Gilbert Gottfried passed away this month after “a long illness” at the age of 67. His career spanned decades, including being a cast member of Saturday Night Live and stints on late-night shows such as Late Night with David Letterman. His shrill, grating voice is well known throughout the airwaves and can be heard in films such as Aladdin and numerous commercials on the radio.
But his stand-up comedy is where he truly shines. In an intimate venue like a comedy club, the jokes were raunchier. The filters were off. It was all hands on deck as a man of Gilbert’s stature blew the audience away. After seeing him on a show and getting roasted along the way, I understood how pure of an art form stand-up comedy can be.
The venue was Caroline’s on Broadway, located at the heart of Times Square in New York City. It was one of the few venues where Gilbert would perform his stand-up if he felt like it. I bought the tickets a few days before, and all I knew about him was his role as Iago in the Disney film Aladdin growing up as a kid. I didn’t know his stand-up material and came in blind.
After the opening act, this immense presence slowly saunters to the stage. It was Gilbert! The audience stood up and applauded as fervently as they could. He warmed up the crowd as he threw whatever came up on top of his head. As Gottfried said himself, “I think twice, but I do it anyway.”
And then he paused for a second and scanned the room. His squinty eyes darted to our table. He pointed at me:
“Hey, where are you from?” He asked in his signature shrill.
Of course, like a boob, I pointed at myself. To which he replied: “No, the wall behind you. Of course you!”
“New Jersey.” Then he rambles about how New Jersey is nothing more than a cheap date (paraphrasing here) as the folks from New York City start to move away from the hustle and bustle of the city to the Garden State. To which I nod, and the audience gets a good laugh out of it.
After a few bits of Gilbert being Gilbert, he transitions to “The Aristocrats” joke made popular from a Hugh Hefner roast in 2001. Watch the video below to listen in on comedy gold:
The joke snowballs as Gilbert described the worst things imaginable for something as innocent as an audition with a talent scout. All the audience could do was laugh because they had no idea how to react.
I groaned audibly and lost my breath from laughter because the joke was going on full tilt! He would look at me on occasion and would ask if he needed to start over so I could keep up with him. And after the last line, “THE ARISTOCRATS,” was uttered, the audience gave a standing ovation as the set drew to a close.
The knee jerk and off-the-cuff reactions are what makes stand-up one of the purest forms of entertainment. . The audience will react once the punchline is delivered. Gottfried built his brand of comedy after countless nights in comedy clubs and honing his craft. He built a thick skin over the course of his career because he knew his No-BS, unfiltered comedy would make the audience bust a gut. He knew where to take his comedy and roll with it.
Yet he still cares about the audience he entertains. After the show, I met Gilbert as he left the venue. We shook hands as I thanked him for the set and for being part of my childhood. He smiled and said he was glad that he was a part of my life. That mean demeanor was left on the stage to show a different kind of personality outside of it: a sweet, loving man who has time to talk to a common guy like me. As we parted ways, he pointed at my Mets cap and asked if I was a fan. Of course, I said yes.
To which Gilbert replied: “Go get a new hobby if you know what’s good for you!”