Gilbert Gottfried Helped A Generation Of Insomniacs Find Treasure From Trash

In a less auto-curated moment (the ‘90s) where new wasn’t the main prerequisite for what movies got put in front of people’s faces there lived a show that trafficked in modified smut and over-the-top hijinks. USA’s Up All Night was, upon reflection, a nearly pointless exercise on paper, tacking on a few segments with a host onto a collection of often schlocky movies. In truth, it was probably only nominally more expensive than leaving the test pattern to run deep into the evening hours on Fridays and Saturday nights for USA, then a nascent basic cable channel, but the finished product was entertaining as hell and mildly wildly educational, lasting nine years in some form or another.

How the thing rose to a place of prominence in the hearts of insomniacs is no mystery. Up All Night was often the embodiment of the bargain bin at the video store, usually filled with laughably bad acting, writing, and effects, all presented with ample snark (and cheesy comedy bits) by hosts Rhonda Shear and the just-passed Gilbert Gottfried; cheap thrills made poorly in such a way that you couldn’t look away. Because what else were you going to do?

With few options on few channels, you forced yourself to watch and find the charm within the margins, expanding a palette in ways that maybe don’t jive with the classic definition of a film connoisseur’s formative journey. But why not? Can’t you learn as much from bad movies as good ones? If a movie makes you feel something – even if it’s not the intended emotion – isn’t that the point? A point, at least.

Gottfried’s professional legacy is going to be dotted with appraisals of him as a comic’s comic, someone who dedicated his later years to interviews with comedians on his podcast with Frank Santopadre and his earlier career to getting a lot of mileage out of his signature voice and manner, beginning with a brief stint on SNL right after the original cast had fled. ‘80s and ‘90s kids will remember him from Problem Child, Aladdin, and one million guest spots on literally every sitcom from the era (a Wings arc! Living Single! Herman’s Head!)

Maybe you know him from seeing your parents watching him troll people on Hollywood Squares, hearing him kill on Howard Stern, or from his telling of The Aristocrats joke. Regardless, Gottfried’s talent (and voice) cut through a crowd, allowing him to make an impact. He will be missed for all of the above and so much more (184 acting and voice acting credits not counting memorable late-night guest spots), but to me, this weird show deserves specific attention.

I would like to repeat some of the titles of films that ran on the show, mixed in with airings of more mainstream fare like Blues Brothers, Sixteen Candles, and The Evil Dead.

A Polish Vampire in Burbank
Roller Blade Warriors
The Malibu Bikini Shop
Getting Lucky
Vegas In Space

The writeup on TVDB (which cataloged a bunch of these episode titles) for Getting Lucky mentions a leprechaun in a beer bottle who doles out wishes. Now, I have zero recollection of that film or if I’ve ever seen that episode (sort of the point of these empty calorie things), but while your definition of art and my own may vary, can’t we agree that, from that synopsis alone, watching that movie sounds like it might be one hell of a weird experience? Particularly because it was made at a time before B-movies got more in on the joke, went meta, and lost some of their spirit.

Don’t get me wrong, an appreciation for the art and craft of movie-making is a wonderful thing to possess, but getting joy out of goofy horror comedies or incredibad acting in horrifically edited softcore films has a value that shouldn’t be ignored. It’s the root of things like Mystery Science Theater and Up All Night, a little club where we can waste time and have a few laughs at things that aren’t taking themselves too seriously. What a wonderful thing to be remembered for being a part of.