This is the original version of an obituary I wrote for The Guardian newspaper in London. I first trimmed it down from this 1,030 words to something close to the tight 800 they’d asked for; they then performed a final edit to get it to fit that limited space. The opening graf reflects the fact that the audience was thought not to know a lot about who he was, but would recognise the famous voices he provided, and the newspaper’s own style excluded some more detailed descriptions of some of my own favourites among his performances. I’d recommend a visit to You Tube if you’d like to check them out. The finished piece appeared online (theguardian.com) on Sunday, 17 April; you can link to it here. It should also be in the paper paper soon. But here’s the thousand word version. RIP.
Those unfamiliar with Gilbert Gottfried, the comedian and actor who has died aged 67, would instantly recognise his voice, shrill, high-pitched and grating. It was a voice well0know in animation: Iago the Parrot in the movie Aladdin and its spinoffs, Mr Mxyzptlk, Superman’s trickster nemesis, or Kraang Subprime for Teenage Mutant Ninja Heroes. Putting a face to the voice, they might even recall his desperately conniving corrupt accountant Sid Bernstein in Beverley Hills Cop 2.
But while Gottfried’s voice and acting talent made him a family favourite, it was also part of the character he had built on stage in stand-up, that of a tasteless, often profane, comedian. Only 5'5”, with a frail-seeming body and large head, performing with an exaggerated squint, Gottfried was the precocious ten-year old whose parents complain “where did you learn those words?” who then repeats them in a louder voice. His act resembled a tantrum: as audiences recoiled from a touchy joke, elaborated in ever more flowery language, the spoiled child became more shrill, more insistent. Then he might stop to de-construct what he was doing: “logically, this joke doesn’t make sense,” he’d yell, “but it works because it’s a joke!!” It was a technique which was dangerous to talk show hosts; he could take over a seemingly-innocuous conversation and drive the host to distraction. He did it to Arsenio Hall and left him in a laughing puddle.
His greatest fame as a comedian came in the film The Aristocrats (2005), where he and fellow comics discussed dissected and delivered the eponymous dirty joke which they’d for decades told each other: a detailed description of a family (and their dog) auditioning their depraved vaudeville act for an…