"I was very glad to be out of there but also I kind of had the feeling, like when I walked down the street, I just imagined everyone was looking at me saying, 'Oh, that's the guy that ruined Saturday Night Live.'"
– Gilbert Gottfried
Guy MacPherson: I hear you don't have e-mail or a cell phone. That's amazing.
Gilbert Gottfried: Yeah, I know. I just learned how to operate a toaster.
GM: (laughs) Really! How's that going for you?
GG: It's pretty dangerous. I have to look at the instructions again.
GM: You have a website , but you don't have a computer? Or you just don't have e-mail?
GG: I kind of have a computer and a website. It's gilbertgottfried.com.
GM: Oh, I've seen it, yeah.
GG: But I understand next to nothing about it. Other than that myspace is a good way of getting arrested.
GM: I can't remember you having played Vancouver before. Have you ever?
GG: I'm pretty sure I have but I don't know if it was a club or a college and I don't really remember when. I know I've filmed things in Vancouver. Look Who's Talking, Too.
GM: A classic.
GG: Yes (laughs). Well, if you read the novel you can understand it a bit more. That was in Vancouver.
GM: You first came to prominence on Saturday Night Live, and that's where I first saw you.
GG: Yes, don't remind me.
GM: I'm sorry. 1980, was that?
GG: Uh, yes.
GM: That was the year I graduated from high school.
GG: That was right after the original cast left. That was a scary time to be on.
GM: What were you doing just prior to that that got you the job? Did you audition? Did they find you?
GG: I was doing standup and I was pretty much known around the clubs in New York and L.A. And then they were holding auditions. So they saw me a few times on stage and then brought me in a few times to do improvs and try out stuff in the office. And then they picked me... Unfortunately.
GM: But at the time you must have been in seventh heaven.
GG: Yeah. It was weird because back then the idea of a new cast for Saturday Night Live was like sacrilege. And now they change the cast in between commercials. But back then, how dare you have a different cast? So they were attacking the show before it even got on the air. There were articles being written everyday saying what a horrible idea this is. And granted, when the show did go on, the show did suck. But that's another story.
GM: Did you know it at the time?
GG: Uh, yeah. Yeah.
GM: But there was nothing you could do. So you were doing standup before that. You started at 15, right?
GG: Yeah. I just got up on stage at, like, an open mic night.
GM: Obviously you were a funny kid growing up. What were you like as a child? Were you annoying?
GG: I'm sure. I'm an annoying adult.
GM: Was your standup back then significantly different than it is now?
GG: When I started out I was doing mainly impressions.
GM: Did you have a lot of them? I've heard you do a couple.
GG: Yeah. I mean, some I still do. But you know, you do, like, James Mason, Groucho Marx, Humphrey Bogart, and all that stuff.
GM: Wow. You were a young Rich Little!
GM: A young Fred Travalena.
GG: (laughs) Now, where is Fred Travalena from?
GM: I don't know. The States somewhere, I assume.
GG: Oh, because Rich Little is from...
GM: From Ottawa. Our national pride.
GG: (laughing) You can't blame America for Rich Little. You can blame them for Frank Gorshin, but not Rich Little.
GM: We gave you Rich Little and Alan Thicke.
GG: Oh! Which gets me to the next point in my career.
GM: Were you fired from Saturday Night Live or just not renewed?
GG: Um, I guess it's kind of both. It's like when they don't renew you, it just basically means you're fired. They call it not being renewed. It's just like when people say, "I'm leaving the show to look for other work, to get back to my music."
GM: Or "spend more time with my family".
GG: Yes, exactly.
GM: At that point, did you just feel like your career was over?
GG: Oh, yeah.
GM: Or were you just glad to get out of there?
GG: Both. I mean, I was very glad to be out of there but also I kind of had the feeling, like when I walked down the street, I just imagined everyone was looking at me saying, "Oh, that's the guy that ruined Saturday Night Live." The funny thing is that that's what I would think back then, but the public forgets so soon. It's kind of like when you see those prehistoric movies that have the cavemen and the dinosaurs fighting each other even though they were millions of years apart. That's the way Saturday Night Live is. I could say people I worked there with were Jimmy Fallon and John Belushi, and they'd go, "Oh, yeah, yeah, I remember that." Sometimes I'll make up sketches and who was in it and they'll go, "Oh, yes! Yeah, that was one of my favourites."
GM: Who was in your cast?
GG: Uh, let's see... The girls were - totally into grey matter - Gail Matthius...
GM: I liked her.
GG: You remember her?
GM: She was kinda cute.
GG: Yes, she was. That's amazing.
GM: What's she doing now?
GG: For a short while she was on that Howie Mandel cartoon, Bobby's World, as the mother. I don't know what she's doing now. For a while she was doing some voice-over work... Uh, Denny Dillon...
GM: Yeah, I didn't like her.
GG: Okay. And Ann Risley.
GM: I don't even remember her.
GG: There you go. Of the guys, there was Charlie Rocket and Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy.
GM: Yeah, that's not a bad cast. Especially when you look at it now.
GG: Oh yeah. It's funny, when we were on it, we were like the bad season. Now the bad season of Saturday Night Live is like saying the issue of Playboy with the naked girl in it.
GM: (laughs) Plus now there are 25 cast members, and you guys had, what, seven people, or whatever it was?
GG: There's no way of keeping track of who's on the show anymore.
GM: And there's no one to blame: "You're the guy who ruined it!" They're just one of so many more.
GG: Yeah (laughs). Everyone stays there for about three weeks... Years later, I did Beverly Hills Cop II with Eddie Murphy.
GM: Your old cast mate.
GM: Are you still in touch with him?
GG: Uh, no, I don't keep in touch with any of them on a regular basis. I think most of them change their numbers when they see me coming.
GM: Was it a little surreal to be around Murphy in the early days and see him shoot through the stratosphere?
GG: Oh, yeah. I mean, I got along with him. I had fun doing that movie. And then I even did a voice on Dr. Doolittle.
GM: That's right. Is it him calling you up to do it?
GG: It's funny. With Beverly Hills Cop, he even said to me when I was there, he didn't know I was in the movie until he looked at the cold sheet that morning.
GM: How did you get started doing the voice work? Did it just evolve that way or did you set out to do it?
GG: I never really set out to, but they had called me. They were having auditions, hearing people for Aladdin. So I went in and provided some stuff and they really liked that and had me in again. And then they decided to use me. So after Aladdin I started getting a lot of voice-over work.
GM: And is it always the same voice that you do?
GG: Yeah, most of the time it's the same voice. Although one time there was a cartoon version of Clerks where they called me in to be Jerry Seinfeld. Yeah, every now and then it's a different voice, which is always fun.
GM: You were like the first guy to do Jerry Seinfeld.
GG: Oh, yeah.
GM: And now everyone's doing your impression of him.
GG: Exactly. It's funny with impressions it's like that. Getting back to Rich Little, Rich Little is the one who invented the Johnny Carson imitation.
GM: You also make fun of Jerry.
GG: (laughs sheepishly) Oh yeah.
GM: But you were friends. Are you still friends?
GG: Well, yeah. I mean, kind of. I remember one time me and Howard Stern got his number and called him and I just kept imitating him until his tape ran out. (laughs)
GM: So juvenile, Gilbert.
GG: Yeah, I know (laughs).
GM: We missed talking about Thicke of the Night. That's what we were going to talk about.
GG: I thought we could just skip over that.
GM: But I'm always curious about after you start a project. You left Saturday Night Live and it was a down time, then you get this new talk show and it's going to compete with Johnny Carson. And you must have some hope or think it's going to be a good thing.
GG: That was very weird. You know, no one had ever heard of him here. And it was being advertised as this was the show that was going to knock Carson off the air. And after episode one [unintelligible]. It was me and Richard Belzer who were among the people who were the cast of regulars on the show.
GM: At what point are you going, "Oh God, what am I doing?"
GG: Pretty much first rehearsal. I remember there was one thing Thicke talked about, and it was true, as embarrassing and bad as the whole thing was, one of their sponsors was a feminine hygiene pad, like a [mini]-pad. And it said, "Once you try it, you never go back to thick."
GG: That commercial was run like three times during his show.
GM: When Ross Shafer took over, did you stick around?
GG: I don't think so. I lasted on Thicke a shorter time than I lasted on Saturday Night Live.
GM: I sense a trend in your career.
"With The Aristocrats, it was the most surprising press that I've ever gotten out of a movie. Because first of all, I didn't think the movie was going anywhere. I thought it was a nice little home movie that they were making. And then when it came out, I seem to have gotten the lion's share of the press. And oddly enough it was like the most respectable press I've gotten, and it was obscene and demented."
– Gilbert Gottfried
GM: I'm assuming you could make your living doing voice work. Why do you still do standup?
GG: Uh, I don't know. Like I always say, it's like whoever waves a cheque in my face.
GM: You whore.
GG: Exactly. I'm sitting here in hot pants and a little halter top and high heels... Right now the voice-overs still come in and I seem to be specializing in birds.
GM: You've got the market cornered on birds, do you?
GG: Do they have Aflac out in Canada?
GM: I'm not the best person to ask. I don't know of it, but I don't watch a lot of commercials. Anytime a commercial comes on, I flip. So we might, but I don't know.
GG: They have it in a lot of other countries. They have it in Japan and in Japan they use a different actor to do the voice of the duck.
GM: A Japanese actor, I guess.
GG: Yeah, the Japanese found me abrasive.
GM: What is the product?
GG: Aflac insurance. And then I do a cartoon I recorded in Canada but I don't think it even plays in Canada. It's called Cyberchase. I fly out to Toronto each time.
GM: So you do have some roots here.
GG: Yeah (laughs).
GM: It's funny that you have this career doing the kids work, and yet being filthy on The Aristocrats and your CD and DVD, Dirty Jokes.
GG: Yes. I've always said my career is walking the tightrope in between early morning children's programming and hardcore porn.
GM: Could your appearance in The Aristocrats hurt your Disney career?
GG: Oddly enough, it hasn't seemed to hurt. And I still do, like, that cartoon I record in Toronto, Cyberchase, which is a children's educational cartoon, of all things. With The Aristocrats, it was the most surprising press that I've ever gotten out of a movie. Because first of all, I didn't think the movie was going anywhere. I thought it was a nice little home movie that they were making. And then when it came out, I seem to have gotten the lion's share of the press. And oddly enough it was like the most respectable press I've gotten, and it was obscene and demented.
GM: Is your cd, Dirty Jokes, like the title implies? Is it standup or is it street jokes?
GG: Some of my old, favourite dirty jokes. Kind of like those jokes people try to remember and tell at parties. The kind of jokes that most people enjoy more than a clean joke. I always knew a bunch. And I have gotten in trouble a few times for being dirty when I was supposed to be working clean, so I figured why not take advantage of it? And also take advantage of the fact of the whole The Aristocrats. So I do a new version of The Aristocrats on it, plus a bunch of dirty jokes. And that's doing very well.
GM: And that was recorded in front of an audience?
GG: Yeah. I got booked in a club in New York and I did, like, two shows that night of just old, dirty... Just kind of like the really stupid dirty jokes.
GM: I hear from a lot of comics how they hate it when someone finds out you're a comic and they say, "I've got a joke for you!"
GG: Oh, yes.
GM: But if you're collecting them, it must be good when this happens to you.
GG: Well, 99 percent of the time, if it's an old joke, I've heard it already. But every now and then there's a new one. If you can put down they can get them at gilbertgottfried.com. But I also sign them after the show.
GM: This is not like your standup act, I take it.
GG: It's funny. What I've been doing lately... Like, my standup, for the most part, I usually avoid working dirty. Just because I just want to see what's funny. But now lately, because I've done this DVD, I'll do my whole act and then at the end I throw in a bunch of things from the DVD.
GM: So that's what we can expect here at your show.
GG: Expect someone to fling a chair.
GM: (laughs) Excellent. How hard is it on your throat doing this delivery?
GG: Oh, boy. They asked that of Linda Lovelace. Uh, sometimes it's difficult, as you can imagine. So far I guess I've been lucky. Every now and then I'll wake up and I'll sound like Rod Stewart.
GM: Do you remember when you developed this persona?
GG: No. It's like anything. I never really set about to develop anything. I just find that's the way I talk now.
GM: But it's not the way you're talking now; it's just the way you talk on stage.
GG: Yeah. Off-stage I sound like a Bing Crosby Christmas special.
GM: Or Perry Como.
GG: (laughs) Yes.
GM: Do you walk many patrons who might be there to see Iago from Aladdin?
GG: It's weird because you'll get people from all... People come in and they say, "Oh, my kids see Aladdin or Cyberchase or whatever." And then others that have seen The Aristocrats or heard me on Howard Stern.
GM: The ones who are there because of their kids, are they shocked or get up and leave?
GG: Not so far. Luckily. So far they don't bring their kids in.
GM: Are you still doing Howard Stern now that he's on Sirius?
GG: Yeah, I just did him recently.
GM: And is it a much freer show?
GG: Yeah, it is. But I think everybody there, even now, you can be dirty but I think there's that part of your brain that says not to overdo it. Because if you overdo it, it can get boring really quick.
GM: Sure. Like The Aristocrats.
GM: What are you interests outside of showbiz and comedy? Are you a big stamp collector, for example? Do you have any?
GG: Not really. I'm terrible when it comes to free time.
GM: What do you do? Just walk around?
GG: Yeah. Walk around, waste time, watch horrible television.
GM: You started when you were 15. What did your parents think about that?
GG: I think they probably thought what any parents thought. Especially then because the comedy boom hadn't started. To tell your parents you were going to have a career in show business was pretty much saying I decided I'm going to make a living as a sword swallower or something.
GM: But they eventually thought it was alright?
GG: Yeah. Eventually it was... I don't know if it was alright or it was just like, "Well, there's nothing we can do."
GM: What was it like being named the Unsexiest Man in the World?
GM: What a slap in the face.
GG: See, so there are accomplishments.
GM: Did you just laugh when you heard that?
GG: Yeah. I found out about it while I was ringing a bell at Notre Dame.
GM: (laughs) Is that something where there's no such thing as bad press?
GG: Actually yeah, because first of all the press on that, it was like a rocket ship of press. It was just a silly article and it actually went all over the world. Every paper picked up on it. I was getting things on the internet where people were finding it in papers in Hong Kong, India, and England. Even Russia. In Russia they printed that I was the most asexual man. But the good thing about it is, it's like people seeing someone get attacked or something, I was getting a lot of letters from women saying that they didn't agree with it. So I wish they would print me as the unsexiest man every year.
GM: This is a huge venue that you're playing here.
GG: Oh no. So basically there'll be a lot of echoes there because there'll be three people in the audience.
GM: And that weekend you're playing, also in town will be Dennis Miller, Mike MacDonald, and Don Rickles at different places.
GG: Oh, my God! Usually when I'm booked in places where I gotta fill up a large theatre, there's usually some major sports event.
GM: Maybe there's that, too! I don't know.
GG: Probably this weekend will be like Canada's biggest hockey game of all time.