After Dark: Gilbert Gottfried
05:00 AM, Sep 04, 2013
If you go
Who: Comedian Gilbert Gottfried.
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 5; 7:30 and 10 p.m. Sept. 6 and 7.
Where: The Comedy Club, 2235 Empire Blvd., Webster.
Tickets: $20 for Sept. 5; $25 for Sept. 6; $30 for Sept. 7. Available at the box office and thecomedyclub.us.
Call: (585) 671-9080.
He was only joking …
“The duty of a comedian,” Gilbert Gottfried says, paraphrasing the late philosopher George Carlin, “is to find the edge and step over it.”
Surprisingly, two years after his controversial tweets about the Japanese tsunami resulted in him being fired as the voice of the Aflac duck I’m actually laughing as I type these words we find that Gottfried has not hit bottom. Unless you call the Comedy Club in Webster the bottom, where he’s performing starting next Thursday, Sept. 5 through 7.
Talking on the phone from his home in Manhattan, Gottfried sounds measured and under control. Many degrees more sensible than his annoying stage persona, the weasel voice packed away for the moment with the rest of his act. Of course, that irritating voice is the thing that keeps him in demand, generally playing jerks and villains, oftentimes in animated films. But it’s not always unsavory characters, Gottfried insists. “I was the voice of a toaster,” he says. “They’re generally nice. Unless you stick a fork in them. I played an ant that gets sprayed by pesticides and dies. So I had a death scene, that gave me some sympathy from people.”
A lot of folks stuck a fork in Gottfried and declared him done in March of 2011, when he fired off a series of jokes on his Twitter account three days after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan killed nearly 16,000 people. Frankly, the jokes weren’t the comedian’s best work, and they were pretty heartless. He’s also targeted the victims of sexual molestation and the Holocaust, even a fellow comedian who died of a drug overdose. But the backlash to the tsunami jokes was swiftest. Aflac dismissed him as the voice of its spokesduck as the criticism spread.
“Nowadays with the Internet, everybody’s opinion seems to mean something,” Gottfried says. “To them, at least. I find there is always a new person to be outraged. This has always made me laugh, even before it was happening to me.
“When some people say they’re highly offended, it’s like they’re patting themselves on the back. ‘Don’t you realize tragedy and heartbreak and loss of life?’ “
And tragedy, heartbreak and loss of life is where jokes come from as well, Gottfried insists. “Ever been to a funeral?” he says “Eventually, people start telling funny stores and embarrassing stories about the guy who died. People have a smirk on their faces, they’re covering their faces and laughing.”
He recalls the old adage that it doesn’t matter what people say, as long as they’re talking about you. “When the top story of the day is, ‘Gilbert Gottfried’s career is over,’ it’s living proof that your career isn’t over, or they wouldn’t be talking about you. The best tweet I saw after all of this was ‘Aflac fires Gilbert Gottfried after discovering he’s a comedian.’
“Now they have a guy imitating me for less money, bringing to a close a horrible tragedy.”
So after 11 years, the 58-year-old Gottfried’s no longer the voice of a duck. Sounds like a bit of a career rut, anyway. “I don’t like losing a job,” he says. “But I don’t regret doing it because I’ve been doing this all my career.”
Gottfried is so accustomed to working in minefields that he compares his reaction to the outcry over his tweets to a guy who eats a bowl of corn flakes every morning. Except this one morning, “he eats a bowl of corn flakes and all hell breaks loose. That, to me, is what it felt like.” Or there’s the scene in Casablanca where Claude Rains orders Humphrey Bogart to close Rick’s Café because, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” just as he’s handed a pile of winnings. Gottfried’s point is that what he’s thinking is what everyone else is thinking. The trouble comes when he says it.
If that were true, of course, we wouldn’t need Gottfried onstage. He again stepped off the precipice while in New York City at a Friar’s Club roast of Hugh Hefner, three weeks after 9/11. “The whole city was like, had this cloud over it, it literally still had a cloud over it from the attack,” Gottfried says. “I wanted to be first to mention it. Break the ice.”
Gottfried’s joke: “I have to leave early tonight, I have to fly out to L.A. I couldn’t get a direct flight, I have to make a stop at the Empire State Building.”
“The audience started booing and hissing,” Gottfried says. “One guy yelled ‘Too soon!’ “
Too soon. What is too soon, Gottfried wonders? “OK, on this date it’ll be OK? Too soon is so hypocritical. I’m insensitive and cruel, but if they wait a year and then make a bad-taste remark, it’s ‘Screw everybody who died back then?’
“I was standing there for what felt like 200 years. So I started to tell The Aristocrats joke. I figured I’ve got nothing else to lose.”
The Aristocrats joke, as highlighted in the 2005 film. Legendarily the dirtiest joke ever told. We don’t have space to run it here, as Gottfried’s version is anywhere from seven to 10 minutes long.
“People started laughing louder and louder,” Gottfried says. “They were cheering and standing up. The room exploded.
“People pick and choose what to get offended by. A terrorist joke, bad. Bestiality and incest, fine.”