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The delightfully nasty habit of Gilbert Gottfried

“It was the first time in my life I heard Gilbert’s name and didn’t laugh.”

Gilbert: We hardly knew ye.
Gilbert: We hardly knew ye.

There’s a name for people who knew Gilbert Gottfried solely on the basis of the numerous animated birds he voiced: parents.

Dig A Hole: Gilbert Gottfried

Fans of his numerous appearances on Howard Stern’s radio show and those fortunate enough to have seen him perform at a comedy club can attest to Gilbert’s caustic brilliance. He was the irritating putz on the road trip who insisted on singing every chorus of “100 Bottles of Beer,” or your miserable, scrunchy-faced uncle seated at the head table, complaining that the ice wasn’t cold enough. Gilbert had the delightfully nasty habit of speaking aloud what everyone else was thinking, no matter how base, cruel, or patently offensive it might have been. On stage, he was the master of putting a smile on the worst life had to offer. But when it came to film, the script didn’t exist that Gilbert passed on. (All of his cameos butted end-to-end wouldn’t amount to one feature.) I’ve spent the past few days sliding down the Gilbert Gottfried wormhole, and Neil Berkeley’s 2017 documentary Gilbert brought much needed comfort.

John Huston’s introductory shot of Edward G. Robinson in Key Largo found the tough guy seated in a bathtub, looking like “a crustacean without his shell.” Berkeley tapped into a similar method of bringing normalcy to a monster by introducing Gilbert in a bathrobe, doing his own ironing. A notorious tightwad, Gilbert would sooner flush the cost of dry cleaning, particularly when his $3 million Manhattan apartment came equipped with its own washer and dryer. There were suitcases under his bed filled with hotel soap and other assorted free toiletries. One could imagine Gilbert filling an empty Heinz bottle by squeezing McDonald’s ketchup packets into it. Behavior like this might have been what comedian Susie Essman had in mind when she described her friend as “one of the most unique human beings alive.” Gilbert and his wife Dara had previously appeared on Celebrity Wife Swap, but that was mostly schtick for the cameras. His sisters Arlene and Karen referred to his on-stage Persona as “the Act.” And though it’s not as rewarding as hearing Harpo Marx speak, those wondering what the real Gilbert Gottfried sounded like will have their curiosity satisfied.

Those who knew him well, or as well as anyone could, were shocked to learn of his marriage. Artie Lange imagined Gilbert’s bride as “a deaf girl who would never look up” while others envisioned a variation on Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The truth? Gilbert met the lovely Dara at a Grammy party — she was in the music business, he was there for a free meal. After she accidentally spilled a few hors d’oeuvres, Gilbert scooped them up and put them on his plate. It was love at first sight. He would go to her house when they dated, because she actually paid for cable. If marriage seemed out of place for the persnickety comic, imagine his friends’ horror when Gilbert, with the help of Dara, fathered two children. The role didn’t seem real to Gilbert, and it took time for him to get used to it. He was 18 when his dad died at the age of 66, one year younger than Gilbert was at his own passing. Gilbert was a high school dropout whose father feared his son would grow up and not have a trade to fall back on. Dad didn’t envision his boy seated in the lobby after a show hawking books and DVDs.

The best way to get Gilbert to joke about something was to ask him not to joke about it. When opening for the Go-Go’s, he was told by management that the makeup of the audience was mothers with their young daughters. Fortified with this knowledge, Gilbert proceeded to unleash a catalogue of some of the most objectionable jokes in his repertoire. All one has to know about Gilbert’s genius is contained in The Aristocrats. Over 100 comedians tell the same joke and Gilbert tops them all. Before that gag sent his career careening in a new direction, Gilbert never cursed on stage, thinking that working blue was an easy way to get a laugh. Back then, he brought an air of controversy to even the most wholesome environments. Gilbert is credited as the first casualty of cancel culture: some tasteless tweets about a tsunami cost him his job as the Aflac Duck. And who can ever forget Bert Banner, the sleazy “talent scout” in Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas who tried to convince a cash-strapped Zack and Screech to work as male escorts?

A friend put it best when news of the comic’s passing was announced: “It was the first time in my life I heard Gilbert’s name and didn’t laugh.” From inside a simple pine box, Gilbert received a standing ovation at his own funeral. Roastmaster General Jeff Ross quipped, “I can’t believe it. Once again you’re leaving us with the check.” Frank Santopadre, co-host of Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast, had the good taste to wear an orange wedge lapel pin and assure us that Gilbert would be fine in heaven once Cesar Romero and Danny Thomas got done beating up on him.

Gilbert set tongues wagging years ago after Michael Douglas blamed his mouth cancer on oral sex. A jealous Gilbert joked, “You can give me a form of muscular dystrophy so powerful that when I’m (orally gratifying) Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jerry Lewis pops out.” Gilbert had gone on record saying, “Jerry Lewis was always nice to me.” (Everybody loved Gilbert, even the famously temperamental superstar.) Gilbert died of a heart abnormality caused by Myotonic Dystrophy Type 2, a rare form of muscular dystrophy that affects the muscles and other body systems. In the end, Gilbert was one of Jerry’s Kids. The only thing I hate more than the unceremonious manner in which the Muscular Dystrophy Association dumped Lewis as their spokesman is the disease itself. There is no better way of honoring Gilbert’s memory than by making a donation to MDA.org.

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Gilbert: We hardly knew ye.
Gilbert: We hardly knew ye.

There’s a name for people who knew Gilbert Gottfried solely on the basis of the numerous animated birds he voiced: parents.

Dig A Hole: Gilbert Gottfried

Fans of his numerous appearances on Howard Stern’s radio show and those fortunate enough to have seen him perform at a comedy club can attest to Gilbert’s caustic brilliance. He was the irritating putz on the road trip who insisted on singing every chorus of “100 Bottles of Beer,” or your miserable, scrunchy-faced uncle seated at the head table, complaining that the ice wasn’t cold enough. Gilbert had the delightfully nasty habit of speaking aloud what everyone else was thinking, no matter how base, cruel, or patently offensive it might have been. On stage, he was the master of putting a smile on the worst life had to offer. But when it came to film, the script didn’t exist that Gilbert passed on. (All of his cameos butted end-to-end wouldn’t amount to one feature.) I’ve spent the past few days sliding down the Gilbert Gottfried wormhole, and Neil Berkeley’s 2017 documentary Gilbert brought much needed comfort.

John Huston’s introductory shot of Edward G. Robinson in Key Largo found the tough guy seated in a bathtub, looking like “a crustacean without his shell.” Berkeley tapped into a similar method of bringing normalcy to a monster by introducing Gilbert in a bathrobe, doing his own ironing. A notorious tightwad, Gilbert would sooner flush the cost of dry cleaning, particularly when his $3 million Manhattan apartment came equipped with its own washer and dryer. There were suitcases under his bed filled with hotel soap and other assorted free toiletries. One could imagine Gilbert filling an empty Heinz bottle by squeezing McDonald’s ketchup packets into it. Behavior like this might have been what comedian Susie Essman had in mind when she described her friend as “one of the most unique human beings alive.” Gilbert and his wife Dara had previously appeared on Celebrity Wife Swap, but that was mostly schtick for the cameras. His sisters Arlene and Karen referred to his on-stage Persona as “the Act.” And though it’s not as rewarding as hearing Harpo Marx speak, those wondering what the real Gilbert Gottfried sounded like will have their curiosity satisfied.

Those who knew him well, or as well as anyone could, were shocked to learn of his marriage. Artie Lange imagined Gilbert’s bride as “a deaf girl who would never look up” while others envisioned a variation on Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The truth? Gilbert met the lovely Dara at a Grammy party — she was in the music business, he was there for a free meal. After she accidentally spilled a few hors d’oeuvres, Gilbert scooped them up and put them on his plate. It was love at first sight. He would go to her house when they dated, because she actually paid for cable. If marriage seemed out of place for the persnickety comic, imagine his friends’ horror when Gilbert, with the help of Dara, fathered two children. The role didn’t seem real to Gilbert, and it took time for him to get used to it. He was 18 when his dad died at the age of 66, one year younger than Gilbert was at his own passing. Gilbert was a high school dropout whose father feared his son would grow up and not have a trade to fall back on. Dad didn’t envision his boy seated in the lobby after a show hawking books and DVDs.

The best way to get Gilbert to joke about something was to ask him not to joke about it. When opening for the Go-Go’s, he was told by management that the makeup of the audience was mothers with their young daughters. Fortified with this knowledge, Gilbert proceeded to unleash a catalogue of some of the most objectionable jokes in his repertoire. All one has to know about Gilbert’s genius is contained in The Aristocrats. Over 100 comedians tell the same joke and Gilbert tops them all. Before that gag sent his career careening in a new direction, Gilbert never cursed on stage, thinking that working blue was an easy way to get a laugh. Back then, he brought an air of controversy to even the most wholesome environments. Gilbert is credited as the first casualty of cancel culture: some tasteless tweets about a tsunami cost him his job as the Aflac Duck. And who can ever forget Bert Banner, the sleazy “talent scout” in Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas who tried to convince a cash-strapped Zack and Screech to work as male escorts?

A friend put it best when news of the comic’s passing was announced: “It was the first time in my life I heard Gilbert’s name and didn’t laugh.” From inside a simple pine box, Gilbert received a standing ovation at his own funeral. Roastmaster General Jeff Ross quipped, “I can’t believe it. Once again you’re leaving us with the check.” Frank Santopadre, co-host of Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast, had the good taste to wear an orange wedge lapel pin and assure us that Gilbert would be fine in heaven once Cesar Romero and Danny Thomas got done beating up on him.

Gilbert set tongues wagging years ago after Michael Douglas blamed his mouth cancer on oral sex. A jealous Gilbert joked, “You can give me a form of muscular dystrophy so powerful that when I’m (orally gratifying) Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jerry Lewis pops out.” Gilbert had gone on record saying, “Jerry Lewis was always nice to me.” (Everybody loved Gilbert, even the famously temperamental superstar.) Gilbert died of a heart abnormality caused by Myotonic Dystrophy Type 2, a rare form of muscular dystrophy that affects the muscles and other body systems. In the end, Gilbert was one of Jerry’s Kids. The only thing I hate more than the unceremonious manner in which the Muscular Dystrophy Association dumped Lewis as their spokesman is the disease itself. There is no better way of honoring Gilbert’s memory than by making a donation to MDA.org.

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