Review of the Documentary “Gilbert”

I am a Gilbert Gottfried fan without really understanding why. There is something innocent about him, even when telling the worst inappropriate jokes,  that leads to humour.  Gottfried, who, is the voice of the parrot, in Aladdin and has been a fixture on the talk show circuit for years.

I was intrigued enough about seeing him in person to make the trek down to Hot Docs from Thornhill and was able to get tickets to the premiere of the Documentary Gilbert at which he, the director and his wife were present.

Gottfried pulled up in a cab and dashed by me into the theater. A diminutive man in person, he seemed to be a bit dazed by the buzz around him. He held tightly to the railing at the theater and seemed to pull himself up the steps onto the stage. The sense of fragility juxtaposed with the three filthy jokes he told on stage before the film started was shocking and led to loud laughter from the crowd. Gottfried has perfected squinting and shouting in his odd voice into an art form. He doesn’t offer preamble it is just him shrieking: “three Jews walked into a bar.”

The documentary in which he reluctantly participates offers the viewer some insight into how this unusual comedian came to be. We first see him wandering around his apartment in a white bathrobe and slippers (possibly stolen from a hotel) and he confesses that he sometimes feels like a stranger in his own life. The 3 million dollar apartment came after marriage to longtime girlfriend Dara Kravitz in 2007 followed by the birth of his two adorable kids. The whole family appears in the film.

But the real clues into his deepest feelings come from the scenes about his family of origin. Part of poor Jewish family from Brooklyn, his first home was on Coney Island in a tiny apartment that was above the hardware store that his father ran.  Although his father died at age 42, quite some time ago, his sisters mention how hard he was on Gottfried as a young boy. He constantly chastised him by saying he wasn’t good enough and would never amount to anything. Did this lead to his push to be on stage at age 15 at local comedy clubs? The audience can only speculate.  Several comedians weigh in during the film and they attribute Gilbert’s quirky mannerisms to having to speak over drunk crowds at a young age.

One of the repetitive themes of the film is how difficult it is for Gottfried to express love directly. His wife reads old cards given on their anniversary where he writes “ Happy Anniversary, go F…yourself.”  Luckily she finds this funny.  He seems uncomfortable with saying I love you or initiating physical affection. There are many scenes where he is being hugged by his wife and kids and reluctantly hugs back.  Dara tells me after the film that saying I love to Gilbert either gets no response or comedic swear words.

But his love of family does shine through. The scenes in the film where he is in his sister’s cluttered apartment are poignant. He admits to visiting daily and in another emotional scene, we see him accompany her to chemotherapy, where she discloses to the camera that she has stage four breast cancer. He makes her laugh with goofy faces and comments. This is how he expresses love. With his unique brand of humour.

This film is making the festival circuit and should be released in New York and LA this Fall. The director, Neil Berkeley, is also working on an exclusive streaming deal with Hulu. I highly recommend giving it a view. Watch for interviews throughout the film, with a variety of comedians including Bill Burr, Joy Behar, Lewis Black and Whoopi Goldberg–who all regard Gilbert Gottfried as “the comedian’s comedian”.  He will go wherever he has to go for the laugh.