When the notorious stand-up comedian Gilbert Gottfried finally starts a family in his 50’s, how will this change his comedy and his personality?
Back in the 1980’s when Gilbert Gottfried broke in as a stand-up comedian, his zany style and loud, raspy voice helped to make him stand out among his peers. The fact that his material reflected a unique view of the world didn’t hurt, either. But Gottfried’s road to success began with a difficult relationship with his father while growing up in Brooklyn. Gottfried’s father, a handyman, browbeat his only son to “be somebody”, whatever that meant – perhaps by learning a trade of some kind so he would always be able to make a living. Instead, Gottfried responded to his father’s demands by dropping out of high school to pursue his dream career as a stand-up comedian.
Although Gottfried initially encountered resentment from audiences unfamiliar with him and his unusual manner, many of his fellow comedians immediately recognized his talent and were fully supportive and encouraging. Eventually, the audience caught up to what he was doing and his popularity grew exponentially. Soon thereafter, he began making television appearances and earning movie roles, which raised his visibility to the point that he could demand more money when performing at comedy clubs. Despite his success, his friends knew him to possess some rather quirky behavior, which limited him socially.
Late in life, Gottfried fell in love with Dara, whom he would subsequently marry; they had two children, one daughter and one son. While Dara dotes on him, Gottfried appears more distant and emotionally unavailable; in typical Gottfried fashion, he’ll give her Anniversary or Valentines Day cards that have “GO F*** YOURSELF!” scrawled above the romantic poem on the inside of the card. When Dara tells him, “I love you”, his response is, “That’s your problem”. With their two children craving their father’s attention whenever he’s not on the road, will this newfound family life have any impact on Gottfried either personally or professionally?
If you’ve ever laughed until you’ve become light-headed, then you know exactly what it’s like to watch the hour and a half long documentary “Gilbert”. The movie includes many old clips from Gottfried’s television and film appearances, as well as excerpts from his stand-up act. For long-time fans of this controversial comic, it is a fond trip down memory lane to remind admirers what drew them to this nut in the first place. But the film is not all laughs as we learn about Gottfried’s parents and siblings as well as his wife Dara and their two children. In those times, the comedian is uncharacteristically sullen.
Director Neil Berkeley avoids the bane of such movies of this genre, namely The Talking Heads Syndrome, which besets many documentaries. Berkeley accomplishes this by breaking up the interviews with Gottfried’s film/TV/performance clips; in this way, he winds up having the interviewees provide voiceover narrations, so they come across less as straight interviews. Where the documentary may fall a little bit short is with scenes that appear that they may have been staged specifically for the movie: examples include Gottfried ironing his shirt, playing with his children and visits to one of his older sisters.
Following the screening, there was an interview with director Neil Berkeley and Gottfried – or at least there was an attempt to interview Gottfried. As usual, he took over and started going into a portion of his stand-up act. Singer-songwriter Paul Williams is a friend of Gottfried’s and attended the screening. In his honor, Gottfried went into a routine, the premise being, “What if Paul Williams and Shirley Temple shared an intimate moment?”. As you might expect (a) none of it can be repeated here and (b) it’s terribly funny. Berkeley said he pitched the idea to Gottfried while they had coffee at a diner; he asked Gottfried if he still loved doing stand-up comedy and Gottfried responded no, that he in fact hated still having to perform his act. It was at this point, Berkeley noted, that he knew Gottfried would make a good documentary.