As far as Gilbert Gottfried is concerned, there is no such thing as “too soon.” He was enraged by the thought of it.
“It’s too soon.”
Throughout Gilbert Gottfried’s stand-up career, the phrase “It’s a Wonderful Life” was a common refrain. Iago, the chatty parrot in the 1992 animated version of “Aladdin,” or “AFLAC!” — his stand-up comedy undoubtedly felt like a punch in your jaw to those who just knew him for his distinctive croak.
Gottfried, like his buddy and fellow comic Bob Saget, who died far too young, was best known for family-friendly fare, but his wit knew no bounds. (Or, rather, it knew them and took a running leap beyond them.)
Another example of a comedy routine that can’t be adequately explained in this family newspaper is the 9-minute rendition of “The Aristocrats” that Gilbert Gottfried performed, which featured an actual family and their dog. Even more stunning was the joke he made before that one on a night that came to define his career, according to many.
New York hosted a Friars Club Roast of Hugh Hefner just two weeks after the September 11 attacks. Even though roasts are recognized for their crude, disgusting, and depraved material, they are also known for the comedians’ joy in sharing it with the audience.
When he spoke the 26 words that nearly silenced the room, Gottfried was in full Roast Mode, cracking obvious jokes about Hefner like, “He doesn’t need Viagra, he needs cement.” That night.
“I have to go for California right now. It’s not possible for me to catch a direct trip,” he explained. Their first stop was the Empire State Building, according to them.
People in New York, of all places, didn’t joke about 9/11 when it happened. At the very least, not in the public eye. “Saturday Night Live” opened with Mayor Rudy Giuliani addressing an audience of firefighters and police officers before Paul Simon sang “The Boxer,” a sketch-show staple. This happened shortly after that performance.
Gottfried’s Aristocrats joke was greeted with a chorus of boos at the roast.
“Serious tactical blunder,” wrote Mark Binelli in Rolling Stone of the one-two punch. Gottfried, on the other hand, was undoubtedly of a different opinion. Regardless of the outcome, he was a fan of controversy.
He was apparently barred from the 1991 Emmys for remarks regarding Paul Reubens’ arrest for indecent exposure and the masturbating of Pee-wee Herman actor Paul Reubens; the joke was modified for West Coast viewing.
After mocking the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011, he was fired from his role as the Aflac duck. To my surprise, Japan got in touch with me. ‘They stated that jokes may be popular in the United States, but they’re all sinking over here,'” said one of the replies.
Given his stance on what constitutes “too much” or “too far,” it’s possible that Gottfried’s lack of mainstream success was due to this approach. But he was angered by the concept that he should back down, especially in the wake of a tragedy.
“Wherever tragedy’s around, comedy’s a few feet behind them sticking his tongue out and making obscene gestures,” the comic told Vulture.
“I don’t think anyone’s lost an audience more than I did at that point,” he later wrote in an essay for the site after hearing the backlash from the Hefner roast. “There was a lot of hissing and booing”
In Gottfried’s opinion, the notion that it was “too soon” was absurd, to say the least. “You can do jokes on the Lincoln assassination and the Titanic, and no one says anything because everyone involved is dead, and their grandkids are dead,” he noted in an email.
‘That’s actually in bad taste,’ I say. Saying, “Screw all those folks who died, I waited for it to become unimportant to us.” This is why I find it so humorous when I tell a joke about September 11 or the tsunami in Japan. Your acknowledgment of the awful nature of this situation is prompting them to respond.”
In his view, it was natural for people to make jokes of that sort, and that they did so before the Internet made it possible for moral posturing and lecturing. It didn’t matter if you agreed with him or not. For the rest of his life and career, the comedian made it clear that nothing was off limits for him. Nothing was “too early.”
And he stayed true to that code at all costs. As far as he was concerned, that was the biggest joke ever.