Don’t ever tell Gilbert Gottfried it’s too soon to crack wise. In 2011, tweeting jokes in the immediate aftermath of a Japanese disaster cost him a job as an insurance company spokesman. Fast forward to 2012, and the subject was fodder for weathermen. That offends him.
“I heard a guy say, ‘It’s a real tsunami out there, so take your umbrella,’ and I remember thinking, so, if you wait a year a joke’s a joke and not a crime against humanity,” the comedian said in a recent phone interview. “It’s so hypocritical, the idea that tragedy plus time equals comedy.”
In the freak-out that greeted his remarks, Gottfried was fired as the Aflac talking duck and forced to apologize far and wide. After being savaged throughout cyberspace, he bristles at Internet-fueled hysteria and faux recrimination.
“It’s an endless list of people and apologies, I think it’s in the millions,” he said bitingly. Those “who feign outrage are also patting themselves on the back, saying, ‘Aren’t I a great person? I’m offended.’”
“George Orwell predicted that Big Brother would be watching us … it’s the future, and every schmuck and their mother is watching us — that is what Twitter and the Internet has become,” he said, bemoaning an absence of qualified opinion leaders in social discourse. “I have a sentimental feeling about the old-time lynch mobs. Because at least they actually had to put their shoes on and go out and get their hands dirty — now they are sitting in their underwear at the computer.”
Though these days shock is Gottfried’s stock in trade, early on as a teenage comic in Greenwich Village he took a more conventional approach.
“I would go out of my way not to use a dirty word, because I wanted to know if the joke would be funny on its own,” he said. “As for the dirty and shocking stuff … I like the idea of the audience feeling a little uncomfortable, but laughing anyway.”
Soon after 9/11, the comic told a New York City audience that he couldn’t get a direct flight because “they said they had to stop at the Empire State Building first.”
Likely the first joke told by anyone about the terrorist attacks, it was met with boos, hisses and rumbling chairs. Someone yelled out “too soon,” which a confused Gottfried “thought meant I didn’t take enough time between the setup and the punch line.”
To recover, Gottfried launched into the vulgar joke at the center of the 2005 film The Aristocrats.
“I’ve already lost them, might as well go to the bottom level of Hell,” he recalled thinking. Amazingly, the response was cheers and a standing ovation. “One reporter said it was like I performed a mass tracheotomy on the audience. It was funny … terrorism is bad taste, but incest and bestiality are good taste.”
Gottfried’s edgy standup talent is complemented by a steady career as a voice actor — the parrot Iago in Disney’s Aladdin and roles in Hercules and Fairly Odd Parents, among many others. Most recently, he voiced a villain on the Nickelodeon reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
“It is strange — I always say my career walks the tightrope between children’s programming and hard-core porn,” said Gottfried with a laugh. “I remember this actually happened — there was a premiere when The Aristocrats first came out in theaters. In the middle of the movie, some woman jumped up, shocked and angered, saying, “This isn’t The Aristocats!” I thought, ‘Gee, I wonder at what point you realized that?’”
As seen in the April 24, 2014 issue of the Hippo.