Before sitting down to watch Gilbert, I was afraid the documentary would take away from Gilbert Gottfried’s mystique. I always loved his impersonations and appearances on Howard Stern, and his dirty jokes have such craft behind them, elevating bad taste to an art form. Yet Gottfried is such a private person, and rarely offers glimpses into his personal life. For the longest time, he was an impenetrable wall of shouting, squinting, and dick jokes.
My fear was that Neil Berkeley’s documentary would rob Gottfried’s persona of its abrasive power. At one point of the film, Gottfriend expresses similar anxieties, alluding to the “man behind the curtain” moment from The Wizard of Oz.
Those fears were unfounded, however. Instead of breaking Gottfried as a stage persona, Gilbert deepens and humanizes the man while simultaneously enhancing what he does on stage. I find him much kinder and thoughtful thanks to the film. Also, I find him much, much weirder, both in an endearing way and a perplexed way.
Director: Neil Berkeley
Release Date: TBD
The fact that Gilbert Gottfried is happily married, has two great kids, and leads a relatively idyllic domestic life is so bizarre. He admits as much, comparing it to an episode of The Twilight Zone. His wife, Dara, is so supportive; at one point we watch Gottfried pack school lunches for his kids, complete with notes that say “I love you”. Several times he appears on camera wearing a white bathrobe. His voice is a much finer grain of sand paper. His eyes, the squint relaxed, are soft and compassionate. He visits his sister in New York City often, and is there for her whenever he can be. So much vulnerability is disarming, especially all in a feature film and particularly when it’s Gilbert freakin’ Gottfried.
And then Dara calls during an interview. He tells her to go fuck herself, gently, caring. He hangs up and laughs that Gilbert Gottfried laugh.
Berkeley doesn’t linger too long on the particulars Gottfried’s life at home. He follows the comedian on the road, which reveals the many eccentricities a stable marriage can’t erase. It’s a hustle and a slog, and it’s a major part of who Gottfried is. The guy in the bathrobe and the cheapskate at the hotel and the filthy joke maestro are all the same person. He also happens to be Iago in Aladdin. Somehow it all fits.
Eventually, because it’s necessary to understand Gottfried, they talk about his “too soon” 9/11 joke and the Japanese tsunami jokes that led to the loss of his AFLAC duck gig. I mentioned earlier that Gottfried elevates bad taste to an art form, though his brand of bad taste is an acquired one. People in Gilbert mention time and again that offensive jokes can sometimes serve as a defense mechanism. When kindness alone can’t alleviate pain or sadness, irreverence might help people get beyond their hurt. A willingness to bomb on stage and to offend and to persevere with perversity–those might be Gottfried’s most admirable human qualities.