For Gilbert Gottfried, stupidity and determination paid off for career in comedy

March 31, 2017 GMT

For all Gilbert Gottfried knows, he could’ve performed in Spokane last night.

Keeping track of where he’s been is a struggle for the comedian, but it comes with the territory of having such a lengthy career, one that brings him to Spokane Comedy Club on Saturday.

When Gottfried began frequenting open mic nights as a teen in New York City, comedy wasn’t seen as a viable career option. But that didn’t deter him from trying. As he said, he had stupidity on his side.

“It was this stupidity you have where you go ‘I can make it in show business.’ ” he said. “I didn’t think in terms of the odds of making it, which are ridiculously stacked against you. All the competition, all the rejection, that kept me going, even though I might go on stage and bomb. Then I’d come back the next night.”


In the years since he began performing, Gottfried has noticed that being a successful comedian is more about access to an audience, via YouTube and other forms of social media, than it is about talent.

“You used to have to wait till somebody hired you to go on TV or the movies,” he said. “Now it’s like people take their phone, turn it towards themselves and they’re in front of thousands of people.”

But with no YouTube, Gottfried pounded the pavement, performing stand up night after night until he eventually landed his first big break, a spot in the cast of “Saturday Night Live.”

Though he was only on the show for a season, his time on “SNL” led to other roles on TV and, eventually, in movies, including a scene-stealing role in “Beverly Hills Cop II.”

That role led to another career-defining moment, only this time, Gottfried was heard, not seen.

Voicing the wise-cracking parrot Iago in “Aladdin” made Gottfried a household name, and voice.

“I always used to say ‘It’s got music, romance, comedy,’ ” he said about the movie. “ ‘If it didn’t have me, it would be a quality production.’ ”

Gottfried voiced the Aflac duck for 11 years, and he is the voice of Digit LeBoid and Wigdet, two cyber birds, on the educational PBS show “Cyberchase.”

“Parents say ‘My kids learn so much from that,’ ” Gottfried said. “I think ‘Gee they’re learning from the worst student in the world.’ ”

Gottfried has also been featured in several documentaries, including the Academy Award-nominated “Life, Animated,” “The Last Laugh” and the upcoming “Gilbert,” which details Gottfried’s life and career.


Gottfried downplays the legacy he’s built as a performer.

“It shows I’ve been around too long.” he said. “I remember thinking ‘Why? Aren’t you supposed to be dead?’ ”

Gottfried’s career has more than warranted a documentary, but he’s the first to admit things could have turned out very differently for a comedian with nothing but stupidity and determination on his side, something he reminds himself of when he gets frustrated by the constant travel his job requires.

“I think to my years of struggling to get on in non-paid comedy clubs,” he said. “I would run into the same people, comics and singers. Now I don’t know where they are. I don’t even remember their names. I remind myself ‘Oh my god, that could’ve just as easily been me.’ ”