A new documentary about comedian Gilbert Gottfried reveals someone more mild-mannered than his stage persona, married with children, verging on dull.
His voice doesn’t grate, dropping half its nasal quality and all of its foul-mouthed bluster. Shy winces replace Gottfried’s stand-up squint. Nobody would pay a two-drink minimum to meet this guy.
"I always think of that scene in The Wizard of Oz where it’s, like, please ignore that man behind the curtain," Gottfried said by phone from New York. "Now a movie is revealing the man behind the curtain, so it’s scary."
Onstage, like he will be for five shows Thursday through Saturday at Side Splitters Comedy Club, Gottfried is a funny force of nature, a "comedian’s comedian" capable of saying anything. Groans and laughs are all the same to him.
Gottfried’s comedy has led to trouble that’s covered in Neil Berkeley’s documentary Gilbert.
A too-soon joke at Hugh Hefner’s celebrity roast after the 9/11 terrorist attacks was bad enough (although followed by his classic version of the disgusting "Aristocrats" gag). Then a string of Twitter jokes about Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster got Gottfried fired from voicing Aflac’s duck.
Gottfried chatted with the Times about revisiting those career minefields, his popular podcast and not talking about comedy.
What’s upsetting you these days that’s making it into your act?
It’s a funny thing. People ask me that and I think, Oh, God, now I have to think about what I’ll be saying onstage. It just to me always sounds so unfunny. There’s nothing worse than talking about comedy.
Okay, how’s Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast going?
I find it’s kind of fun. It concentrates mainly on old Hollywood with guests like Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner, Bruce Dern. I had on both Batman and Robin from the old TV series plus two of the Catwomen.
How does the format suit your style?
You don’t have to answer to people. I can say what I want even if it’s dirty. It’s funny with the guests I have they can go one of two ways: Either they’re thrilled that they can say anything they want because they’ve been watching it all these years. Then there are the other ones who can be in their 90s and still feel they have to protect their image, their career.
Protecting your career is a key element of the documentary. How tough was it revisiting the Aflac and 9/11 controversies?
Those parts make me cringe because I remember what I was going through at the time. Like with the whole Aflac incident I was getting these hate tweets from I thought it was the entire Earth. Then you realize the ones who tweet the most are the ones with more time on their hands and they’ve got problems.
Were you worried your career might not recover?
At that time on TV they’re saying: "Our top story tonight: Gilbert Gottfried’s career is over." What I started to realize is: If your career is over, you’re not the top story of the night.
It’s kind of like saying those two guys who replaced the original Dukes of Hazzard when (John Schneider and Tom Wopat) were on strike. Our top story tonight is their careers are over. No. When your career’s over, you can run into a building and save a thousand babies and you’re not going to be the top story that night.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.