By: Stuart Nulman
Gilbert Gottfried never set out to be a controversial comic. When he was 15 years old, the Brooklyn, New York native was just another teenager who had a passion for classic TV and old movies.
“There are times that I think to myself that I was just a stupid kid who used to watch a lot of TV, especially when old movies were on. I was fascinated by those old movies, and I began to imitate those people that I saw regularly on TV,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I was also a horrible student, so during class, I would do those imitations and joke around a lot.”
However, when young Gilbert was 15, his sister told him that there was a club in Manhattan that was having a “Hootenanny Night” (which was similar to an open mic night). “She told me that I can go to the club and just put my name down on a list, and then they would let you go up onstage and perform. I didn’t know what to expect, so on that first night, I mainly did my imitations, such as Boris Karloff and Humphrey Bogart, and I did really well. Then I kept on performing there and doing well onstage, and from there, I kept on getting club dates.”
From there, Gottfried began to hone his stand-up comedy act, which has led to an impressive resume of TV and movie roles over the past 35 years. His trademark squinty-eyed look can be seen in such movies “Beverly Hills Cop II”, “Problem Child”, and “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane”, and on such TV shows as “Late Night with David Letterman”, “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and as a contestant on last season’s edition of “The Celebrity Apprentice”; and his highly recognizable screeching voice can be heard as the voice of Iago the parrot in the Disney animated feature “Aladdin” and until recently, as the voice of the duck mascot in the Aflac insurance TV commercials.
But it’s his penchant for telling no-holds-barred, sometimes inappropriate jokes and remarks that have established Gottfried as a guaranteed-to-shock comic (which was so shockingly displayed when his joke stood out from the roster of 101 comics who appeared in the critically-acclaimed 2005 documentary “The Aristocrats”).
Gottfried, who has appeared at the Just For Laughs festival several times since 1986, will give festival audiences a huge slice of his raw, shocking comedy as he performs for the first time at the popular Nasty Show, which will run from July 16-25 at the Metropolis, and on July 26 at Club Soda.
“Believe it or not, I spent most of my career going out of my way not to use dirty words,” he admitted. “However, there are times I’ll hear a comic on network television say a joke that’s not funny, and they’ll try to make it funny by emphasizing the filthy word in it.”
When asked why comedy club audiences like their humour in a shocking, offensive manner – and the constant sold out crowds that flock to the Nasty Show year after year is a vivid testament to this – Gottfried admitted that it’s hard to find out why people have such an endless craving for blue humour. “It’s almost like they welcome bad taste. It’s like going to an amusement park and choosing to go on the scariest rides, because they feel like they’re going to get killed on them,” he said.
And Gottfried has recently gone the route that many of his fellow comedians have taken to express his no boundaries style of comedy, including a DVD and CD called “Gilbert Gottfried Dirty Jokes”, then a book of memoirs and comic rants called Rubber Balls and Liquor and as of May of last year, a podcast called “Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast”. However, instead of the usual comedian-interviewing-other comedians format, Gottfried’s podcast has him interviewing legendary showbiz figures and behind-the-scenes people who played an influential role in Gottfried’s life and career.
“I wanted to do the podcast because it would give me the chance to talk about two of my favorite topics: old movies and TV shows, but they are topics that nobody would want to hear about — except maybe three or four shut-ins — because it’s too much like the late show,” he said.” “Also, people thought it would be hard to get guests for the podcast, because they might be dead soon.”
Since its debut last year, “Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast” has attracted an impressive calibre of guests from movies and TV shows past, including Dick Cavett, Adam (“Batman”) West, Julie Newmar (one of the three actresses who portrayed Catwoman on the Batman TV series), and actors Ken Berry and Larry Storch from the mid-60s sitcom “F-Troop”.
“I also enjoyed having Butch Patrick, (who played Eddie Munster on the 60s CBS sitcom ‘The Munsters’), because he had a total sense of humour about himself. He even told me that he made copies of the wolfman doll that Eddie always carried with him, because he was able to make money from selling them so that he always had cash for his drinking habit,” he said. “And Danny Bonaduce from ‘The Partridge Family’ was a great guest, because he didn’t censor himself, especially when he talked about the hooker incident that he was directly involved with.”
Last fall, Gottfried’s appearance as a contestant was one of the highlights of the latest edition of “The Celebrity Apprentice”, and was his usual screeching self as he managed pretty well in the business challenges that were thrown at him and the other celebrity contestants by host Donald Trump (although he was “fired” by The Donald about halfway through the season).
“I wasn’t taking it very seriously when I was on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’. I didn’t want to be the one who would sell the most blueberry muffins so that I could run Trump Enterprises,” he said. “And as for being fired by Trump? Well, hearing the words ‘Gilbert Gottfried, you’re fired’ is nothing new to me. And being ‘fired’ by him is like being punched by Muhammed Ali; it was really quite an honour.”
And what is his take on Trump’s campaign to get the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, where his own controversial remarks about Mexican immigrants has kept him in the headlines (and second place in the polls behind Jeb Bush)?
“I’ll vote for him, but only if he makes me his vice-president.”
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Joining Gottfried on the Nasty Show line-up is comedian Artie Lange (who will also be hosting the show when it moves to Club Soda on July 26, as well as doing a live taping of his “The Artie Quitter Podcast” on July 25 at the Hyatt Hotel), and is best known as a cast member on the Fox comedy sketch series “Mad TV”, his appearances on the Howard Stern Show and several Comedy Central roasts, and his highly revealing memoir Too Fat To Fish, which debuted on the New York Times best seller list at #1 when it was released in 2008 (and when I reviewed the paperback version in 2009, I called it one of the best memoirs that was ever written by a comedian, and compared it to Lenny Bruce’s 1963 memoir How To Talk Dirty and Influence People.
Lange, who performed at Just For Laughs when it had its Chicago arm of the festival several years ago, and is performing at the Nasty Show for the first time at this year’s festival, believes that audiences enjoying hearing a comic talk dirty or tells jokes about controversial and taboo subjects because of the need for adults to escape from a culture that is mainly kid-oriented these days.
“There is a real want for adults to act like adults, because they are spending a lot of time in a kids’ culture where they are doing everything to please their kids,” he said. “And going to a comedy club to hear a group of comics tell dirty jokes goes back to a time during the 1970s when adults can go out and enjoy themselves in an adult world.”
“Whether a joke has dirty words or not, or deals with a controversial subject, it all depends if the joke is funny. If you have a joke about Isis, just tell it … just make sure it’s funny. I would never back away from a funny joke; it’s my point-of-view and no one else’s, as if it was a topical study,” he added.
After reading Lange’s biography and his two volumes of memoirs, you have to give him credit for being a true survivor. He has endured drug addiction and alcoholism, family tragedies, suicide attempts, battles with depression, time in rehab, arrests on various charges, and yet he has managed to keep on working in an industry that can at times be quite unforgiving.
“I was quite lucky, because the show business world gave me other chances because it’s an industry that needs creative people,” he said. “But I am also grateful for my fans who have remained loyal to me and have been so forgiving. These are the people who buy the tickets to my shows, and I am so fortunate to have these people who have always been so supportive towards me; I will always be appreciative to them.”
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For more information about the Ethnic Show, the Nasty Show, or any other Just For Laughs show, go to www.hahaha.com.