The first thing I ask Gilbert Gottfried was whether or not he read all of 50 Shades of Grey as part of his video (you can view it online at gilbertgottfried.com). He bursts out laughing. "Oh, no, that would have been too erotic! It would have been dangerous! Society would have shut down!" Nothing like hearing words like "vagina" and "clitoris" in Gottfried's signature nasally sneer. So why do it in the first place? "I think when everybody read that book they thought that this Christian Grey guy has got to be Gilbert Gottfried." Also, there is perhaps no content so rich to a stand-up comic as the banal erotica sprung from Twi-hard fan fiction.
While 50 Shades is about as controversial as the nattering sorority girls and repressed housewives who read it for the rush of the tee-hee naughties (Hermione Granger with a bull-whip standing over a ball-gagged Ron Weasley – now that's some erotic fan fiction!) Gottfried is no stranger to controversy. No shit – he's a comic. Which makes his most recent ruffling of feathers with his former employer Aflac all the more surprising. Hired on as the voice of the quasi-iconic (at least as far as advertising mascots go) Aflac duck, Gottfried made a few too-soon jokes on Twitter about the 2011 earthquake/tsunami disaster in Japan (where Aflac does the bulk of its business). Though he immediately deleted the offending tweets and apologized for his "insensitivity," the damage had already been done, and alas, Aflac offers no supplemental insurance coverage for a comedian who offends their largest customer base. They terminated his contract immediately.
"My favorite tweet that someone sent me around that time was, 'Aflac fires Gilbert Gottfried after discovering he's a comedian.' I thought that wrapped it up perfectly! How could the guy who starred in The Aristocrats and has been on Howard Stern and has a Dirty Jokes DVD come out with a bad taste joke?" He says that now whenever there's a tragedy he usually finds out about it first on Twitter because everyone is demanding to hear his joke.
"[This is how it was] before the Internet: with every tragedy there would be at least five jokes that would come out immediately. They were passed around the water cooler, kids would tell them at schools, everybody told these jokes. Now there's this weird thing ... now people are really sensitive." He said for about two days after the earthquake jokes he would get hate tweets. "Then it totally turned around; then you realize the vast majority of people understand the joke. You've got the nutty people on the Internet, then the media goes, 'Oh, this sounds like something to [turn into something]' – their job is to make a mouse fart sound like a nuclear explosion."
His equally ill-timed (but pre-Twitter) 9/11 joke, delivered just three weeks after the events of 9/11 at the Friar's Roast of Hugh Hefner, was almost as atomic as Fukushima post-earthquake, but Gottfried won the crowd back over with something ... even worse. When the crowd immediately started booing, chiding him with shouts of "Too soon!," he did what any long-time professional comic would do: he immediately launched into the most vile, the more depraved, the most twisted and revolting joke known to stand-up comedians, a joke that really needs no introduction (it's even got its own documentary) – the Aristocrats. And the audience loved it.
"I followed [the 9/11 joke] with the Aristocrats, which is the most obscene joke," he says. "There's incest, bestiality ... [so] terrorist jokes are in bad taste but incest and bestiality are fine." Gottfried remarks that now it seems like people pick and choose how to get offended.
"Just recently Joan Rivers got in trouble for making fun of Rihanna; Don Rickles got in trouble for making a joke about the President. These are two comics who have been around forever! Now this time period is so insane; it's kind of like lynch mobs have evolved into the computer age. Now you can have a lynching without actually leaving your house. It makes it so convenient! At least in the old days they had to put on their shoes and get their hands dirty. Back then people worked for it!"
In the cyber age of democratized digital critique, everyone's a critic. But there is a reason why historically the role of critic has been a paid, privileged profession and the rest of the public merely paying members of the audience: the masses en masse are profoundly ignorant, and more than willing to spew their myopic drivel onto public forums from the safe confines of their living rooms and shielded by the cloak of electronic anonymity. Read any comments section of any online news story anywhere for undisputable proof of that.
"I'm glad the Internet wasn't around when I was starting," Gottfried states. "You have to put in a lot of stage time before you can get a delivery and put an act together." He continues about industry vets like Rivers and Rickles: "Had the Internet been around years ago they would have been driven out of the business. People are so vocal and so sensitive [now]. I think people also enjoy it – it makes them feel better about themselves if they get offended; [they think] it makes them a better person. It's kind of like wearing a red ribbon." He wryly references the very visible show of support in fighting AIDS from the showbiz sector, mimicking in mockery: "I'm in show business! To hell with the scientists, researchers ... We made advancement with AIDS because we wore a red ribbon on our lapels when we went to parties!"
Gottfried's first-ever book, Rubber Balls and Liquor, was released earlier this year, which he describes as being somewhat autobiographical. "The book is just like a series – some stories are about my life, some are just jokes. People who've read the book who know me say at times it seems to be becoming sincere and somewhat touching, then quickly veers into dirty and immature ... it's like talking to me in person!" After he was offered the deal came the worst part – actually having to sit down and write it. "I remember after finally completing it, I got that 'Thank God it's over with' feeling." Then his publisher informed him that he would have to read it after they typeset it to make sure it was all 'okay.' "It's bad enough other people have to read it; I don't want to! That's their punishment!"
One could say that he is currently on tour given his recent slew of performances at clubs across the country, but as he feels that a tour is only a tour when there is a tour bus and for this "tour" there is no such bus, he is therefore not actually "on tour." You can, however, catch him on not-tour for two performances in Ferndale at the Magic Bag on Saturday, September 15. So what can you expect at this not-tour? "They can expect to sit there for about five minutes and look at each other and go, 'Whose idea was it to go see him?' Then hopefully no one will fling a chair at me!"
RDW: "Any other thoughts to share?"
GG: "My thoughts are worthless."
RDW: "But people pay to hear your thoughts!"
GG: "Yeah, well, that's what they realize once they sit through one of my shows!" | RDW
Gilbert Gottfried • 7/15, 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. • Magic Bag • 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale • 248.544.3030 • magicbag.com • $25