The first time I think I saw Gilbert Gottfried was in a movie released in 1985 called Bad Medicine. He was in a small supporting role as a Tony Sandoval, the weasally assitant to Dr. Ramon Madera (Alan Arkin) in the medical comedy, which also starred Steve Gutenberg, Julie Hagerty and Curtis Armstrong. The movie isn’t the best but a comedy about American medical students at a low-rate medical school in Central America would be the caliber of movies Gottfried would be in.
On Tuesday, April 12, the comic/actor with the loud voice that sounded like a bird squawking during sex died at 67 after a long illness, according to reports. Gottfried’s squinty eyes and sourpuss look as he more or less yells into a microphone as if everyone else is hard of hearing became his distinct look. Unfortunately, it never transferred to a leading role, but I don’t think Gottfried would’ve wanted that.
He appeared in supporting roles in big movies like Beverly Hills Cop II (as a somewhat crooked accountant) and Dr. Dolittle (where he voiced a terrier obsessed with people throwing a ball so he could retrieve it.) These roles were very short and had him appearing along side his former Saturday Night Live cast member Eddie Murphy, even though he probably recorded the voice of the dog without even being in the same city as Murphy.
Gottfried seemed to be the go-to character actor whenever you needed someone who could be just annoying that you don’t like him, but don’t want anything really bad happening to him in a movie. He was in both Problem Child movies as well as a recurring role on Night Court during its final season. He most famously hosted USA Up All Night, a segment on the cable channel that showed less than stellar movies.
But it was his role as Iago the Parrot in Disney’s Aladdin that would make him a household name. And yes, it is really his birth name. He fit the role of the somewhat antagonistic character in the Aladdin franchise perfectly. As I said above, there was almost like an annoying squawk to his voice. But we hear in the 2017 documentary Gilbert, it came because of his need to talk over the hecklers in the audience when he was first starting out in the late 1970s.
Going into this documentary directed by Neil Berkeley, you know there’s going to be some things you didn’t know. First off, Gottfried was a family man. He and his wife, Dara, met about 10 years before they were married in 2007 and have two kids. They seem like a regular Ozzie and Harriet couple, who Gottfried affectionately tells her to “go fuck herself.” It should be no surprise that Gottfried was a vulgar comic which puzzles many why he was cast in kid-friendly shows and movies.
The documentary is full of other comics, such as Jay Leno, Bob Saget, Arsenio Hall and Howie Mandel, among others, praising Gottfried but the best moments are the most candid. Gottfried was afraid to throw anything away so Dara had to store it in tubs full of free toiletries he’s gotten on his tours. And Gottfried traveled mostly by bus and stayed in the type of hotels where you get a nice continental breakfast with waffles and cereal. He has a nice apartment in New York City, but it’s obviously, Gottfried wasn’t extravagantly wealthy.
And maybe it was early days growing up in an apartment with a father who was an electrician and worried about his son learning a trade. Gottfried dropped out of school and began to practice yoga in his youth. These scenes as Gottfried interacts with his family give the documentary the best moments. There’s also one hilarously sequence where Gottfried is at a hotel that is hosting a questionable convention dedicated to military fanatics. Some are dressed in Confederate Army attire. Others are dressed in Nazi Germany attire. But if you know anything about Gottfried’s act, it makes sense and he works with it.
Now, Gottfried was, of course, a controversial character as the documentary deals with the issues involving a joke he made at a roast of Hugh Hefner weeks after 9/11 that quickly turns to jeers. But he rebounded and began to tell The Aristocrats joke and everyone is falling out of their seats laughing.
Then, there were the tweets he made following 2011 Tohoku, Japan tsunami that got him fired from Aflac as he was doing the voice of the duck and even appeared on-screen in a commercial. Of course, both this and the Disney gigs begs the question, did they not know who they were dealing with? Yes, the tweets might have been wrong and insensitive, but Gottfried wasn’t Mr. Rogers.
Gilbert doesn’t touch on any groundbreaking information, except to show that Gottfried wasn’t always on, which is common with comics. Watching this knowing he’s no longer with us makes the tender moments between him and his wife, kids and family more sad. And you feel sad especially for Dara. You see two people who knew and understood each other and didn’t expect their partner to be any different.
We all deserve to be as happy as the Gottfrieds were over the years. But then you realize his kids, who are just kids themselves are having to go through what he did as he lost his own father when he was 18. There’s a sadness while watching the documentary now. But you realize that probably Gottfried himself would have found some way to make his own death something to laugh at.
What do you think? Please comment.