For 62-year-old Gilbert Gottfried, the internet age has taken some getting used to, especially considering the longtime comedian’s consistently unhinged style. From 9/11 to masturbation, Gottfried has never shied away from a topic because it’s too touchy. This quality has certainly gotten him into trouble a time or two (and it might very well again in the interview that follows).
Nevertheless, the flamboyant funny man remains active on the comedy circuit today, holding tight to his trademark in-your-face approach. Ahead of some upcoming appearances at Morty’s Comedy Joint on March 2-3, we caught up with Gottfried for an entertaining phone interview.
As a famed comics comic, Gottfried puts aside political correctness for his live performance and fires an onslaught of jokes that know no boundaries.
NUVO: In all of my research, I’ve never really seen you speak on this. What was it that sparked your initial interest in comedy?
GILBERT: I just think I was too stupid to do anything else. [laughs] As a kid, I remember I used to watch a lot of TV. I’d watch the shows that were on the air, and I’d watch a lot of old movies. And then, I just started doing imitations of different actors and comics I saw. That sort of started me in that direction.
NUVO: Who were some people you imitated around those early times?
GILBERT: Oh God. I was imitating Humphrey Bogart and Boris Karloff. So even back then, my act was dated. [laughs]
NUVO: When you first tried your hand at comedy, what was the landscape around you like? Was it difficult to get your foot in the door after you decided that was what you wanted to pursue?
GILBERT: When it started to get known that I was interested in comedy or show business, my sister Arlene had told me that a friend of hers told her that there was some club in Manhattan, and it wasn’t a comedy club. It was before the whole comedy boom. But, it was just some club with some comics and some folk singers. You’d just go there, write your name down on the list, and then they’d do it in order. When they got to you, they just said your name, and you went on. So I went on there, and I don’t know if I did well or was too stupid to know I bombed. But then, I would do it again and again. It was weird. When I started out, it used to be a mixture of comedians and singers at these places. Later on, it became just comedians. But, Pat Benatar used to sing at the clubs, and Patti Smith.
NUVO: I recently interviewed Judy Gold, and she talked about how she thinks comedy has gotten too politically correct. Like her, you would seem to have a similar viewpoint. Is there a part of you that feels comedy has become too politically correct?
GILBERT: Yeah. I mean, it’s a weird time. But I think especially with the internet. The internet makes me feel sentimental for old-time lynch mobs. At least they had to go out and get their hands dirty. Now, it’s like you sit on the couch in your underwear and form a lynch mob.
NUVO: You’ve done a lot of voiceover work over the years, with the most notable role probably being Iago in Disney’s Aladdin. When you started doing that, were there any people (especially comedians) who you modeled your voiceover pursuit after?
GILBERT: I mean, I was a fan of a lot of the voiceover people. The main guy was Mel Blanc, who’s Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and just about every Warner Bros. cartoon. There were people like that, but he was the main guy.
NUVO: Do you have any sort of routine when it comes to preparing for a voiceover role? What helps you get into character?
GILBERT: Uh, nothing. I’m not Meryl Streep (laughs). It’s just pretty much…you go in there and they throw the script in front of you.
NUVO: You’ve had your experience with backlash on social media after making jokes on Twitter about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami back in 2011. What has figuring out how to be funny on social media been like, and what lessons have you learned along the way?
GILBERT: Luckily, I’m one of those people who never seems to learn their lesson. [laughs] It’s funny. With the internet, first you could say, “Oh, well, be careful what you say on the internet,” but you’ve gotta be careful what you say in the clubs because that’ll wind up on the internet. What you say in a private conversation will wind up on the internet.
NUVO: On the topic of online trends, podcasting has become quite big in comedy over the past decade. What was it that made you want to start your own podcast?
GILBERT: My wife actually suggested it. I’m one of those people who still looks at a podcast as “Oh, these kids with their newfangled inventions.” I don’t quite understand it, and I’m amazed at how many people listen to my podcast. I was expecting it to be one of those things I do five times and then say, “Well, this isn’t worth it.”
NUVO: What do you enjoy about doing your podcast?
GILBERT: It’s funny. There are these people I have on. Under normal circumstances, I think, “I’d like to sit down and talk to that guy, but I don’t have a reason to.” Now with the podcast, I do have a reason to seek them out.
NUVO: You recently had a documentary about your life come out. What was that experience like? I would imagine it was pretty strange.
GILBERT: Yeah. This filmmaker Neil Berkeley came up to me and said, “I’ve always dreamt of doing a Gilbert Gottfried documentary.”
And I said, “Well, you should set your dreams a lot higher than that.” Then, he just started following me around, and I was too much of a wimp to get away. Because I never wanted a documentary about me. But then, I let him, and I didn’t stop him from anything that he wanted to film. I mean, it’s gotten great reviews. I myself still have a hard time watching it. To me, it’s like the first time you actually hear your voice or see yourself moving around, and you go, “No, I don’t sound that way, and I don’t move around that way.” That’s the way it is watching this.
NUVO: You have some appearances coming up in Indianapolis at Morty’s. Having been a comedian for as long as you have, do you have any stories of doing stand-up here in the past?
GILBERT: It’s funny. I’ve traveled so many places over the years. I know I’ve been to Indianapolis. But for the most part, I show up, I get off the plane, I check into the hotel. The next morning, I do Cap’n Jack and Crazy Jim and their morning show, and then I go back to the hotel and then to the club. So I don’t even know. I could be in Indianapolis or Paris, and I wouldn’t know the difference.