Gilbert Gottfried has been credited with just about single-handedly healing traumatized New Yorkers with one dirty joke.
His rendition of the supremely filthy Aristocrats joke, one that was famously turned into a movie, brought down a nervous house at a New York Friars Club roast of Hugh Hefner shortly after 9-11.
In anticipation of his shows on Friday and Saturday at Side Splitters Comedy Club in Tampa, tbt* talked with Gottfried by telephone at his New York home. He has a surprisingly soft voice when he's not doing his squinty-eyed screech act, almost mellow. Here are excerpts.
It's great to talk to you out of your character voice, I have to admit.
I could be anybody. I don't use my real voice in (audio) interviews. In person I sound like Bing Crosby. I'll wait a few years and do one with Barbara Walters or Oprah. I'll promise to cry in the middle of it.
So you have a two-syllable line as the Aflac duck ("Aflac!") but it's probably going to be in your obituary one day, it's so famous. What's that like as a performer?
I just wondered if you were staring at my X-rays. Do you know something about my obituary? Everyone thinks it's the easiest thing in the world to say one line, but that's my most difficult voice over. They made me audition for it. They tell me to say it, then they say "Now do it angry." And I say it the exact same way. Then they want me to scream like I got hit by a truck. I don't want to complain, because one day they are going to realize they can just get an actual duck to do this.
You are on Nickelodeon and Disney movies, and then you have your show, Dirty Jokes, that has to be the rawest, filthiest collection of foul humor ever recorded. How do you get away with that?
I like to say my career walks the line between early morning children's programming and hard-core porn. ... It's a weird thing. I got called in for some low budget film by the name of Pubic Lice for voiceover work.
Yes, I know, nice, isn't it? So I'm working on that, and the very next day, literally, I was on Sesame Street. I'm hanging out with Cookie Monster. I have to remind myself sometimes to stop and not say what I'll be thinking is very funny. It's a children's show.
You were crowned the king of The Aristocrats for telling one of the filthiest versions of a joke that really isn't that funny. And you included an extended version of it on your DVD. It seemed like it was an inside joke at first, but now the audience is in on it.
I guess so. Now my Aristocrats joke is like Liza Minnelli singing New York, New York. I have to do it at every show.
Your telling of that dirty joke at a Friar's Club roast is credited with helping to heal grieving comics. How ironic is that?
It was weird. Around that time, they were worried no one could ever be light-hearted again. ... At first I started off with a pretty lame joke about my Muslim name, "Hasn't Bin Laiden," and I said I gotta leave early, but they couldn't get me a direct flight because we have to make a stop at the Empire State Building. There were groans from the audience and one guy yelled out "Too soon!"
Did that make you mad?
I guess in a way. I felt like if they are offended by that, then I'll take it all the way, and I launched into the Aristocrats joke.
I read the crowd just roared, like a top had been let off a bottle.
It did. The whole audience exploded. I think that's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.