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Gilbert Gottfried talks controversy and comedy with the BCSE (interview)

The legendary (and often controversial) comedian Gilbert Gottfried will be gracing the stages of Halligan’s Lounge on Saturday, April 26, as big-city comedy comes to western Massachusetts.

Gilbert Gottfried at the 6th Annual Shorty Awards
Photo by Bryan Bedder

Having performed stand up since he was fifteen, Gottfried became a household name in 1992 after voicing the parrot Iago in Disney’s animated film “Aladdin”, and has enjoyed a highly successful career in both comedy and voice-over acting ever since. Gottfried has created his fair share of controversy over the years, the most notable being a slew of jokes made on Twitter relating to the 2011 Japanese earthquake disaster and resulting tsunami, which led to Gottfried being fired as the voice of the Aflac duck. And while Gottfried’s tsunami jokes may have been in bad taste, it was Gottfried’s instinct as a comic that led him to use humor as a healing force in light of such a tragedy.

“I remember a year after the tsunami I started seeing on comedy shows and funny weathermen would say tsunami as a joke. I thought, oh, so, after a year, a joke is a joke and no longer a crime against humanity,” recalls Gottfried in a recent interview with the Boston Comedy Scene Examiner. “And, to me it's like these people who say, ‘Tragedy plus time equals comedy.’ I always think, well, that to me is a lot more hypocritical because it's like saying, ‘Well, I'm going to wait a year, joke about tragedy, but I can pat myself on the back now because I waited a year, and now I'm saying it's a year, screw anyone who died.’”

Gottfried’s career certainly isn’t suffering any long-term effects from the Aflac fallout, continuing to be one of comedy’s most notoriously blue acts. In a society where more and more people are taking to the internet to voice their disapproval over things said within the confines of a comedy club, Gottfried manages to stay true to himself and his material. When he made a reference to the 9/11 tragedy at the Friars’ Club Roast of Hugh Hefner, he expertly dealt with any fallout by launching into a hilariously filthy version of “The Aristocrats”, much to the delight of those in attendance.

“The internet makes me feel sentimental about old-time lynch mobs,” Gottfried tells BCSE. “Because I feel like, lynch mobs, at least you had to put your shoes on, go outside, deal with other people and get your hands dirty. I feel like a lot of times the internet has become a state-of-the-arts way of ringing someone's doorbell and running away.”

After providing the voice for a horse character on “Family Guy”, Gottfried is teaming up once again with Seth MacFarlane by having a small role in MacFarlane’s upcoming film, “A Million Ways to Die in the West”, which is due to be released on May 30.

“They still kept me in it! You can never tell in these movies. I just have one quick scene in the movie. But, yeah, I was asked to do it. It's a movie that Seth MacFarlane, the creator of ‘Family Guy,’ is starring in and wrote. Then he did some other thing that was just like an online special that he had, I think called ‘Cavalcade of Comedy,’ where it was me as Gilbert Gottfried, which is a difficult part to play.”

When it comes to playing the role of Gilbert Gottfried, the BCSE was curious to find out how Gottfried developed his brash and often-whining stage persona.

“Well, it's a funny thing. Whenever someone asks me that, because I never made any conscious effort, I never actually sat down and say, I'll be doing this type of material, talking this way or that way,” Gottfried reflects. “It's kind of like, to me, over the years it's developed. And so, to me it's like the way anybody speaks in real life, they don't really think, like, oh, well I started to talk this way at this point. That’s kind of like what it's like to me on stage.”

When it comes to off-stage, Gottfried is a stark contrast from his comedic personality, with an almost soft-spoken nature about him. Despite his proficiency at making his audiences squirm, there’s still a warm and caring heart underneath it all.

“There was a man with an autistic son, and his son had seen ‘Aladdin’ like a few hundred times,” Gottfried shared with the BCSE. “He couldn't communicate with his son, and so he put on an Iago puppet and started talking in my voice, and his son started to answer him. So, finally I've done good instead of evil.”

Don’t miss out as Gilbert Gottfried headlines this sold out show at Halligan’s Lounge in Auburn, Massachusetts on Saturday, April 26 at 8:00 p.m., featuring Adam Webster and Will Noonan. Halligan’s is located at 889 Southbridge Street in Auburn, Massachusetts.

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