Comedian, family man, pervert — these dimensions of Gilbert Gottfried, as well as a few others, are all on display in Gilbert, a documentary about the controversial and highly-esteemed funnyman, released in theaters earlier this month and now available on a number of streaming platforms. Director Neil Berkeley follows Gottfried as he putters around his apartment, endures the ennui of unending road trips, and visits the Brooklyn neighborhood of his youth. Among the cognoscenti, he’s known as a “comedian’s comedian,” but his current home life surprises even them — in an enduring, tender relationship with his wife of ten years and his two children, Gottfried also displays a vulnerability that’s never far from the surface; it’s especially evident at the end of the film, when he performs at a benefit for a hospital for pediatric cancer patients and works his way through a personal family tragedy.
Apart from the quite affecting personal revelations, Gilbert reveals the professional Gottfried as well: the absurdities and tedium of life on the road (at one point Gottfried manages to find himself at a convention of military uniform enthusiasts); the difficulty in keeping interested in identical material performed over and over again; and, most delightfully, Gottfried’s generosity with his fans and admirers. Although Gottfried is a virtuoso in his chosen field, Gilbert also reveals the hard work required to generate that seemingly effortless performance night after night. Gottfried’s own Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast! also frequently delves into the mechanics of his art.
If you’re looking for something a little different to watch as grandma snoozes on the sofa after the heavy Thanksgiving meal, give Gilbert a try. If you want something a lot different (and you want to wake grandma up), try it on a double bill with The Aristocrats, which features Gottfried’s lengthier version of the classic comedy routine than the Hefner roast version excerpted on the documentary portrait. I’m hoping it becomes a tradition at our own house — not least because Gottfried reminded me of the great artist that was Fritz Feld. Below is the trailer for Gilbert.