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Remembering Gilbert Gottfried

Gilbert was what we in the comedy business call “a comic’s comic,” meaning that even comedians would enjoy watching him.
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April 21, 2022
Frank Santopadre, Daniel Lobell, Gilbert Gottfried and Dara Kravitz. Photo courtesy of Daniel Lobell.

The world has lost one of its funniest people: Gilbert Gottfried.

Gilbert was what we in the comedy business call “a comic’s comic,” meaning that even comedians would enjoy watching him. Most of the time, comedians are not interested in watching each other perform. Gilbert was so unpredictable, outrageous, silly and animated that you truly never knew where he was going with a premise or what you were in store for when you went to see him perform. 

He also had one of the most iconic voices in all of show business. The first time I heard that voice was when it came out of the mouth of an animated parrot, Iago, from “Aladdin.” I never thought back then that one day, I’d get to know and be friends with the person behind the parrot.

Gilbert was so unpredictable, outrageous, silly and animated that you truly never knew where he was going with a premise or what you were in store for when you went to see him perform.

The first time I met Gilbert was at the New York Friars Club. My friend David and I went into the Billy Crystal Room to get a drink at the bar, and there was Gilbert, nursing a Coca-Cola in a glass bottle. 

When he saw me, he clutched the bottle close to his chest.

“Stay away from my Coca-Cola,” he said comedically.

It was one of the strangest ways to meet one of your comedy heroes.

Thankfully, I had a less awkward interaction with Gilbert later on. I got to know him a little bit while having the privilege of sitting at one of the funniest tables ever. After the roast of Jerry Lewis at the Friars Club, I was seated between Gilbert and Robert Klein, and around the table were Freddie Roman, who was my sponsor to get into the club, Pat Cooper, Norm Crosby and two of the cast members of “The Sopranos.”

I’d listen to Gilbert when I was a security guard doing overnight shifts in Manhattan. He would come on “The Howard Stern Show” and was one of Howard’s funniest guests. He was always willing to go where no one else would, taking things to the extreme for a laugh. 

It was his tendency to push the envelope that got him in trouble for making a 9/11 joke in the aftermath of the attack.

“I have to catch a flight to California,” he said. “I can’t get a direct flight. They said they have to stop at the Empire State Building first.”  

Years later, Gilbert lost his job as the voice of the Aflac duck after joking about the tsunami and earthquake in Japan, and his irreverent behavior is what likely caused Howard Stern to ban him from the show. 

These are the makings of a high-flying comedian who plays without a net – someone who takes risks and pays penalties for them, but doesn’t stop finding the line and crossing it. It is what the spirit of being a comedian is all about. In this culture of political correctness and censorship, we see what most comedians are really made of. 

When I moved to Los Angeles in 2012, I was working for the late, and great, comedian Ralphie May. Ralphie invited me to his son’s birthday party, and Gilbert was there. We hung out, and he agreed to do my podcast “Modern Day Philosophers.” 

On the podcast, which we recorded in Gilbert’s apartment, we discussed his Jewish identity. He told me that the only thing that made him feel Jewish was the knowledge that if there was another Holocaust, he’d be sent to the camps. I thought it was a pretty sad statement, but it’s unfortunately how many American Jews relate to their Jewish identity today.

I was surprised that in real life, Gilbert was shy, humble, sweet and a real family man, with two little kids and a wonderful wife, Dara Kravitz. He let my wife Kylie and I tour around his place and look at all his comedy memorabilia, including a special Iago figurine Disney gave him. We posed for pictures with Iago and Gilbert and had a great time. 

He also had a massive painting of Groucho Marx hanging over his couch. It was one of the biggest paintings I’ve ever seen in anybody’s home. Not only was Gilbert a huge fan of the Marx Brothers, but he was obsessed with show business. It became the theme of his podcast, “Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast!” which he co-hosted with Frank Santopadre. They were kind enough to have me on as a guest.

He inspired me – and millions of others – to go for the joke, no matter the cost. And that will be his legacy: funny first.

Gilbert was always looking for the jokes in life. His laughter was infectious, and spending time with him was one of the most enjoyable and fun experiences of my career in comedy. He inspired me – and millions of others – to go for the joke, no matter the cost. And that will be his legacy: funny first.

He will be missed. Baruch dayan ha’emet.

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