GIGGLE CITY: Never ‘too soon’ for Gilbert Gottfried

Gilbert Gottfried has one of the most recognizable voices in popular culture – heard in countless movies, TV shows, children’s cartoons, commercials for respected insurance companies – but he also happens to be one of the filthiest, most controversial stand-up comics in the business. What could possibly go wrong?

It’s surprising he doesn’t get into trouble more often. Last March, Gottfried was fired as the long-running Aflac duck for making a joke about the Japanese tsunami the day after it happened: “I just split up with my girlfriend, but like the Japanese say, ‘They’ll be another one floating by any minute now.’” Gottfried headlines Yuk Yuk’s in Edmonton Friday and Saturday (Jan. 27-28), part of a short Canadian tour he’s obviously excited to be on. As he tweeted recently, “I just found out that I’m trending in Canada. Oh fuck, this place is more boring than I thought.”

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Q: If you could be any (other) celebrity, who would it be and why?

A: Anyone who gets laid a lot.

Q: Which celebrity gets laid the most, you think?

A: We know it’s not me. Ultimately, although he’s in all the papers as having hit rock bottom, Charlie Sheen is someone who gets laid, parties and has lots of money. A lot of people would like to trade rock bottom with him.

Q: You say you don’t get laid, but it must’ve happened at least twice – what’s it like starting late as a dad (age 56) to two small children (4 and 2)?

A: I still feel like I’m waking up every day in a Twilight Zone episode.

Q: What’s the worst meal you ever had on the road?

A: I was in Vermont and I ordered pastrami sandwich that looked and tasted like one of those rubber squeeze toys for puppies. You couldn’t even chew it.

Q: What’s your best heckler story?

A: You get drunks that throw things, not that often, thankfully. At least with me they’ll throw bigger objects. When I was unknown, they’d crumple a piece of paper and throw it at me, or a glass, but now that I’m big they can fling a table at me.

Q: Where is the line you’re not supposed to cross?

A: It doesn’t seem like there is one. George Carlin once said that it’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and step over it. But it has to be funny.

Q: Is there such a thing as “too soon”?

A: There’s another old saying: Tragedy plus time equals comedy. And I always figured, why wait? I always thought: at what office is it decided when it’s OK to make a joke about something? People crack jokes about the Titanic, and they’ll talk about a bad date they say it was a regular Titanic, or a bad job. Why is that OK?

Q: You’re the subject of an urban legend as one of the first comics to make a joke about 9-11 – in New York a week later. What exactly happened that night?

A: I said, “I have to leave early tonight to catch a flight to LA. I couldn’t get a direct flight. We have to make a stop at the Empire State Building.” And the whole place just erupted, people were booing and hissing and mumbling, you could hear chairs screeching back. One guy yelled out, “Too soon!” by which I thought he meant I didn’t take a long enough pause between the set up and the punchline. But yeah, it’s become part of my thing. The “too soon” came from some guy. I’d love to find out who it was – he was so connected with me.

Q: A more recent “too soon” joke got you fired as the Aflac duck. How did you feel about that?

A: I never like losing a paying gig. And it was this awful time of being raked over the coals by all these different news shows who pretend that they cared deeply. I always feel like these shows should be given acting awards at the end of the year on who pretends they are actually the most upset or the most hurt by a current event. To me, when that happened, I’d been doing jokes like that forever, I’m known for doing jokes like that. For me, it was like eating a bowl of cornflakes every morning and one day you eat a bowl of cornflakes and all hell breaks loose. I know the media has to make a mountain out of molehill, so it became like, “Oh, this is a horrible! A JOKE has been told!” People look at it now and think, oh, he probably caused the tsunami …

Q: Wasn’t that the gays?

A: … I knew they were responsible.

Q: Do you think successful comics are more honest than they used to be?

A: I don’t know. There were always people like Lenny Bruce or Mort Sahl, and there’s plenty of comedy that has nothing to do with anything. There’s that awful thing that happens with comics who try to do too much commentary where they forget to be funny. They criticize the government and they’re talking about current events and they’re just giving their opinion and there’s no joke attached. The other thing I’ve noticed is that comedians and comedy shows are doing political jokes that aren’t really political jokes. If you’re making fun of Bill Clinton chasing girls or doing dumb jokes about Bush, it’s not about politics at all.

Q: Is there a joke you’ve abandoned you were sad to let go?

A: I’m really bad for letting go of jokes. I’ll do jokes where I’m mentioning people and things that are so out of date. Finally I stopped doing this long joke where I was referencing Molly Ringwald, and she hasn’t exactly been in the news lately.

Q: So who’s the new Molly Ringwald?

A: Oh, I gotta find out. I could bring the joke back!

Q: Do you have some new material that’s going over well?

A: Oddly enough, forgive the expression, I just tweeted something that’s doing well: “Lemme get this straight. The Marines can still kill the Taliban, they just can’t pee on them.”

Q: Do you use Twitter a lot because tweets are sort of like one-liners?

A: Yeah. A lot of people have referred as the whole Internet as just being graffiti, which in a way, they’re right. It’s a very odd thing. I remember when answering machines first came out, there would be these people who weren’t funny, especially comics who weren’t going anywhere, and then the average person caught onto it: Their answering machine messages would be this whole production, music, funny voices and sounds. And that seemed like the beginning of now where everybody’s a creative force. A lot of the Internet is like that for me. It’s kind of a scary world we’re living in now. It’s literally true that everyone’s a comedian, everyone’s a critic and everyone’s a writer, and everyone’s a filmmaker, and a commentator. It just waters it down so much. It seems like it’s getting rid of the people you looked up to. Now everybody has their own websites and they’re poorly written, but it doesn’t matter.

Q: But doesn’t the cream rise to the top that much quicker? Don’t you have thousands of people hanging on your every tweet?

A: The funny thing about the whole tsunami thing is that they were saying, “Oh, it’s all over for Gilbert Gottfried now,” but my Twitter account catapulted after that. I got more than 100,000 new people on it. When they’re reporting my career is over, I like that, because if your career is truly over, they don’t mention you at all. If it’s a news story that your career is over, it means it’s not. They never do a news story about the guy who played Eddie Munster and how his career is over, or the girl who had a supporting role on Suddenly Susan.

Q: What’s the difference between kids today and when you were a kid?

A: There are a lot of things we take for granted that weren’t around back then. I remember one time being with these two other friends and one of them led us up to a the top of a building where under a bunch of old newspapers in a garbage can he had hid an old, torn up Playboy magazine. It was a treasure. And now two-year-olds can type into hard core porn sites.