Gilbert (2017)    Gravitas Ventures/Documentary    RT: 94 minutes    No MPAA rating (language, offensive humor)    Director: Neil Berkeley    Screenplay: Neil Berkeley and James Leche    Music: John Adair and Steve Hampton    Cinematography: Neil Berkeley    Release date: November 10, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Gilbert Gottfried, Dara Gottfried, Arlene Gottfried, Max Gottfried, Lily Gottfried, Karen Gottfried, Dave Atell, Joy Behar, Richard Belzer, Lewis Black, Bill Burr, Susie Essman, Jim Gaffigan, Judy Gold, Whoopi Goldberg, Arsenio Hall, Anthony Jeselnik, Penn Jillette, Richard Kind, Artie Lange, Jay Leno, Howie Mandel, Jim Norton, Joe Piscopo, Paul Provenza, Jeff Ross, Frank Santopadre, Dick Van Dyke, Alan Zweibel.



 If comedian Gilbert Gottfried has one defining characteristic, it’s this: he goes there. He ALWAYS goes there! And then, he goes further. The man pushes boundaries many dare not even approach. We’re talking about the guy who lost a lucrative gig as the voice of the Aflac duck for tweeting insensitive jokes about the 2011 tsunami disaster in Japan. About ten years before that, he made a 9/11 joke before it was known as 9/11 (just two weeks after the tragedy) at a celebrity roast for Hugh Hefner. It is a wonder that Gottfried still has a career. Would it surprise you to learn that his public persona is as far removed from his private one as possible and still inhabit the same physical body? If you know anything about comedians, probably not. Others might be shocked that behind the outrageous façade is a quiet, reserved man who lives in a neat, orderly apartment with his intelligent wife (Dara) and two well-mannered children (Max and Lily).

 gilbertI, of course, fall into the first category. It doesn’t mean I still wasn’t surprised by some of what I saw in Gilbert, a funny and interesting documentary about Gottfried’s life and career. Although the movie doesn’t mention his brief tenure on SNL (the disastrous 1980-81 season), that’s where I first saw him. None of his sketches stand out but his loud grating voice does. My next encounter with him was his hilarious stand-out cameo in Beverly Hills Cop II which is acknowledged here. He would go on to appear in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane and both Problem Child movies before giving voice to an iconic Disney character, Iago the wisecracking parrot in Aladdin and its DTV sequels. This role brought him a new level of fame as well as the love of generations of children. They may not recognize him but his voice is unmistakable.

 Gilbert covers many of the highs and lows of his career but it’s mainly concerned with his private life, also with its highs and lows. There’s a sadness to Gilbert, one that he doesn’t openly admit to. It’s his sisters Arlene and Karen that spill the beans about his rocky relationship with his disapproving dad. He got into comedy almost by accident. He started performing at clubs on open mike nights and it soon became what he describes as “an addiction”. We also hear how he met Dara and subsequently courted her for a decade before popping the question. One could ask what a smart, beautiful woman like Dara sees in this short, not terribly handsome man. I would answer that, like Belle and the Beast, she sees something that nobody else does. Sure, he has his quirks and eccentricities. He’s notoriously cheap (according to his colleagues), he hoards hotel soap and shampoo and takes the bus when he travels to his stand-up gigs. He’s also sweet, devoted to his wife and adores his children.

 But it’s his comedy that people know him for. Much of it is vulgar and highly inappropriate. He has no qualms about discussing taboo subjects. He begins one bit by telling the audience he just read Mackenzie Philips’ memoir (the one where she claims sexual abuse by her father, a claim many still dispute) and takes it in an unexpected direction, one that no parent should ever take. It’s wrong but at the same time funny. Many see Gottfried as abrasive and obnoxious; he does have that effect on people, I’ll grant that. Gilbert provides an intimate glimpse behind the persona he shows to the world. Well, as intimate as it can be with him. He doesn’t really like to talk about himself. When asked for personal details, he either clams up or makes a joke. It’s amazing how director Neil Berkeley gets him to open up a bit. Equally insightful are the interviews with several famous colleagues like Whoopi Goldberg, Arsenio Hall, Jay Leno, Jim Gaffigan and Dick Van Dyke with whom he sings a duet of “Put On a Happy Face”. His interactions with older sister Arlene are touching.

 I really enjoyed Gilbert. We get to know a celebrity who’s famously guarded about his personal life. When Howard Stern asks him if the rumors about him getting married are true (they are, Gilbert and Dara tied the knot in ’07), he continuously dodges the question. I get it. He wants to keep his public and private personas separate. It is, however, a fascinating dichotomy. It’s hard to believe the same guy who traded vulgarities with Andrew Dice Clay (in Ford Fairlane) reads stories to his children. In terms of style, Gilbert doesn’t do anything new or special. It juxtaposes clips from his shows, talk show appearances and movies with footage (old and new) of him out-of-character. Or is his public persona out-of-character? You make the call. 

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