Commonly referred to as "that annoying comedian who shouts all the time" by fans as well as detractors Gilbert Gottfried is also a sought-after film and TV performer who has played everything from Hitler to Iago the parrot in Aladdin. (He's also the voice of the AFLAC duck.) In the documentary The Aristocrats, he's saluted as the man who taught us all to laugh again after Sept. 11 by regaling a Friars' Club roast of Hugh Hefner with a convoluted, cathartic and deeply hysterical rendition of the world's dirtiest joke.
OW: All these years as a fan, and I never knew you were a hero of Sept. 11. What's that like?
Gottfried: Well, you know, I think everybody who wakes up and sees that America is still standing owes me a debt of thanks.
OW: Were you surprised when you saw the movie and that was the way it was spun Gilbert saves the world?
Gottfried: As a matter of fact … in one of the tapes sent over from the Middle East, Osama bin Laden said, "Damn that Gilbert Gottfried!"
OW: It's just an error in translation that we haven't picked up on yet.
Gottfried: Yes. He said, "Damn him and his dirty jokes! He's ruined me!"
OW: But he likes the parrot, I understand.
Gottfried: Yes, a big fan of that. And then he enjoys any of the AFLAC duck commercials.
OW: Speaking of the roast that's shown in the film, were you at all scared to be the one going out on that limb, or was it like pardon the pun "This party is dying, and somebody's got to do something?"
Gottfried: Well, it was like around that time, like right after 9/11 … and there was all this talk like, "Oh, show business is over. No one can ever tell jokes or sing or dance." The Emmy Awards were coming up, and they were going to have everyone dress down. No fancy outfits. So, like, all the people who lost loved ones in the World Trade Center could go, "Oh, look! All the actresses are not showing cleavage. I feel so much better now."
And so I wanted to be the first one to just totally shock the audience, you know, and get them going. The first thing, I just started off mildly and said, "Tonight, I'll be using my Muslim name, Hasn bin Laid." And then I said, "I have to leave for L.A. tonight. I couldn't get a direct flight. They have to make a stop at the Empire State Building." And there was just a gasp through the entire room. And one guy yelled out, "Too soon!" I thought he meant I didn't take a long enough pause. I thought, "Damn, I knew that extra beat would have helped it!"
And then I launched into, like, going for broke and doing the most dirty, disgusting material I could think of.
OW: So that was not anything that was really planned? You just sort of reached into the repertoire?
Gottfried: Yeah, reached into the repertoire. I know lots of dirty jokes. As a matter of fact, I just finished a DVD called Gilbert Gottfried: Dirty Jokes.
OW: Oh, good, that was going to be my last question. I'm glad that you wanted to make sure you got that in there.
Gottfried: Not that I'm self-serving in any way.
OW: And that DVD comes out when?
Gottfried: I'm not really sure. Either the fall or the winter. One of the seasons. Can you print the website in your paper?
OW: Sure, we can print anything.
Gottfried: www.gilbertgottfried.com. For more information. If it's even working. Half the time, it's just down, and there's a porn site.
OW: So, how many of the activities that you mention in your telling of the Aristocrats joke do you think Hefner has engaged in himself?
Gottfried: I think probably every single one of them. And the funny thing is that they found out Hefner is actually 22.
OW: Is it more rewarding to make comedians laugh than normal folk? I'd imagine it's more difficult, right?
Gottfried: I don't know. To me … either one. Sometimes it's bad. I've had shows where the audience is throwing stuff at me and screaming, "Get off!" And the comics are watching me, like, doubled over.
OW: I remember seeing you inaugurate a comedy night at a sports bar out in Jersey. You did five minutes of "Oh, stop it! You'll make yourself sick!" (Gottfried's provocative, prolonged response to "applause" that has long since died down.) Half the room was lovin' it, and the other half was a bunch of jocks and their girlfriends looking nervously at each other, like, "Is he going to do that all night, honey?"
Gottfried: (chuckles at memory) Yes. Far be it from me to do something to excess.
OW: The movie has a lot of comedians talking about the craft that goes into their work. Is that what you guys do when you get together socially? Do you just sort of second-guess each other or wait for a guy to go out of the room and talk about why his jokes could be better?
Gottfried: I think basically when comics are around, you don't even wait for the person to leave the room to tell him that he sucks.
OW: Oh. Because you hear all those stories of Seinfeld's exes saying, "Well, his idea of a date was to sit there and critique Carson's monologue."
Gottfried: I would, on a date, pick apart Merv Griffin's monologue.
OW: Easier pickings?
OW: Last question. How does the stuff that's on your DVD compare to your telling of the Aristocrats joke? The movie sort of makes the point that "the Aristocrats" is the apotheosis of dirty humor.
Gottfried: Don't use those big words around me.
OW: Does the stuff on your DVD go even further? Now that this movie is out, do you feel like you have to top yourself?
Gottfried: Yeah. This is all dirty jokes, an evening of just dirty jokes. I do a version of "the Aristocrats," which, I was very proud to say, people have told me the one complaint about the DVD was that the ending of "the Aristocrats" was way too long and way too disgusting. So I feel like I've accomplished something.
OW: Is this the kind of stuff that you do when you're between takes on AFLAC or your other voice-over jobs? Just to amuse the guys in the booth? Like, "Wanna hear what the duck is really thinking?"
Gottfried: I try not to mix the two too much, because I've lost too much work over the years. [But] like I've always said, my career is walking a tightrope between children's early-morning programming and hardcore porn.