I want to tell you about Gilbert Gottfried’s stand-up act. I really do.
But if I did – if I really, truly filled you in on the nitty-gritty-dirty details of what Gottfried has to say in his show at Helium Comedy Club, which runs through tonight – I’d get fired from this gig.
Heck, Gottfried once got fired for saying too much. And the gig was an annoyingly good one. (We’ll get to that in a minute.) But he’s got guts, more guts than me, and probably more than you too. So he’ll say things we won’t, and do it in a constipated voice that, to borrow a phrase he used at Helium in a different context, feels like “an ice pick shoved through your ear.”
I mean that as a compliment, by the way. Because Gottfried’s goal is to make you remember him. That’s true of any comic, yes, but Gottfried does it not only through his jokes, but the physicality of his delivery. There’s the screechy voice and squinty eyes that are his trademark. If you’ve seen Gottfried on TV or in the movies, you know the voice and the eyes.
But only when you seen him live, and especially in an intimate setting like Helium, can you get a true sense of the physicality of his performance. Gottfried, 59, is a trim 5-foot-5.
Not exactly imposing.
But he puts his frame to work by transforming himself into a frumpy, fidgety character. When Gottfried walked onstage Thursday, he was wearing an oversize plaid button-down, baggy blue jeans and light Champion sneakers. He walked with a hobble, clutching props (a pile of napkins and two chicken-wing bowls) tight to his chest. He was in constant jerky motion, wringing his hands, adjusting the microphone stand and, at one point, using the napkins to approximate the Bible and turn it into a flip book. (The chicken-wing bowls, if you’re wondering, became ear muffs.)
And he uses the eyes as a tool. They squint tighter when he delivers a punchline, and open wide when he’s setting the scene for a joke.
Gottfried’s style and delivery cast him as the crazy guy next door who’ll say anything.
And he will.
Gottfried’s opening words to the Helium crowd were, “So nothing happened in Japan today, did it? I have to be extra careful with that place.”
It was a direct reference to a March 2011 incident when Gottfried tweeted a series of off-color jokes about the Japanese tsunami and was promptly fired from his job as the nasally, overcaffeinated voice of the Aflac duck.
Gottfried then proceeded through a series of observations about Japan, Charlton Heston and “Planet of the Apes,” the Amish, Hitler and Liam Neeson movies, among other topics, and then launched into a rapid-fire array of material from his “Dirty Jokes” DVD. The audience laughed, loudly and consistently, and squirmed a little, too.
Gottfried, who in real life is married with two young children, isn’t afraid to push his comedy far across the taboo line. For example, he used his own daughter to shape a series of jokes about Mackenzie Phillips’ claims of sleeping with her father, Mamas and Papas rock star John Phillips.
“I can’t even get my daughter to hold my hand!” he said.
Cue the laughs! And the squirms.
In terms of that squirm effect, Gottfried’s openers warmed up the audience well. Matt Bergman, a 30-year-old Buffalo native who lives in Massachusetts and is back in town to record his next CD at Robby Takac’s GCR Audio, delivered a smart, tightly crafted set that daringly treaded into, let’s say, personal areas. And 18-year-old Rochester comic Austin Lafond, who served as host for the evening, presented a short set that used his youthfulness as the seed of his humor.
It was an evening of playing in the dirt, but hey, you can always wash off afterward.