Illustration by DREW FRIEDMAN via LOWBROW READER
DISCUSSED: Groucho Marx, Dick Cavett, Milton Berle’s cock, Ben Kingsley, Katharine Hepburn, F-Troop’s Larry Storch, Forrest Tucker’s cock, Boris Karloff, Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan, the Screen Actors Guild, Communists, the Godfather, fucking Marilyn Monroe, Richard Nixon, Danny Aiello, getting fired from SNL, Eddie Murphy, The Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, Do The Right Thing, getting fired by Aflac, suing the pants off Aflac.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Preparing for our Q&A with Gilbert Gottfried I came across this elegantly-rendered and wizardly-reasoned assessment of Brand Gottfried by Jay Ruttenberg in the Lowbrow Reader. He says it better than I ever could, so let’s let this excerpt serve as the intro for our Q&A. (I urge you to click through the link at the end and read the whole thing. And how about this illustration from the always awesome Drew Friedman? Likewise I would urge the unitiated to go HERE and check out his work.)
In 1987, Gilbert Gottfried made his debut appearance on Howard Stern’s radio program. Although it went unspoken, the host and his guest had somewhat overlapping lives. Both men were in their early 30s and clinging to the fringes of show business. Both were Jewish nerds who had come of age as outsiders in rough patches of New York: Stern in a predominantly black area of Long Island; Gottfried in pre-chic Brooklyn and the East Village of burning tenements and open-air heroin bazaars. They found escape and salvation through the junky pop culture of monster movies, super heroes, rock & roll, and comedy. And while both performers’ acts had roots in the ’70s, their entry to comedy’s major leagues began at the dawn of the ’80s, when Stern paired with his invaluable on-air foil Robin Quivers and Gottfried started his short-lived—and little-remembered—tenure on Saturday Night Live. [...]
Gottfried’s Hollywood stock, in the conventional sense, probably peaked in the early ’90s, when he appeared in the Problem Child movies, voiced a parrot in Disney’s Aladdin, and hosted USA Up All Night, a B-movie program on basic cable. In 1987, he had headlined a sitcom pilot, Norman’s Corner, which aired as a Cinemax special before fading into the abyss. The show was co-written by Larry David just before he created Seinfeld. I have heard comedians—albeit mildly demented ones—swear by Norman’s Corner as the Seinfeld-that-might-have-been. Now approaching 60, the comedian remains a prolific character actor and a reliably screeching voice in cartoons. His moments in the spotlight generally transpire because he has said something wildly inappropriate—a comedy mode that Gottfried has raised to an art form, if not raison d’être. In 2011, Gottfried famously got fired as the voice of the Aflac duck mascot after writing a series of corny Twitter jokes about the Japanese tsunami. (A sample: “I fucked a girl in Japan. She screamed, ‘I feel the earth move and I’m getting wet.’”) The loss of the long-running commercial gig clearly unnerved Gottfried, a notorious penny pincher who was apparently unaware that Aflac conducts the bulk of its business in Japan.
A decade earlier, however, his pathological yearning for vulgarity yielded what likely will prove his career apex. Appearing at a Friars Club Roast weeks after the World Trade Center attack, Gottfried took the podium bedecked in the kind of ill-fitting tuxedo a circus monkey might favor and cracked what Frank Rich, in the New York Times, described as the first public 9/11 joke: “I have a flight to California. I can’t get a direct flight—they said they have to stop at the Empire State Building first.” The joke was met by boos and an audience member’s cry of “too soon,” a phrase that quickly entered the lexicon, deployed when a comedian has made an appalling remark about a recent tragedy. (With alarming frequency, that comedian tends to be Gottfried.) – JAY RUTTENBERG Lowbrow Reader
PHAWKER: My first question is about The Voice. Where did The Voice come from, what was it inspired by, and what motivated you to want to deliver jokes in this shouty-screechy tone?
GILBERT GOTTFRIED: My normal speaking voice sounds exactly like Ben Kingsley. When people ask me about my voice and my delivery, and everything like that — I never consciously thought of developing anything. I used to go onstage all the time, and over a long period of years. One day you wake up and think, ‘Wow, I’ve been doing it this way for a long time.’ To me, when people ask where it came from, it’s kind of like going up to someone in the street and going, ‘Hey, the way you are walking around and moving your arms and pronouncing certain words, how did you develop that?’
PHAWKER: Point taken. On your Podcast, which I will plug here, Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast, you interview people that have influenced your comedy. Your first guest was Dick Cavett, who I love. Dick Cavett, the man for whom the word ‘plummy’ was invented.Maybe I’m tin-eared, but I’m not hearing Dick Cavett in your work. Tell me about how or why he became an influence. You used to watch him as a kid?
GILBERT GOTTFRIED: Yeah, it’s not necessarily people that have influenced me directly, but people I liked growing up. I had, and still have a fascination with the show business that I grew up with. Dick Cavett was on the air all the time back then. He would have the guests that no one else had, like one week he’d have Katharine Hepburn. The next, it would be John and Yoko, and then Groucho Marx. All of that became fascinating to me. I became especially fascinated listening to Groucho on there, ‘cause he had turned into this weak old man with a quivering voice. It fascinated me more than even than the Marx Brothers movies, which I was a tremendous fan of, because those used to be shown all the time on TV.
PHAWKER: What other once-famous/now-on-the-skids show biz personalities have you had on your podcast?
GILBERT GOTTFRIED: Oh, so many. Larry Storch from F Troop is still alive, and still alert. I went up to his apartment, and interviewed him. He’s in his nineties, and he stands on his head every morning
PHAWKER: Larry Storch was the blonde, tall guy? Or was he Agarn?
GILBERT GOTTFRIED: No, Larry Storch was Agarn, the lanky one. The other one was Forrest Tucker. I kept trying to get Larry Storch to talk about Forrest Tucker, because Forrest Tucker was kind of famous that Milton Berle was famous for, and that was an extremely large penis.
PHAWKER: I did not know about this.
GILBERT GOTTFRIED: Yeah. People know about Milton Berle, because he was showing everybody. I got confirmation when I interviewed Jeff Ross who actually saw Milton Berle’s penis. I tried to get Larry Storch to talk about Forrest Tucker’s penis, but he wouldn’t take the bait. [Laughs] He wouldn’t bite the worm, so to speak. [Laughs]
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