One never knows what direction a chat with Gilbert Gottfried will take. As we sat down recently in Beverly Hills to discuss the documentary Neil Berkeley has made about the comic’s life and career (“Gilbert,” opening Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center), the notoriously outrageous comedian started talking about “one of my favorite parts of making this film. …
“While we were doing it, I came to Chicago. We were staying at the Pheasant Run Resort. Suddenly we ended up on a floor where all these World War II re-enactors were staying. I got off the elevator and walked into a whole bunch of Nazi officers — complete with swastikas and everything!
“They recognized me, ran over and were all giggling, telling me they loved me in ‘Problem Child’ and asking to take selfies. They were so friendly and doting on me. I got to thinking, ‘Hmmm. Nazis. I had the Third Reich all wrong all these years! I just believed all the bad stuff,” said Gottfried, proving yet again he loves to push the limits of political correctness.
As for “Gilbert,” the comedian admitted he was “more than a little hesitant to do it. I was surprised I ended up letting it happen. The filmmaker [Berkeley] said to me, ‘I have always dreamed of doing a Gilbert Gottfried documentary,’ and I said, ‘You should set your dreams higher!’ ”
For years, the filmmaker had been telling people he was going to make a Gottfried documentary but never made any direct moves to connect with the comedian. Then, one day, he happened to walking down the street in New York with a business associate, Astra Dorf, who asked Berkeley what he was doing next. Though he had done nothing so far, he told Dorf of his plans to capture Gottfried’s life on film.
“Well, that’s amazing,” said Dorf. “Because Gilbert’s wife is my best friend — and they live two blocks from where we are right now!”
That was the connecting spark that ultimately led to the making of “Gilbert,” though it took Berkeley a year of constantly bugging the Gottfrieds before they gave a reluctant okay.
“It was really pretty strange,” said Gilbert. “Neil just started following me around as I went on tour. There was no crew, it was just him with a camera. Kind of like I was always being followed by a stalker, but at least one who I didn’t think would kill me.”
In the end, the comedian and his wife, Dera, are extremely happy with the film. For Gottfried, he thinks “it’s a good thing that along with showing me doing my act — being my most shocking and vulgar — it also shows my personal life, my family life. … Plus, it means a lot that my sister, Arlene [Gottfried], who was dying while we worked on all this, was able to participate in it and see the finished film before she passed away.”
“Gilbert” also features interviews with many of the biggest comedians working today — including Joy Behar, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Burr, Jim Gaffigan, Howie Mandel, Richard Kind and Lewis Black.
For Berkeley, one of his favorite comics who agreed to participate was Jay Leno. Admitting he was previously not a huge Leno fan, the filmmaker admitted, “Jay was incredible. He talked to us for an hour and a half, and he was wonderful, extremely passionate and empathetic in the interview. He really opened up to us about Gilbert.”
Gottfried appreciated all the comics’ input, but the one that sticks with him the most is the interview given by Jeffrey Ross. “I liked it when he said people are drawn to me because I’m totally unfiltered. He’s right, because I’ll say one of my more outlandish things, and I’ll see people are offended and outraged. But they don’t leave, because they are dying to see what other crazy thing I’m going to say next!”...Read more