The OI Interview: Gilbert Gottfried

Legendary comedian Gilbert Gottfried is coming to Springfield this weekend for five shows…one on Thursday at 7:30 p.m., then Friday and Saturday at 7:00 and 9:30 p.m.. He spoke to OI by phone from New York about comedy and his upcoming visit to Springfield.

OI: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us.

GG: Thank you.

OI: I’ve been a fan of yours for years because when I was a teenager I remember you on USA Up All Night. I was big into Monty Python at the time and you did some really Python-like bits like a parody of MTV’s Week in Rock with a dead Jim Morrison. I know you love stand-up, but what other things in your career stand out to you?

GG: The first big one that I’m still proud of is that one scene in Beverly Hills Cop II where we’re arguing over the traffic tickets. The scene Eddie and I just improvised each time. We were just playing around and laughing and it came out to be a terrific scene.

Problem Child was a surprise hit because the critics tore it apart and then it became a monster hit. And of course, Aladdin.

OI: I’ve always wanted to know…did they script your lines as Iago or did they let you improvise?

Photo by Arlene Gottfried

GG: Oh, they let me play with it. They were real open about that. I would do some of the script and then I would just play around with it a lot.

I remember when I went in to audition I was making stuff up left and right. I remember then they took the tape of my audition and then made a rough pencil animation out of it to show and it was the first time I saw the parrot talk. They were very open about letting me play with the part.

OI: You started your career when you were just 15 and like most teenagers you likely had big dreams about where you wanted to go in your career. Forty years later, are there still things that your teen self had as a goal that you haven’t reached yet?

GG: It’s odd because when I think back, I always say I had stupidity on my side. I didn’t think about the odds or rejection or anything. There were a million goals I had that would come in and out of my head at times that I would daydream about.

I always feel like show business is a party I snuck into and any day now they’re going to come to me, look at the clip board and say “sorry, your name’s not on this list.”

OI: You’re well known for your telling of the infamous dirty joke, The Aristocrats. When did you first hear the joke and when did you first think, “I can tell it better”?

GG: I think some comic told me that joke and it either ended the Aristocrats or the Sophisticados. That was another way that some people would say it.

I remember when Penn Gillette said he was going to make that into a film I thought that it would be only for his living room but amazing to me it came out in theaters. My favorite review “out of the hundred or more comedians, no one was more disgusting than Gilbert Gottfried.”

OI: I think Bob Saget may give you a run for your money on telling it.

GG: OH YEAH! (laughter)

OI: My mother and I often talk about guys like George Carlin and she will tell me that if Carlin was alive today he would have a fit over the way people want to try and control what a comedian can and can’t say. You’ve always been one of the more fearless comedians on stage. Is it harder for you to be that fearless on stage in today’s society?

GG: Oh yeah. It’s a crazy time period and I don’t know if there’s an end in sight. Everybody’s ready to be outraged. They pride themselves on getting outraged.

I think now if Charlie Chaplin was around, they’d say he was making fun of the homeless. It’s everything. And forget it with things like…it used to be so popular to make fun of drunks, now it’s alcoholism and we can’t do that.

Photo by Arlene Gottfried

OI: The outrage at times reminds me of the things that Lenny Bruce had to face when he was doing his standup routines. Do you think we’ll ever return to the time a comic could face legal trouble for their act?

GG: There’s legal problems but not like getting arrested, that part’s over with but not careers can be destroyed. You don’t know what’s the hot topic that is really going to destroy anybody.

OI: I think back to a routine that Carlin did in the 90s where he said people told him he couldn’t joke about rape and then did a routine about how you could make rape funny.

GG: Oh yes!

OI: Is there any subject that you consider off-limits?

GG: Uh, no. Just because you say a joke about a subject does not mean you’re recommending it or approving of it. And it’s like this always. For years, it was the dead baby jokes. What, people are really in favor of dead babies? No.

It’s like I always feel like within the joke is kind of an apology already because people cringe, they laugh and cringe at the same time. Everyone knows it’s a bad taste thing.

It’s kind of silly when you have to go “oh, no, that was wrong.” Well, yeah, of course it was wrong. That’s what makes it a joke.

OI: A lot of smaller cities such as Springfield are starting to get comedy clubs where they’re bringing in touring comedians and also helping to develop talent outside of big cities like New York or Los Angeles. What does it mean to you as a touring comedian to have clubs in these smaller towns?

GG: It means I have another club to get banned from! (laughter)

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