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Comedy Stray Notes April 18, 2022
On remembering Gilbert Gottfried, what it's like to see Al Franken do stand up live in 2022 and SO MUCH MORE (not that much more)
• Some comics are so unique, so singular, so different from everyone else, that they become a type.
Gilbert Gottfried was the type’s type.
In fact, he was so unlike anyone else that putting him in a movie or tv show felt like cheating. Every time Gilbert's name was in the credits, you knew it would be good.
“Aladdin.” Comedy Central roasts. A documentary about his life.
His uncensored screech brought an anarchic, freewheeling sensibility to everything his toothy grin showed up in. Put it this way: If you told me Gilbert was in something, I would see it.
I mean I can’t think of anyone else that would make people want to watch a ten-minute super cut of every time they were on “Celebrity Apprentice” besides Gilbert.
Heck, I’d even watch Cameos he did for random people wishing them a happy birthday or anniversary with a vulgar sincerity.
Give the man a thankless role. He’ll thrive.
All that being said, the greatest Gilbert moment is a small one from the 2016 documentary “Life, Animated.” The doc tells the story of a young, autistic man named Owen Suskind who was unable to speak for years unitl he saw “Aladdin” and regained his ability to speak impersonating Gottfried’s Iago voice.
Mid-movie, we see Suskind performing as Iago for friends. Then, Gottfried pulls the old “I just happened to walk in” trick, entering in character and blowing Owen’s mind.
Seeing the level of pure joy Gilbert brought to this guy’s life will forever be imprinted in my brain. To me, it’s even richer than Gottfried's other most iconic moments like the infamous “Aristocrats” bit after his intentionally tasteless 09/11 joke bombed at the 2001 Hugh Hefner roast or when he called Trump “Mein Fuhrer” on “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Anyhow, back to “Life, Animated.”
The two men share a great interaction after the fact. Owen waits in line for a Gilbert autograph and rather than making the moment soggy, Gilbert says, “You don’t look familiar to me. Get off the line!”
Perfect way to undercut the sentimentality and keep the character alive for an adoring fan.
Gilbert, always brash, loud-mouthed, and a foul, full-on assault on the senses, also indirectly taught me a few things along the way about performing.
Most importantly, if you can play a “character” or do a voice onstage, it’s not a crutch. It’s a weapon. Sure, the most important tools in every comedian’s arsenal are truth and honesty but having a funny voice or “saying things funny” certainly doesn’t hurt.
As much as I love “truth,” I’d rather see Gilbert entertain any day of the week.
Like everyone else, I still wish he was here. I dreamed of “cheating” and using his talents in projects one day. Anna Paone’s dad, who was a much bigger fan than me, did the same and actually wrote a fantastic role for him in his farce “Certifiably Yours.”
Sadly, we’ll never get to see him perform it.
As is the case when a comedy giant passes, I spent the week reading tributes and catching up on Gilbert projects I missed during his life.
Yet, once again, it’s his appearance on WTF that stands head and shoulders above the rest. I particularly enjoyed a dark section where Gilbert discussed his own mortality. No need to spoil a punchline of his but it’s perfectly Gottfried-ian: pitch black humor but funny as hell because of the way he delivers it.
As many have already said, the creator of the joke that was “too soon” was cruelly taken from us “too soon.”
Side note: It is VERY hard to do a good Gilbert impression. At least for me. Anna gave me a trick though. Saying, “MR. TRUMP '' in his voice is an easy shorthand to mastering it. Might not work for you but somehow that unique screech fell into place for my voice.
• While Gilbert’s legacy looms large over the week in comedy, I’d like to share a few other tidbits.
• My days of running shows in the city are over. However, I do love seeing what my friends are putting on. This past Wednesday, I headed to West Side Comedy Club to catch Danny Braff’s “Best Side @ West Side” featuring headliner, former U.S. Senator Al Franken.
Seeing Al live was interesting. He essentially performed what I would call a “one-man Wikipedia” where he hopped from one life event story to another moving from growing up Jewish in Minnesota, time spent at Harvard, his years at SNL, time served on the Senate, his disdain for Tucker Carlson, all while skipping his cancellation. It was a timid choice not to address the elephant in the room and likely left more than a few audience members, including myself, scratching our heads.
Anyhow, I have to give kudos to Danny. The man can really put butts in seats. For years, I struggled with getting any audience members to my shows. I’d email people, send direct messages, offer presents and fries to get people to come out to see free comedy.
Danny packs houses with ease. Not only is the man a gifted comic, he’s got a knack for promotion as well. Hit up one of his shows if you can- it’s a master class in how to pack a room.
• Every month or so, I meet up with my friend Matt Storrs in an Astoria diner.
We catch up, shoot the breeze, order soups or fries and then get down to business.
The two of us set a timer, open our laptops and silently sit across from each other and write for 40 minutes.
While seemingly simple, it sometimes feels like the only creatively productive time I have. I don’t know if it’s the diner setting or feeling that the person sitting across from me is working hard so I have to too but it seems to be the best way to force myself to get back to writing my pilot or turning premises into jokes.
This time around, Anna joined us and felt the magic too. As soon as you start clacking away in a booth, your mind settles in and goes into overdrive.
Steal this productivity hack and let me know if it works for you too.
• Patrick Hastie releases a recap of his year in stand up annually. I’ve been reading these pithy, insightful looks back at his growth as a performer for probably seven years now and with each one, he teaches me something new.
This year, my favorite excerpt from his 11th year in comedy was the following set of paragraphs:
“Last year, once the vaccines started rolling out, I thought shit was gonna go back to normal for me. I watched so many friends who were back out doing shows and traveling and writing and *fOLlOwInG TheIR DreAmS* and I assumed that would happen for me. “I’ll go back to stand up full time when I get the vaccine” is what I kept thinking and saying and hoping.
But I didn’t.
If anything, I got more in my head.”
Too relatable. This is exactly how I felt last year and hearing that someone else was going through the same thing was such a relief.
The rest of his breakdown of the past year is equally insightful, funny and engrossing.
• Happy mid-Passover, it really is one of the great long holidays