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An Interview with Gilbert Gottfried

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Rolling Stone called Gilbert Gottfried the Miles Davis of stand-up comedy. Jazz like, Gilbert's absurd jokes fly off a thread of simple logic that he twists so much it makes you laugh hysterically at things only his warped perception can make obvious. Just as your catching your equilibrium he's into another bit only related to the one before it by its absurdity. If Gilly wasn't so down to earth you would think he was from another planet. Today he sat before me, at Da Marino's on 49th Street, smiling at the thought of a free meal, the same quiet gentle cheap (he loves to play this up) and generous (he would give you the shirt off his back, even if it costs him more than fifty-eight cents) guy I met thirty years ago. Fame, money, and another foot in stature couldn't change him, nor would I want it too even if he picked up the check. The one thing he loves to do at his expense is laugh at himself.

JOHN DEBELLIS: So Gilly, how are you today?

GILBERT: Ecch...

JOHN DEBELLIS: That good, huh. Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?

GILBERT: Sure, go ahead I'm an open book, an encyclopedia of answers. Ask me anything, as long as you mention my album, Gilbert Gottfried's Dirty Jokes, which you can get on my website.

JOHN DEBELLIS: Okay, we'll talk about Gilbert Gottfried's Dirty Jokes, which you can get on your website later in the interview.

GILBERT: Then ask away while I look at the menu. Are the steaks good here?

JOHN DEBELLIS: They're great. Gilly, do you think of yourself as cheap?

GILBERT: I'd make Jack Benny look like a philanthropist. By they way you did say anything on the menu.

JOHN DEBELLIS: Yes, I did.

GILBERT: Is this on an expense account?

JOHN DEBELLIS: No, I have to pay for it myself.

GILBERT: In that case, I'll have the fillet mignon.

JOHN DEBELLIS: Were you the class clown?

GILBERT: I was the class podiatrist. I never made it to class clown. I wasn't funny enough. I would examine feet and prescribe and ointment. It was a sad childhood.

JOHN DEBELLIS: Not too long ago a newspaper tabbed you the unsexiest man in the world.

GILBERT: The Phoenix Sun did a list of the unsexiest men in the world and I made it to number one. I beat out Bin Laden. He's a terrorist, hasn't bathed in months. I beat him out. To me it was a great honor.

JOHN DEBELLIS: No one deserves that title more than you.

GILBERT GOTTFRIED: My sentiments exactly. It was the best publicity I ever had. It went all over the world, Japan, China,. India, Korea... Europe. In Russia they retitled the article as "The Most A Sexual man in the world." When I got that news I was ringing the bells at Notre Dam. They said, "Climb down. Read this." I've been fighting to hold onto that title and you'd be surprised to see how many women are helping me. Every time I try to get laid after one of my shows, I say. "Damn it, I should have learned to play the guitar." All my career I hear about all those comic groupies. And I say, "Tell me what town. Just direct me there." Guys, who opened for me on the road, who have been doing their act for six months and get no laughs, they get laid. I can't even masturbate my hands pretend that they have arthritis.

JOHN DEBELLIS: What did your mother say when you told her you wanted to become a comedian?

GILBERT: I seemed like the loser of the family at the time. So to them it was just another thing I could I fail at. Back then it would be insane to tell anyone that you becoming a comedian. Later on it became a career option. Every other door was a comedy club.

JOHN DEBELLIS: One of your first TV auditions was for Bill Cosby.

GILBERT: Cosby for some reason liked me, so I got called in to audition for his show. The producers were asking about this guy who yells a lot and is annoying. I said, "That's me." The show was called "Mr. Smith" it was about a talking orangutan. It starred three orangutans. I had worked with these orangutans before on Thick of the Night. So I guess they had bad feelings, so I didn't get that job. My grandmother was watching Bill Cosby on some show and she was going on and on about how funny he was and so talented. So I said to my grand mother, thinking this was my chance of impressing her. "I auditioned for a show out in LA and I had gotten the audition because Bill Cosby said I was funny." And my grandmother, in typical Jewish fashion, says to me, "Yes, but you didn't get the job."

JOHN DEBELLIS: You're big break in this business ca--

GILBERT: I'm in a business. Okay, I'll admit it. I'm in show business. And being interviewed by you is what I always dreamed of. Who cares about TV shows, movies and millions of dollars, I can die now knowing your asking me questions.

JOHN DEBELLIS: We can only hope...

GILBERT: Not until after I finish my steak.

JOHN DEBELLIS: You're big break actually came as a fluke.

GILBERT: No, that was my date last night! See I was playing on the word, cum. Okay it wasn't that funny. My first big break? People name things that they think was my first big break. I've been on TV and I've had exposure. They weren't big breaks like Saturday night live. But that was disastrous. I did some pilot before that never aired. So there was nothing really going on in my career. I was just hanging out in the clubs. I had gone up on stage and these people from MTV saw me and asked me to come in an audition. They turned the camera on me and I just started rambling on and on and on. I totally improvised the whole thing and they loved it. They were playing the audition tapes on the air. And that was the first big exposure I got. And naturally I called them and I said, "Do I get any money?" And they said, "No." I said, "Can I get something?" And finally they discussed it. They gave me five hundred dollars and my agency found out about it and immediately jumped into action and took fifty dollars commission. That was my first great exposure. People were seeing those and asking who's that crazy guy in the MTV spot.

JOHN DEBELLIS: You almost didn't get the job on SNL.

GILBERT: On Saturday night alive when I met with all the producers I was surprisingly a smart ass and self-destructive. They said, "What would you say if we offered you Saturday Night Live" I said, "I do it but only if they fired you."

JOHN DEBELLIS: You had to explain it to producers of a comedy show that you were a comedian and were joking about the whole thing.

GILBERT: It didn't bother me. I'm used to explaining to people why my jokes were funny.

JOHN DEBELLIS: Years ago we wrote a rather risqué sketch together on Saturday Night Live about two proud fathers sitting at a bus stop talking about their daughters.

GILBERT: Oh, yeah, one of them was bragging about his daughter being a porno star. He'd tell the guy about his daughter's new movies like, "Not With My Face You Don't.

JOHN DEBELLIS: We even got sensors laughing and they liked us and they started to give us movie titles like "Okla-homo"

GILBERT: And "Blow Boat" where his daughter had to learn to sing with her mouth full."
JOHN DEBELLIS: We had to sensor them.

GILBERT: On Hollywood Squares they have these sensors working. Sometimes it was like they'd just spin the wheel, throw the darts and whatever it hits would be too dirty and they'd cut it out. Because other times they'd say "no" when I would be do something that would be clean. When Whoopi Goldberg was talking I would just jump out and climb in and get behind her. She'd say, "Oh, I got scarred. I could feel him coming." I would look in the Camera and say, "Whoopi could hear me cuming." And they would allow that. No problem. They had another one where they said, " In Space this grows an inch and a half." So I said that would make me two and a half inches. Of course they said, "no" to that. They didn't know I was just stating a fact.

JOHN DEBELLIS: You told me there was one answer you really liked. They were cartoon characters?

GILBERT: Oh, yeah. I think they were named, Totem, Tuggy and Squirtle. So I said, "Whenever they tug on my totem it definitely squirtles." That was a no, no. Another time the real answer was a Giant Horn or something. The question was. "What weighs a ton and gets blown twice a day." I said, "A very happy whale." That they wouldn't allow. Another time they said if they lined up all the Chinese in a line and they passed by me how long would it take, and I said "Well how do you know that it's not the same guy just passing you bye over and over. That they wouldn't allow. Then I'd get away with stuff that's totally filthy.

JOHN DEBELLIS: You got in hot water for something you said on the Emmys.

GILBERT: That was right after Pee Wee Herman got arrested in the porn theater for masturbation. Because masturbating in a porn theater, who ever heard of such a thing? It looked like his career was over. He was on the cover of every magazine, the mug shot. I was on the Emmys as a presenter. They said, just go up there and have fun. And to me what's more fun than masturbation? So I went up and I said, "I really sleep better and night knowing that Pee wee Herman's in prison. If masturbation's a crime I should be on death row. I think that at age of twelve I was already Al Capone. Right now my right hand is like superman. You could put charcoal in it and I'd crush it into a diamond. And how exactly did they prove he was masturbating? Did they dust for prints?" And that got bleeped on the West Coast. The producers of the show sent out apologies. We'll never have him back on the show. Critics were writing about it. One critic called it a sneak attack on the unsuspecting American public who may have been watching with their families. And this was the Fox network that was shocked and they were putting out shows like "Thongs of Today." Or whatever they could get away with. The funny part of it is, at the time, I was recording Aladdin for Disney. I was too dirty for Fox but clean enough for Disney. My career has always been walking the tightrope between morning children's programming and hardcore pornography.

JOHN DEBELLIS: Oh, that reminds me you just came out with an album. Do you want to tell us about it?

GILBERT: Okay, if you insist. I came out with a dirty joke DVD basically to have something to sell after the show. I'd be working someplace and there'd be an opening act who had three minutes of material and he'd be selling DVD's, and I'd see him walking away with money and it would be just too much for me. I love old dirty jokes. "A man walks into his son's room and says, "Son if you keep doing that you're going to go blind." And the son says. "I'm over here Dad." So I made an album Gilbert Gottfried's Dirty Jokes. The title was my idea. Always thinking. Always imagining things. You can get it on my website, Gilbert Gottfried.com, unless you're all dead. Unless this is being read from Jupiter (talking like a space man). "What is this web site he speaks off?" Because well know from science fictions movies that people speak English on other planets. They just wear aluminum foil outfits, but they all speak perfect English, because they intercepted our radio broadcasts. There are people living in this country their entire lives who are trying to learn from watching TV. You still can't make out what they say, like me for instance.

JOHN DEBELLIS: How did you get Beverly Hill's Cop 2?

GILBERT: A lot of people were auditioning for that. I went in and just ignored the script totally. The original scene with the financial manager, was that Eddy goes in, and this is Eddy Canter. It was a black and white film and we broke into a song. No, it was Eddy Murphy. Eddy goes in. He has some traffic tickets and he has to pay for these tickets. And the character says, "Is there some way we can take care of this?" I say, "No, you have to pay two hundred dollars," Eddie says, "Very well" and he just hands him two hundred dollars. When I auditioned I just tossed the script out. I started going more and more crazy with it. After they agreed that I would do it, they kept sending me scripts and I would just toss the scripts out because I knew I wasn't going to follow it. That's another thing when people talk about it. They say that Eddy remembered his old friend Gilbert and put him in. Murphy said to me he had no idea that I was in it till he saw the morning run down. This is uh....Audie Murphy, all the kids now a days know these names. Of course I'm kidding. Any way, I started completely ignoring the script and was improvising. Murphy immediately started playing along with it. He didn't do anything off the script either. We went back and forth and we would be laughing. To this day people come up to me in the street and say, "I got something in this hand and put something in that hand and this hand."

JOHN DEBELLIS: You take a lot of risks. On stage and you often do these obscure bits that a few people in the audience get.

GILBERT: Like Myron Cohen (old time comic) as the Son of Sam. (Going into a flawless Myron Cohen, who spoke with a heavy Jewish accent) "So I run out, killed two people in the car. They unroll the window, I shoot the two of them. They say, "why are you going to shoot us?" I say, "A dog told me to." They say, "You doing this because a dog told you to do this. That's why you're doing this." I said, "You got a better reason?"

JOHN DEBELLIS: You were hysterical in the Aristocrats.

GILBERT: It was perfect for me, an old dirty joke which I could make filthier. On the DVD version I'm doing your mother is fucking the dog and your dog is fucking your father and it's getting more and more perverted with blood and semen and in each one the father is doing the daughter and the daughter is doing the son. In the middle of it I turned to the camera and said, "this is a favorite family practice of beloved character actor Kevin McCarthy (original Invasion of the Body Snatchers)." Now it turns out one of the guys who's an editor on the Aristocrats actually is friends with Kevin McCarthy. So he said to Kevin McCarthy, " in this new film the aristocrats, on the DVD, this comedian Gilbert Gottfried says, the following." And repeats the whole thing the father doing the dog and the dog doing the daughter bla, bla, bla... "And it gets more and more disgusting and this is a favorite family practice of beloved Character actor Kevin McCarthy." And Kevin McCarthy who's like a hundred goes (imitating Kevin) "Well that's offensive." And his friends starts to say well Gilbert Gottfried has a tendency to go- And Kevin McCarthy goes... "I'm not a character actor...I'm a lead."

JOHN DEBELLIS: That's very funny.

GILBERT: I'll take that as a compliment. I remember one compliment I got from a performer. Notice my cleaver segue. We were working in Las Vegas and he had a great show and my show just tanked. So after the show were going to a club, we got into a cab....Yes he paid... Need you even ask? So we go to the club and a guy says to the comic you were hysterical and the other guy sucked. No one knew what to say. Afterward the other comic said to me, "Look you want to know why I did great tonight and you did so poorly. It's like you're Nieman Marcus and I'm K mark. It was one of my biggest compliments ever.

JOHN DEBELLIS: What was best?

GILBERT GOTTFRIED: I was working on a film. Of course they cut me out of it. . I remember Richard Prior saying (doing a great impression of Prior), "You're like super funny. Even if you don't want to be funny, you're going to be funny." That was an amazing thing. All I kept thinking was that can you go and say that on TV. Go on Entertainment tonight tell my parents, something. Me hearing that didn't do a bit of good.

JOHN DEBELLIS: Somebody must have heard. You keep working. You've been on just about every talk show.

GILBERT: I never was on Carson. I did Letterman a lot. I did Leno a lot. They'd have me come in and do these bits. I'd never know until I got there. They'd dress me up as a gorilla or the Queen of England or something. One time the dressed me up as Kim Young Yee, the dictator of Korea. They put me in an army outfit. I didn't even try to do an accent. I wasn't imitating him. It was just me...no make up. And afterwards they had members of the Asian Anti defamation league groups writing in saying they thought it was so deeply offensive to have an actor there made up with big teeth and squinty eyes.

JOHN DEBELLIS: Some people feel that you've changed the face of comedy.

GILBERT: Yes I changed the face of comedy. I used to be funny. Now can I eat my steak?