Before interviewing Gilbert Gottfried, I hadn't really considered how the timbre of Gottfried's voice (registering somewhere between a screech and shriek) might cause serious hearing damage if played back through my cheap tape recorder speaker. But in the name of journalism I mustered some courage and decided to go through with the interview, phoning the comedian while he was on a break between stand-up gigs.
"It's a weird thing, whenever people ask me about my delivery and everything. It's like I never consciously thought about," explains Gottfried. "It's just I've been doing comedy for all these years and one day you wake up and that's the way you're saying jokes and the kind of jokes you do."
Hearing his normal speaking voice is fairly anticlimactic, especially if you're expecting something that sounds closer to a fire alarm (he actually played a smoke detector in an ad once) than a human being. It's sort of like listening to someone do, well, a bad Gilbert Gottfried impression — the accent and inflections are partially there, but the tone is all wrong. His on-stage persona is so convincing, and the voice so infamous, it didn't really occur to me that the whole thing could just be an act.
"I've been hired to play loads of birds over the years," he says. "I'd like to branch out to maybe a mongoose or something. I did do the voice of a horse in a 'Family Guy' episode, so that'll show my range."
Gottfried kids, but he'll be playing one less bird from now on. After tweeting (the bird theme is endless) a series of somewhat insensitive quips about Japan ("What do the Japanese and @howardstern have in common? They're both radio active," for example), Aflac fired him as the voice of their talking duck. Coincidentally, Stern was one of the few who came forward to defend Gottfried, arguing that Aflac should have known about their duck's brand of shock-comedy before hiring him.
"It was, you know, one of those things that I'm still amazed by," says Gottfried. "I guess it's the time we live in; more and more people are getting in trouble because of the Internet. It's like what I've always said: Tragedy and comedy are roommates. They're strange roommates, but wherever tragedy is, comedy is looking over its shoulder, and it will always be like that."
The Aflac fiasco is not the first time Gottfried has gotten himself in trouble by making light of a tragedy a little too soon. At the Comedy Central Roast of Hugh Hefner in 2001, only a few weeks after the World Trade Center was attacked, Gottfried made a 9/11 joke that caused a crowd of celebrities to vehemently hiss and boo him.
"I wanted to be the first one with a bad-taste joke about Sept. 11, and I did totally lose the crowd," he says. So how did he win them back? "Then I go into … a joke about bestiality and incest, and that they were fine with," he says. "You can never judge with an audience."
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