Comedian Gilbert Gottfried never shies away from sensitive material


The hardest I've ever laughed in my adult life was at a Gilbert Gottfried joke. He was on Howard Stern's radio show. A little girl called in and asked Gilbert to do his bird voice from "Aladdin." Gilbert asked her obnoxiously, "What are you wearing?"

I remind Gottfried of that joke, and he laughs.

"I'm known for my slightly inappropriate remarks," he says.

No kidding. He's the king of inappropriate humor.

When he performed at last year's Comedy Central roast of David Hasselhoff, a producer asked him to "go a little easy" on Pam Anderson, because she had to be talked into showing up at all.

"I wound up doing nothing but jokes about Pam Anderson's vagina, just one after another," Gottfried boasts.

"After I got off stage, me and Pam Anderson hugged, and she whispered in my ear, 'I hate you,' " he recalls and laughs again.

Before Anderson, there was Marlon Brando. Brando didn't take kindly to a joke Gottfried made on "Hollywood Squares."

"The question they asked me was: 'What mammal has the largest eyes?' I said, 'Marlon Brando at a buffet.' It got a tremendous laugh."

The Brando joke was going to be used in a commercial, but Brando caught wind of it, called producer Whoopi Goldberg and said, "Am I gonna be a running joke on your show?" The commercial was dropped.

"No one ever put 'Marlon Brando' and 'running' in the same sentence," Gilbert cracks. "At the very best, he could be 'a slow and lumbering, out-of-breath' joke."

Brando didn't scare Gottfried.

"For the next week, any question they asked me, I just did a Marlon Brando answer."

That Brando bit is in Gottfried's book, "Rubber Balls and Liquor."

Also in that book is the story of how Gottfried met Harrison Ford in a backstage hallway at "The Tonight Show."

"Someone says, 'Gilbert.' I turn around, and it's Harrison Ford. He told me how much he liked me in 'The Aristocrats,' " Gottfried says.

"I figured: Instead of saying, 'Thank you, that's very nice of you to say that' -- I decided to try to be witty in some way. I said, 'Thank you. And your name is?'

"To this day, I don't know if he knew I was joking or thought, 'This guy is the biggest idiot in the world,' " he says. "Now I can never watch a Harrison Ford movie, because I'll always remember that moment."

It's unclear if Jerry Seinfeld is OK with Gottfried. Gottfried has done Seinfeld impressions forever. He once did an impression of Seinfeld doing an impression of Dracula, wondering spookily, "What's the deal with doorknobs?"

But Gottfried was doing Seinfeld impressions even before Seinfeld was famous, just to get waitresses and other comedy club workers to crack up, since they knew Seinfeld but audiences didn't.

"Seinfeld used to be in the bar, going: 'Why are people laughing at that? That doesn't sound anything like me.' "

And of course, Kelsey Grammer's ex-wife Camille made a stink by attacking Gottfried this spring after he posted jokes about Japan's tsunami, such as: "I just split up with my girlfriend, but like the Japanese say, 'There'll be another one floating by any minute now.' "

TV news shows invited Gottfried to go on the air and defend himself. TV anchors grilled him. But off the air, producers would say things such as, "We were all cracking up back here," he says.

On the air, TV reporters misidentified his jokes to cause a stir, he says.

"They started calling it 'comments' and 'remarks' that I made. They wouldn't refer to them as 'jokes,' because if people heard you made a 'joke,' people don't get that outraged."

But of course, those who know Gottfried casually know of his legendary "Aristocrats" joke -- the long and detailed joke about a disgusting and incestuous family of acrobats.

It became legendary weeks after 9/11 at the Hugh Hefner roast on Comedy Central. He told the joke there only because the audience turned on his first joke, which was about 9/11: He said he couldn't stay long because he had a flight to catch, and "we have to make a stop at the Empire State Building."

That 9/11 joke infamously led to a guy in the crowd yelling, "Too soon" -- meaning it was too soon to tell 9/11 jokes.

But Gottfried says (or jokes), that's not what he thought at first.

"When he first yelled out 'Too soon,' I thought it meant I didn't take a long enough pause between the setup and the punch line," he says.

The one famous person Gottfried doesn't really joke about is himself. He hasn't done any comedy about his appendix bursting awhile back. I ask him if he thinks his appendix is funny yet, or if it's too soon.

"See," he says and laughs once more, "there are certain things I don't want to joke about. If it's about somebody else, it's fine. If it's about me, I think it's totally insensitive!"

Well, obviously.

Doug Elfman's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Contact him at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

 

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