One month after AFLAC Snafu Gilbert Gottfried Makes’em Laugh at Michael Anthonys’ in Jersey City
By Sally Deering
His voice is like a soft breeze blowing through a beer can; a bunch of bears munching potato chips around a campfire; a sock of nickels whacked against aluminum siding.
There’s no mistaking Gilbert Gottfried, a comedian who’s been entertaining people with his off-the-wall comedy since the 1970s and who recently made headlines when Aflac fired him as the voice of the duck after he tweeted post-Tsunami jokes on Twitter. The company disowned Gottfried because they found his jokes inappropriate, but Gottfried’s stand-up pals and fans defend Gottfried’s wild card humor because they know that’s his style. Even Gottfried admits he “was born without a censor.”
Japan won’t give back the duck, but the audience, who took in Gottfried’s show at Michael Anthony’s restaurant on the Jersey City waterfront, last Thursday, howled at his jokes and ate up his act like a platter of sushi.
Gottfried headlined the “Catch a Rising Star” comedy show at the beautiful Michael Anthony’s restaurant which was produced by lifelong Jersey City resident Suzy Yengo, who is the President of Catch a Rising Star Comedy Clubs and Productions with partner Craig Neier. They run three “Catch” clubs in Reno, Nevada, Providence, Rhode Island and Princeton, New Jersey and tour comedy shows in clubs and restaurants like Michael Anthony’s, which Yengo says, will be a regular stop in months to come. With Gottfried already in place to perform in Jersey City, Yengo says when she learned of the Tsunami controversy, she thought it would be great for the show.
“To me, there’s nothing more important than not censoring comedy in this day and age,” Yengo says. “I feel very strongly on the First Amendment and what people can find funny and I applaud the way he’s addressed the First Amendment. Gilbert said something about his girlfriend floating away. It was silly.”
The audience at Michael Anthony’s didn’t seem to care about Gottfried’s “foot-in-mouth” issue. Close to 200 people filled the back dining room to see the outrageous comedian perform.
“We packed the room,” Yengo says. “A lot of people came out to see him.”
Opening for Gottfried was John “Nutsy” Fagan, a lifelong Jersey City resident and professional stand-up comic who cracked wise about growing up on Duncan Avenue in a “dysfunctional neighborhood” and the diverse cultures getting along in a crowded urban area. He reminisced about his drinking years at DJ’s a popular club down the shore where patrons were served five beers for a buck. Following Fagan to the microphone was Esther Ku, a comedienne who claimed to be Gottfried’s girlfriend in Japan and accompanied herself on the ukulele, singing a very “blue” song that tore the place apart. But there was no doubt the audience was there to see Gottfried.
Graying at the temples and with a face that’s as pliable as Silly Putty, Gottfried still comes across like the funny kid in sixth grade who cracked up the class when the teacher’s back was turned. His 40-year career is a roadmap of gigs that started with stand-up in New York in 1970 and took him from stand-up to TV, to film and then voice-acting. Audiences know Gottfried from his one-year stint on “Saturday Night Live” back I 1980 and subsequent guest appearances on Howard Stern, the Tonight Show and Comedy Central’s “Roasts.” His film roles include “Beverly Hills Cop 2” “Look Who’s Talking Too” and “Problem Child.” A master of animated voices, Gottfried voiced Iago in Disney’s “Aladdin,” and Digit in the children’s PBS show “Cyberchase.” He was Mr. Mxyzptlk in “Superman: The Animated Series,” and voiced Dr. Bender and his son Wendell on “The Fairly Odd Parents.” For “Clerks: The Animated Series,” Gottfried impersonated the voices of Jerry Seinfeld and Patrick Swayze.
When he took to the stage, Gottfried went straight to the Aflac controversy that, Yengo says, has since helped spike his career.
“What’s new in current events?” Gottfried began and already the audience knew where he was heading. “I can’t believe I lose a few thousand dollars worth of work and here I am in Jersey City! This is the job I was begging to lose. I don’t want to be here anymore than you do. Let me barrel through this so we can get the hell out.”
The audience laughed right along with Gottfried. After all, when you’re from New Jersey you develop a strong stomach when it comes to Jersey jokes. How else could we watch “Jersey Shore” without gagging!
“According to the news, I’m the most hated person in Japan,” Gottfried continued. “Maybe they should get their priorities straight. They’re infecting people with radiation. At this point, Godzilla really could come back. At this point, Godzilla and Rodan look like a documentary.”
He joked about the “Planet of the Apes” films, the first man on the moon and Michelangelo’s painting of The Last Supper. “Why didn’t anybody sit on the other side of the table?” At one point, he took three pieces of masking tape, affixed them to his face in different places and performed Brando and Groucho impressions that showed off Gottfried’s voice talents and acting chops.
After the performance, Gottfried took some time to reflect on the Aflac controversy, his career and his new book, “Rubber Balls and Liquor” due out in bookstores on April 26th. (For more information on Gottfried’s upcoming appearances, go to www.GilbertGottfried.com.) The book is a mix of essays and autobiography. “There’s an old saying,” Gottfried says, “The best thing about nostalgia is that it’s over.”
Born in 1955, Gottfried grew up in Brooklyn’s Coney Island. You’d think he was the class clown, but Gottfried says he doesn’t remember being a funny kid. “I think the kids who were the class clowns wound up to be the funny shipping clerks,” Gottfried says.
Gottfried was surprised by the Aflac controversy and even though he publicly apologized and removed the Tweets from his Twitter account, he still defends himself as a comedian and puts blame on the news media for blowing things out of proportion and, in the news, referring to his jokes as comments.
“When they reported on the jokes, most of the times they didn’t refer to them as jokes, they were called comments and remarks,” Gottfried says. “When you say joke, people say who cares? Okay, it was a bad taste joke. You can laugh or groan; it’s a joke. To turn it into a comment or remark all of a sudden it’s got a different meaning.”
When the Aflac controversy hit the airwaves in March, Gottfried says, he received two thousand more followers on his Twitter account and he cites other celebrities whose careers picked up after media faux pas like Alec Baldwin, whose phone call to his daughter became broadcast news. That was another case of the media exploiting celebrities for better ratings, Gottfried says, and raises questions about the media’s invasion of privacy.
“Number one, should they have been playing a private phone call,” Gottfried says. “The media never questioned themselves. They never said, ‘Hey this is someone taped against their will, should we be playing it?’ If you took Alec Baldwin’s name out of it, you’re left with some guy pissed off at his daughter’s attitude.
“It’s one of those things where the people who are outraged, most of them are the media pretending to be outraged,” Gottfried continues. “They were so heartbroken and upset about it until Chris Brown had a temper tantrum backstage at ‘Good Morning America.’ I also think people who don’t understand the point of telling jokes around tragedies or disasters will never understand it. People who do understand, need no explanation.”
Gottfried doesn’t seem too ruffled by the loss of the Aflac account. He’s got upcoming gigs scheduled and his new book and who knows, maybe a film director will discover he’s got real acting chops and will cast him in the role of his life. Until then, he’ll continue doing what he does best – make people laugh – and he’ll do it his way.
“To quote the great George Carlin, Gottfried says: “It’s the duty of a comedian to find where the line is drawn and step over it.”
For more information on future “Catch a Rising Star” shows,
visit their website at www.catcharisingstar.com