The Hot Seat: Gilbert Gottfried
People were ticked off by his tweets. They're going to love his memoir.
Mon Apr 18 2011
Illustration: Dan Park
RECOMMENDED: Full list of Hot Seat interviews
You tweeted some shocking jokes about Japan. Are there any topics that are off limits for you?
Evidently not. When martians land on this planet, years from now, and dig up our civilization, they'll see my name and picture and the tsunami and figure, Well, this guy caused the tsunami. That is why he is in the press so much. And overnight, Japan was forgotten about [by the media] and the big story was that Chris Brown threw a chair backstage at Good Morning America. Japan was lucky to get mentioned after sports after that. "The tsunami? We can't squeeze anything else out of this. Let's find a new thing to get upset about."
Was there anyone you were particularly proud of offending?
I heard Dr. Laura was very offended. And also Perez Hilton. He takes photos and draws penises on them and accuses everyone of being gay, but he was morally offended. And my favorite was I beat out Charlie Sheen as the most provocative celebrity of the week on Showbiz Tonight. And the expert to give the final comment on why it was wrong was Kelsey Grammer's ex-wife Camille—to let you know that the universe has officially come to an end.
Is there is a waiting period for joking about tragic events?
There is that old saying, tragedy plus time equals comedy. Although I realize that's true, I also think that is so hypocritical. Because why should you [wait]? If it is wrong before, why should it be allowed afterwards? Somebody tweeted me recently and said, "I just looked at the calendar. I am going to wait another 17 days till I can laugh at Gilbert's Japan joke."
You've had a lot of classic bits on The Howard Stern Show. Do you have a favorite?
One of the weirdest moments, as far as being just surreal, [was when] they sent me out on the street with a microphone dressed up in my Dracula costume, imitating [Bla] Lugosi, going up to black people in the street, asking them if they thought O.J. [Simpson] was guilty.
Was there ever a moment when you thought, I shouldn't do this?
I was thinking I shouldn't do it because there were really big black people who could stab me to death. That was not so much [fear] of bad taste, but just approaching black people.
In your new memoir, you describe starting out as comic in NYC as a teen. What drew you to stand-up at such an early age?
I felt like if you had any kind of career in show business or any kind of respectability, you could get away with being a complete idiot. If Johnny Depp said he didn't know how to tie his shoelaces, that would be part of his wonderful mystique. If you worked in a grocery, you'd be a schmuck.
How has the comedy scene here changed since you started in the '70s?
See, when I started out, the comedy boom hadn't yet started. For your parents to hear that you wanted to be a comedian was like saying, "Oh, I'll be the next Charlie Chaplin. That's how I'll support myself." It was a very weird thing. Then, afterward, it sort of became a career option. Now with being on the Internet—which I don't fully understand, which I have proven just recently—it makes me glad that it wasn't around when I was starting. Because I would have thought that this bit was great and I would have done it on the Internet and it would have stayed there forever. I'd never have a chance to develop any kind of delivery for jokes.
What was the hardest part of working on the book?
The worst part was a deal made to do an audio version, which meant I had to read my own book in the ["Gilbert"] voice. And I don't have the greatest taste in the world, but I know better than to read a book by Gilbert Gottfried. It was pretty horrible. The first two days I was going full-force. By the third day, I figured there was no way I could do this anymore. I sounded like Mister Rogers on quaaludes. I think they can use the audio version to torture prisoners.