Gilbert Gottfried

Friday, Feb. 8 & Saturday, Feb. 9, $22

Raleigh Improv, Cary

To answer your first question: No, when you talk to him on the phone, Gilbert Gottfried does not sound like “that”—the gravelly, whiny bray he’s blasted forth throughout decades of stand-up, TV, and movie appearances; on The Tonight Show, multiple reality programs, and Comedy Central roasts; and, of course, as the voice of Iago the parrot in Disney’s Aladdin.

Actually, the veteran comic, who performs three sets at the Raleigh Improv on February 8 and 9, is infinitely calmer and more reasonable-sounding than his apoplectic stage-and-screen persona would suggest. But this is something fans have already gotten to know through such recent projects as his thoughtful exploration of old Hollywood, Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast!, in which he talks to Hollywood veterans about their careers and favorite films, and the documentary Gilbert, which deals with the contrast between his public persona and his new life as a family man.

We called Gottfried to talk about the changing face of comedy, the unexpected hits of his career, and more.

INDY: Do you find you have more freedom with the kind of material you can do since the podcast and the documentary?

GILBERT GOTTFRIED: Yeah. I remember when I started doing the podcast, no one would know who these people were, and now I’m getting all kinds of people emailing and tweeting at me saying, “I had no idea who that person was, but now I’m looking them up!” So it’s become a kind of fun homework for people.

It’s certainly put a different side of you in the public eye.

It’s funny, because it’s people I would have sat down and talked with anyway, but I figured I needed a reason to do that, and so, the podcast.

Interviewing is a good excuse for conversations like that.

Absolutely. It’s kind of depressing, though—we did an “In Memoriam” at the end of the year and realized like five or six people who’d been on in the past year had passed away. And it was kind of humbling, realizing we’d at least gotten them on the record while they were still here.

Not to make too huge a comparison, but that’s the purpose behind a lot of organizations that interview people, like the Shoah Foundation—getting people’s stories while they’re still around to tell them.

We did have some overlap with the Holocaust, people who were alive in World War Two talking about Nazis occupying their homes, forcing them to let their houses be used as headquarters. So, we’ve been getting those stories, which are chilling, but fascinating.

The podcast and the documentary are very different from the persona that many people associate with you. They’re showing some different sides to you and your work.

The documentary, that was strange. To me, a documentary means you’ve either done something incredible, like cure a disease, or you’ve been dead for thirty years. And this filmmaker, Neil Berkeley, came up to me and said, “I’ve always dreamed of making a Gilbert Gottfried documentary,” and I said, “Well, you should have set your dreams higher.” And he followed me around with the camera. I hated the process of making it, and I hate watching it even more, and yet, the reviews have all been terrific! And people keep coming up to tell me how much they like it.

You’re at a stage now where a lot of your work has an audience that’s grown up with it. When I said I was talking to you, my friends got excited and immediately bought up things like Iago, the Problem Child movies, and the Cyberchase cartoon on PBS.

I always say my career walks the tightrope between voicing children’s programming and hardcore porn. And it has! Some people remember me from Aladdin and a bunch of other cartoons, and others remember things like The Aristocrats. It’s so random. Problem Child, no one had any expectations while we were making it, and somehow it became a huge hit, and people come up to me about it almost every day. The Adventures of Ford Fairlane was a major flop when it came out, and now it has this huge cult. You never can tell.

No one would have anticipated the Problem Child screenwriters doing a series of Oscar-favorite biopics like Ed Wood.

And one of them told me that, when he saw Problem Child, it wasn’t at all the film he’d wanted it to be, and he broke down crying while he watched it, and he thought his career was over. And look at him now!

I’m always curious about what comedians who’ve been in the game for a while think about new forms of media and how they’ve affected their ability to display their range or promote themselves.

Listen, every time I think I’ve got social media figured out, it changes. I think these days, we need agents and managers who are five years old, because those people have it figured out! The other thing that depresses me is that movie theaters seem to be going away. They’re like Vaudeville. You can stream everything, but you lose that communal experience of watching films together with an audience, being really focused on them, talking about them afterwards, because they’d all seen the exact same show. It’s become something almost old-fashioned.