SEPTEMBER 6, 2018 – Whether you’ve heard him as the voice of the parrot Iago in Disney’s “Aladdin,” or as Digit in PBS’s “Cyberchase,” Gilbert Gottfried has been talking in his unique way for many years.
For the older crowd, he may best be known for star turns in “Beverly Hills Cop II” or “The Aristocrats.” You can learn about the man behind the grating sounds in the recent documentary “Gilbert: a Gilbert Gottfried Story.”
Gottfried, 63, has been doing comedy since he was a 15-year-old kid growing up in Brooklyn. His family was Jewish, but not religious. “The only time I’d be in a synagogue would be at someone else’s bar mitzvah or a funeral,” he told The Times of Israel. “I didn’t reject Judaism, I was raised [in an unreligious] way.”
Here are a few more glimpses into the comedian, who brings his stand-up act to The Cabot in Beverly on Sept. 28.
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Q. Was comedy in your family?
A. If there was comedy in the family, it might have been my parents had a sense of humor, but there was no show business in my family.
Now, it seems crazy I picked show biz and I can’t imagine what my parents thought, because when I started, I was a kid failing in school and being kind of all mixed up and they probably thought that I thought I was going to be the next Charlie Chaplin.
Q. Where did it all begin?
A. One thing I do remember is in school, they would call attendance. And you had to say “here” or “present.” I was always like too shy to say anything and the kids would laugh because they knew I wouldn’t say anything. One day, my mother was walking me to school and I said to myself that I was determined to say “here.” I thought it would get a big reaction and sure enough it did. The other kids started laughing and clapping and I saw the reaction. And it felt good!
Q. How did the career take off?
A. Well, I haven’t written anything new since I said “here,” but the next thing I know, I’m going into these clubs that don’t pay – not even a free soda – and I wait around till the early morning hours to see if they let me go on stage.
When I was young, I had stupidity on my side. I had this crazy idea that, against all odds, I would carve out a career in show business. But now I think about it and I think it’s nuts. It’s like saying to your parents, ‘Don’t worry about me – I’m gonna buy a lottery ticket and make a few million.’ That’s how realistic it was.
Q. You do many spot-on impersonations and impressions in your act. Who did you study as a young comic?
A. There was no one I actually consciously studied. There were comedians I liked along the way – many! There were still the older comics like Milton Berle and Jack Benny and Groucho Marx and George Burns, they were still around. I liked Jerry Lewis. But I never consciously said I wanted to be like that guy.
Q. How did the voice that launched a thousand plush dolls develop?
A. Just by doing it over and over again. I never consciously said I wanted a certain type of act or personality. People asking me where my thing comes from is like asking people why they walk the way they do.
Q. Do people get confused hearing certain language come from the same mouth as Iago and Digit?
A. My career has walked the tightrope in between early morning children’s programming and hardcore porn. And people will come up after shows and tell me they love “Aladdin” and their kids love “Cyberchase,” but others love “The Aristocrats.” I’m happy about that because I like the different approaches.
Q. What is the appeal of so-called “dirty” jokes?
A. I don’t know, but I think people like to be shocked and outraged. They love to get on the Internet and say ‘I’m outraged. What a great person I am.’ But they secretly want to hear that stuff. Why go to an amusement park where the roller coaster moves slowly and doesn’t rise too high? You want something that scares you into thinking you might get hurt.
Q. Which was scarier, driving with Jay Leno or apprenticing with the president [Donald Trump]?
A. Both were pretty frightening! That car was one of those cars that costs like $10 million or whatever. So that was scary! That and the fear that if I got into a really horrible crash, the headline would be ‘Jay Leno dies in car crash with male companion.’
As for the other thing, I can now say I met the president. Granted, I met him when he was more of a game show host. But I can still say it!
All of those shows have the firing or cutting pat. I always have my fingers crossed that they will fire me, because I like to get on the shows for a few minutes but not to compete on and on. I never thought that winning ‘Celebrity Cook-Off’ would get me my own restaurant and I did not think that selling postcards on “Celebrity Apprentice” would have me running Trump Enterprises.
Q. What did you learn while the documentary about you was being made?
A. I didn’t want to do it. I hate watching it. And yet, all of the reviews have been great, so I am glad that I did it.
I always think of that scene in ‘Wizard of Oz’ where it’s like, ‘Don’t look at the man behind the curtain,’ and that was what this documentary was. Basically, you’re naked up there – and if you’ve ever seen me naked, it’s not something you want to see!
Q. What is next?
A. I never really know. Most people answer the phone ‘Hello.’ I answer it, ‘I’ll take it!’
The show begins at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, at The Cabot, 286 Cabot St., Beverly. Visit thecabot.org or call 1-800-745-3000.