Saturday April 16, 2022
Gilbert Gottfried (1955-2022)
Sometimes all it takes is a moment that just lands.
In the mid-80s I was watching “David Letterman” and Gilbert Gottfried came on to do standup. Had I seen him before? Had someone disparaged him before? He had a loud rasping voice and was perpetually squinting. His eyes were all but shut and I kind of wanted to do the same with mine, because I was a little embarrassed for him. What laughs he was getting were awkward. Because he was awkward. I wasn't laughing, either. I think I kept thinking, “When does he stop this bit and go into his regular act? Oh, this is his regular act?” But I kept watching. And at one point (27:20 here) he segued from an Elephant Man joke into this:
“And I said there you go putting everything into your looks! You think everything is your looks! It's not—women do not care about a man's looks! If you read any sex quiz, they care about a personality and a sense of humor! Women love a sense of humor. Women would trample over Tom Selleck to get to Buddy Hacket!”
And I lost it. I laughed so hard. And from that moment on, whenever anyone disparaged him, I defended him. That was all it took. I bonded with him on that. And amazingly, the thing I thought was the awkward bit—that loud, rasping, annoying voice—lasted his entire career. He played it for all it was worth. He parlayed it. Iago in “Aladdin.” Gilbert Gottfried reads “50 Shades of Grey.” When John Oliver realized early in the Trump administration that though Jared Kushner was everywhere, we never heard him speak, who did he tap to be Kushner's voice?
We've lost so many standups in such a short time: Norm Macdonald, Bob Saget, Louie Anderson. All in their 60s. Is there something about standup that shortens your life? It seems to be a brotherhood, too. Which you totally get. It's a tough life, I would imagine, and most people aren't funny, and you need to hang around the people who are. I envy that brotherhood. It would be a great group to hang around.
After the news broke, my friend Josh told a story on Twitter about interviewing Gottfried for an article in Playboy magazine, and how he was never “Gilbert Gottfried” in those conversatons. He was kind and quiet; he always apologized for bothering him. A few months later, he called while Josh was driving to ask when the article was coming out; Josh had to admit that the piece had been killed for various reasons. “Long silence then he went full Gilbert on me. 'Oh my god' he said in that voice, 'what is it like to have your work rejected by a porno magazine?' He then said 'Have you thought about selling it to Leg Show? How about Barely 18....' He said he might know someone at Nugget and various other skin mags. I nearly drove off the road I was laughing so hard.”
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Blonde Crazy (1931)
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)
Something to Sing About (1937)
Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)
Come Fill the Cup (1951)
A Lion Is In the Streets (1953)
Man of a Thousand Faces (1957)
Never Steal Anything Small (1959)
Shake Hands With the Devil (1959)