marijuana before I needed it, you know what I mean? It’s something that helps my life flow easier, because it takes pain away. So I like that. But I also think that, like many things, we have to figure it out. Marijuana is not heroin. In spite of what they tell you on television. So yeah, I think it’s gonna be like alcohol. And they’ll regulate it like alcohol, and they’ll be happy because they’ll be making bunches of money. And I’ll be happy because I won’t have to wonder.