Gilbert Gottfried requires no introduction. Thanks to his breakout onscreen roles in Beverly Hills Cop II and Problem Child, his work as the voice of Iago the parrot in Aladdin, his podcast, his years on the road, and his numerous Comedy Central roast appearances, the loud-mouthed stand-up comedian has solidified his place in American pop culture many times over. When the real Gottfried — a carefully softspoken man — calls me from his home in New York, however, the 62-year-old comedian cannot help introducing himself. “Hello,” he kindly says over the phone, “this is Gilbert.”
It’s a side of the comic audiences generally don’t get to see, but thanks to Neil Berkeley’s new movie Gilbert, that’s all about to change. Part family history, part road movie, and part unwanted self-portrait, the new film — which first screened earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival to much acclaim — presents Gottfried’s longtime fans (and detractors) with an intimate portrait of the artist as a happily married husband and father of two. And it never would have happened if Gottfried’s wife, Dara Kravitz, hadn’t invited Berkeley into their home despite her husband’s protests.
I’ve read elsewhere that you weren’t necessarily on board with this documentary when they started making it. Having done all this promotion, has your attitude towards it changed?
It’s strange because I always thought to be a subject of a documentary, you should be dead for at least 20 years. That, or you should have discovered a cure for some major disease. I’m happy with the reaction people have had to it, though. When I watch it, it’s like you’re watching your life on camera. I tend to cringe. I’m happy seeing myself as Nick the plumber on an episode of a sitcom, but I don’t want to see myself as me.
A lot of comics say they don’t like watching themselves perform. Actors and actresses, too. In this documentary, you’re not necessarily performing, so I suspect it’s a different experience watching it.
I mention this in the documentary. I always think of that scene in Wizard of Oz where they see the man behind the curtain, all the while he’s insisting they not look at that man behind the curtain. I’m scared of the man behind the curtain being seen, in my case.
At the same time, despite having all those fears and concerns, I’m sure the positive responses have alleviated some of it.
That’s true. I’m always surprised to see a good review. I haven’t seen any bad ones. They all seem to like it.
Tell me about that experience.
It was very weird because when Neil, the filmmaker, came to me and said, “I’ve always dreamt of making a Gilbert Gottfried documentary,” the first thing I said to him was, “Well you should set your dreams a lot higher than that.” After a while, however, he just started following me around, and I’m too much of a wimp to say, “Get away from me!” Eventually, it just came to be what it is. He followed me to clubs. He hung around my house. And through it all, people apparently like the film. I’m still amazed at that.