When it comes to comedian, roaster and always-unapologetic Gilbert Gottfried, nothing is off-limits.
The few who don’t immediately recognize Gilbert Gottfried’s name are still familiar with his loud and raspy voice. After all, that’s what has contributed to more than 30 years comedy credit. From his start at Saturday Night Live to voiceover work in films like Aladdin and Dr. Doolittle to his frequent appearances at the Comedy Central’s celebrity roasts, the voice never seems to get lost. Which brought about his newest tour, “What the Duck!?,” with the name serving as a nod to his affiliation as the Aflac Duck for the insurance provider’s nationally-televised commercials, a job that ended rather publically following some controversial Twitter posts by Gottfried in 2011. He was later replaced by someone who mimics Gottfried’s voice for the character.
Most recently, Gottfried could be found out of his element, in the kitchen as a contestant on the Food Network’s Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-off. Unfortunately for him, his take on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich sent him packing after episode one. But the humor wasn’t lost in Gilbert Gottfried, who took some time out to talk with South Jersey Magazine before his performance on Feb. 8 at the Broadway Theatre of Pitman. He shared with us his thoughts on his culinary future, his past inspiration, and what he thinks about social media.
SOUTH JERSEY MAGAZINE: You’ve become a staple in the comedy world through the course of several decades. How do you keep your interest peaked and your material alive for fans?
GILBERT GOTTFRIED: That’s something I keep asking myself, and I think, like everybody else in the business, it’s going to all stop one day, or they’ll just catch on that you were a fraud all this time. It’s still a hard one to figure out. Every so often when I’m on stage I’ll have a split second where I think, ‘This is a weird profession. I’m up here acting stupid and people are staring at me.’
SJM: How has your standup changed since your start as a teenager?
GG: It hasn’t gotten any better. And I haven’t written anything new. I’m going to be opening [in Pitman] with: “Hey folks, how about that show Bonanza?
SJM: Who was your early-comedy inspiration?
GG: There were so many, because TV back then had so many different variety shows. There were different standup comics on there, and then you would watch old movie comics like the Marx brothers, Jerry Lewis. There was so much variety.
SJM: I’m not sure if your comedy matches that of late ’60ss variety shows.
GG: No, you’re right. I think within two seconds of my show today I would have gotten any show cancelled back then.
SJM: How does it feel to be an inspiration to other comedians in the business?
GG: It’s scary when someone says “I’ve been watching you since when I was kid.” It’s like talking to a pretty girl and her saying “Oh, my grandmother used to watch you on TV.” The odd part is that I’m still sort of surprised when I get a major compliment. I think, ‘wait a minute, someone thinks I’m funny?’ It’s like Sally Field when she won the Academy Award a long time ago. She said “You like me, you really like me” and I totally understood what she was saying. To this to day people still give her slack for that, but I really got it.
SJM: As a frequent speaker at the Comedy Central roasts, what is the preparation process like to roast another celebrity?
GG: It gets trickier each time. The fun part is that you have to go in a different direction with the roast, rather than just sticking to material that you’re familiar with. It’s fun, it’s like a splash of water on the face. It’s always fun to hurt people’s feelings.
SJM: I don’t know if that would go the same way in my line of work.
GG: I’d say give it a try.
SJM: Do people ever get offended or insulted by your roasts?
GG: I remember at the roast of David Hasselhoff the producers came backstage to me and said that Pam Anderson just agreed to do the roast at the last second, and to go a little easy on her, which is the worst thing you could tell me. So then, like, 75 percent of what I was doing was making fun of Pam Anderson and her private parts. When I hear “don’t do something” that’s the worst thing you could tell me. And after I got off from the podium Pam Anderson hugs me and whispers, “I hate you.”
SJM: Do you think she really meant it?
GG: I hope not. But I can’t really worry about it.
SJM: What can you tell us about your show at the Broadway Theatre in Pitman?
GG: I hope I can get through the show, and I always feel like if I do a show and my agent doesn’t call me the next day and say they are threatening a lawsuit then I feel like a success.
SJM: It’s not too hard to see where the inspiration for your tour name comes from. How do guests and fans respond to the Aflac/Twitter controversy now?
GG: I have to mention that. Of course it’s not the whole show but of course I talk about it. I find that when it was happening it was just the company reacting and the Internet. The first three days were the nutty people on the Internet, and there’s a lot. I feel like the Internet makes me feel a certain sentiment for an old time lynch mob. At least they had to put on a jacket and go get their hands dirty. Now people sit in their underwear and do it at home.
Back then I thought ‘oh this really horrible, people kept e-mailing me and tweeting me saying things like “you should be dead.”’ But after three days or so the other people came out and said “if they can’t handle it that’s fine.”
SJM: Do you think your audience has become more sensitive to your humor since your start?
GG: With the Internet there’s a new villain every few days. Like Brent Mussberger, the new ESPN villain who talked about the Alabama beauty queen on television. I thought, ‘Wait a minute you’re saying a beauty queen is beautiful? How dare he?’ Recently, after one show an Asian woman walked out, pointed to her eyes and said “I’m Japanese and I love all your jokes.” There’s people on the Internet that will always have a problem and big corporations will always do what the piggy bank says.
SJM: What has your run-in with Twitter drama taught you about social media?
GG: People always ask me if I think twice. And I do think twice now, but I do it anyway.
SJM: Is anything off limits in your performances?
GG: No, I try not to censor myself because that’s a bad thing too. With all the craziness now it would be really bad if comics had to think and censor what they say before hand.
SJM: How was your short-lived experience making sandwiches on Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-off?
GG: I’m still angry! I fried the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so technically I was cooking.
SJM: What was it like competing in a cooking show with other celebrities who have no professional background in the kitchen?
GG: It was one of these things where my agent asked “Do you want to go on Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-off, and can you cook?” And of course I said yes. But a lot of the people on the show had a lot to offer, everybody but me. They were making their own sauces and throwing chicken, beef and vegetables in a pan with onions they cut themselves. And me, I’m putting peanut butter on bread for an hour.
SJM: What’s your favorite dish to cook up off-camera?
GG: There’s the peanut butter sandwich, of course, and I can scramble eggs. I also put cereal and milk in a bowl pretty well.
SJM: What do you have planned next?
GG: I have my website (GilbertGottfried.com) where I’m selling my book that’s autographed and have my show up online for sale, and I have some voiceover work going on, but I’m one of those people who never have a rhyme or reason.
SJM: Did you ever imagine that your voice would lead to such a big career?
GG: It was very odd, I never gave it that much thought. It’s kind of like with my act, when I went on stage, and sometimes something hit me and I could go off on a tangent and it would be a hit. But my voice still works, and it works so well that there’s a guy imitating me in a commercial now. They [Aflac] hated Gilbert Gottfried so much that they fired him and got someone to imitate Gilbert Gottfried. What a great end to such tragedy.
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 11 (February, 2013).
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