Over the past 35 years, Gilbert Gottfried has been recognizable to people of all ages. For children, he provided voices in Aladdin, Ren & Stimpy and The Fairly OddParents. For adult comedy fans, he was a cast member on Saturday Night Live, did stand-up specials for HBO and Showtime, and has been a regular on the Comedy Central roasts. Movie fans ought to remember him in films like Problem Child, Beverly Hills Cop 2, and The Aristocrats. Reality TV watchers have seen him within the past few years on Celebrity Apprentice, Celebrity Wife Swap, Hollywood Squares, and the Food Network’s Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off. Oh, and for years he voiced the duck in those Geico ads.
Gilbert has experienced a career renaissance of sorts with the launch of Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast last year. Winner of the “Best Podcast (2015)” honor from The Village Voice, the show features Gilbert and co-host Frank Santopadre talking to a mix of comics, actors and authors about old-school show business. This uncensored format gives Gilbert — who Howard Stern loyalists ought to remember as one of today’s best celebrity impressionists — the chance to be inappropriate and hilarious, often at the expense of Cesar Romero, Danny Thomas, Jerry Lewis and Paul Lynde. Some of the great guests on the “Amazing Colossal Podcast” have been Paul Shaffer, Bob Saget, Mario Cantone, Judd Apatow, Josh Groban, Gary Busey, and Steve Buscemi. Episodes can be downloaded and/or streamed via the show’s Soundcloud site: https://soundcloud.com/gilbertgottfried.
Assuming that you want more Gilbert than the podcast offers, he will be at Carolines On Broadway on Dec. 17 for a 7:30 p.m. performance. In support of this appearance, I was able to get Gilbert on the phone to not only talk about his career, but also what has kept him a lifelong New Yorker; a New York Times profile earlier this year (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/08/realestate/gilbert-gottfrieds-chelsea-apartment.html) showcased his home in Chelsea. For everything else Gilbert-related in the meantime, click on over to www.gilbertgottfried.com.
What was the first podcast you ever heard?
Gilbert Gottfried: Oh, god, I don’t really remember. I probably was looking at the computer and pressed on one by accident, then quickly went away from it. I do a podcast but I know nothing about…you know, it’s funny, sometimes I’ll get an older guest and they’ll say, “Well, what’s a podcast?” I gotta go, “Gee, I know as much as you do.” (laughs)
What was your goal when you started the podcast with Frank?
G: Well, it was funny, I knew him, he’s a comedy writer on The View and from other things, so I’d met him. He, like me, was one of these people who know a lot about old show business, complete show business trivia. My wife [Dara] is the one who came up with the idea that since I talk to him a lot on the phone, and the subject is old show business, why don’t I start a podcast and use him as a co-host? Our first idea was to book lots of old celebrities, which have become harder and harder to find. (laughs) But we had on Adam West, [from] the original Batman, as well as two of the original Catwomen from the series, and Danny Aiello, and we had two cast members from F-Troop (laughs) and Joe Franklin. And every now and then we’ll get some upstart kids like Howie Mandel or “Weird Al” Yankovic or Artie Lange. (laughs)
I think an interesting thing is that it comes often that your stand-up routines are outdated, yet what people love about podcast is that it’s you talking about those very same people and themes. Does it feel vindicating to know that you being yourself on the podcast to people who enjoy that?
G: Oh yeah. When I started the podcast, I thought it and other people thought it, too. It was like, “Who is really gonna tune in to hear some people who they don’t know?” The funny part about it is I get all these e-mails and tweets saying, “I had no idea who that person was, or who you were referring to in the conversation, but I enjoyed it and kept looking up the names. I thought, for some people it’s become a fun homework assignment. (laughs).
The podcast is very successful, although you and Frank often make fun of how successful a podcast really can be. Has the audience coming to see your stand-up changed at all?
G: I’m not sure if they changed so much, but I hear a lot when people come up to me after the shows and say they enjoy the podcast. It’s still amazing to me that anyone…I thought this would be one of these things that no one would hear.
Is this plan to keep doing the podcast as long as it’s fun? Or are you under contract with the Sideshow Network?
G: Yeah, I think. The way I do it, I’ll just do it as long as I do it. I went into it with no real thoughts or plans, so it’ll go on for as long as it goes on.
In terms of stand-up, what was the first club that you ever performed at in New York? Was it PIPS?
G: No, the funny thing about it is, I remember I was 15 years old and I’d been one of those kids that used to joke around and imitate the TV. My sister told me that her friend told her that there was this club that has an open mic night where you could go on. I for years had thought it wasThe Bitter End, the first one I went on at, but my sister says it was somewhere else. But it was somewhere in New York and I remember putting my name down, going on-stage, not having anything planned, but I just started doing imitations. I wasn’t that much different than those impressionists you used to see on TV, like Rich Little or Frank Gorshin, where they used to go, “If Clark Gable was your waiter, it might sound a little something like this.” (laughs)
So when did you transition to being from an impressionist to a character?
G: I don’t have any real clear…I never thought, “Now I’m going to start working on this thing.” So my whole delivery and everything was just, I woke up one day and realized, “Wow, I’ve been doing it this way for years now.” When people asked me where I developed my delivery or style of comedy, it’s like going up to somewhere on the street and going, “That kind of walk you do and the way you scratch your nose, where did that come from?” (laughs)
You grew up in Brooklyn, your comedy career started in New York, and you’re still living here. Since you’ve been in a lot of movies and did a lot of filming in Los Angeles, did you ever think about living somewhere else?
G: I never actually lived there, I guess it would have made more sense to live out there, because it’s still where the business is. I’ve been out there for a couple of months at a time, once or twice, maybe that’s about it.
What is it that keeps you here, though?
G: I’m one of these backwards people that can’t accept any change. (laughs) I’m one of these people who has one store that I buy orange juice in, and another store I buy stationary paper [in].
And it’s always been that way your whole life without thinking about it?
Does that have to do with you never having driven before?
G: Yeah, that doesn’t help matters.
So ultimately, with your career, it’s multi-faceted in that you’re an actor, you’re a stand-up, you’re a podcaster, you’ve hosted things, you do voiceovers, you’ve written a book…Is there anything you haven’t yet done that you’re still hoping to?
G: I’d like to be an action star. (laughs)
Well, you kind of accomplished that with that Rodney Dangerfield movie Back By Midnight.
G: Oh my god. That’s one movie that even I haven’t seen. I don’t think anyone involved with the movie ever saw it. I think it was probably made with drug money or something, that they wanted to hide. (laughs)
Looking at your IMDb record, you have been in a lot of movies, but have there been other movies like Back By Midnight that didn’t really get a proper release?
G: Oh yeah, there’s been a few…The names probably changed, like, twenty times. One that I kind of remember was one going to be called A Monkey’s Tale. Then it was also like World’s Greatest Ape. (laughs) Another one I’ve never seen was released as Funky Monkey. These titles, you don’t need to read a review. (laughs)
Beyond being an action star, I’d figured you’re almost considering a path as a singer, considering all of the singing you’ve been doing recently on the podcast.
G: Oh yeah, I’ll remember theme songs to bad movies and I’ll start singing them. Oddly enough, we had on Mr. Skin, and we were talking about this Phoebe Cates movie, Paradise. Of all things, I remember all the words to theme song that she sung.
I think the amazing thing about that episode was that Mr. Skin knew as much as you and Frank about movies, if not more. Have there been other guests whose movie knowledge surprised you?
G: Yeah, sometimes I’ll have a guest that doesn’t remember their own career and I have to remind them. (laughs)
So I guess it goes the opposite way?
G: I was originally going to call the show, The Before It’s Too Late Show. But then I thought it may be hard to get guests by saying, “Come on and do my show because you may be dead in a month.” (laughs)
Finally, Gilbert, any last words for the kids?
G: (laughs) Eat your vegetables and do your homework.
-by Darren Paltrowitz