The Comedy Film School of Gilbert Gottfried

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Gilbert Gottfried is, fairly or unfairly, generally regarded as a pop cultural footnote. He’s the guy who pops up in bit parts in movies and television, and was unceremoniously fired from his position as the voice of the Aflac duck for telling offensive jokes. He isn’t really known for his actual comedy. The average person probably cannot name a famous bit from his act, but is more likely to know him as the squinty comedian who yells his lines in the shrillest, most obnoxious character voice ever utilized by a mainstream performer. Hacky comedians may do impressions of him but they would probably be hard-pressed to name an impression that he does. Therefore, it may come as a surprise to new listeners of the Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast that he is such a serious historian of classic Hollywood cinema that he could teach courses in film studies at the American Film Institute.

Along with his co-host, the comedy writer Frank Santopadre, Gottfried dissects the early periods of American cinema, focusing particularly on the 1930s through the 1970s. Remarkably, he does that with the people who were actually there. In the two years since the show started, the two have had on guests like Dick Cavett, Joe Franklin, Adam West, Paul Dooley, Dick Van Dyke, Barbara Feldon, Peter Bogdonavich, and other Hollywood icons who have been a part of so much showbiz history. They try to track down and interview as many of these actors, directors, writers, and musicians who are still with us as they can. Alternatively, they also interview younger people who are just as fascinated with this stuff, such as the cartoonist Drew Friedman, the voice actor Billy West, and the actor and writer Robert Wuhl. As a fan of monster movies, Gottfried has even had on the children of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff to talk about their famous dads’ careers. Through these interviews, the podcast’s purpose has become clear. Gottfried and Santopadre and creating the densest, most detailed oral history of old Hollywood that expounds on things known, answers lingering questions, and puts long-held rumors to rest once and for all. Plus, there are dick jokes. A lot of ‘em.

This really shows what an incredible medium podcasting is. Where else will you have the chance to hear an hourlong conversation with 90-year-old Roger Corman recounting the the entire history of American International Pictures and for free, no less? Who else is going to ask George Takei about his bit part in a movie starring Frank Sinatra? The cinematic medium has only been around for just over a hundred years, which means that so many people who have seen it develop over the twentieth century are still with us. The opportunity to talk to people at the forefront of a new artform is not something that is going to exist soon and it is an act of true nobility that Gottfried and Santopadre are seizing upon it.

Of course, it is a comedy podcast first and foremost. Nothing is funnier than the running joke of Gottfried asking his guests if there is any truth to the rumor that Cesar Romero, he of The Joker fame, had a fetish that involved orange wedges. Adam West’s reaction to that question, in particular, is easily one of the greatest moments in podcasting history thus far. Gottfried also forces some of his guests to sing along to his horribly off-key screeching renditions of their famous songs. Gottfried and Dick Van Dyke’s duet rendition of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” actually surpasses the original. I am not saying that ironically so apologies to Julie Andrews.

One of the most striking things about the podcast is how narrow its focus is. Gottfried and Santopadre intend for their target audience to be men and women who grew up in the late-50s-early-60s in the New York City area who have a deep and abiding love for what guest Billy West calls “showbiz periphery.” You will, for example, only know about the references to Million Dollar Movies, which was the nightly movie presentation on the local New York-area station WOR-TV-Channel 9 from the late 1950s through the late 1980s. That’s quite a deep cut, folks. The audience is pretty much on its own. Gottfried, Santopadre, and their guests will also drop names like American Hot Wax, Bye Bye Braverman, Joe Ancis, Slavko Vorkapich, Lord Love a Duck, No Way to Treat a Lady, Brother Theodore, Mistress, The Phynx, and many others which will push you into a never ending IMDb rabbit hole because they never stop to explain a reference. Gilbert just assumes everyone knows the lyrics to the theme song of After the Fox. Basically, the more like Gottfried you are, the more you will enjoy its podcast.

The podcast is so engaging because every discussion is filled with such exhilarating passion that every movie and every TV show comes to life. Robert Wuhl, for example, put his entire self into his episode, which covers baseball, his underseen movie Mistress, the greatness of Peter Sellers, and why the Academy Awards are so badly run. Then there are the mini-episodes in which Gottfried and Santopadre recommend obscure classics like Little Fugitive and more mainstream-yet-underrated films like Election and Road to Perdition. My list of movies to watch in my lifetime has grown exponentially since listening to this show.

If there is a central message to the podcast, it is this: Do your own thing. Follow your own path. There is very little discussion of the mainstream. The show is driven on passionate artists who did not find extreme success, but dedicated their lives to the jobs that they loved. Roger Corman would seize upon every opportunity to make a movie, even to the point of shooting random scenes with Boris Karloff without a script to be edited into a coherent narrative later. Ed Wood, who is often referenced, did not care that his movies were considered some of the worst ever made. Gilbert Gottfried has followed his passion for old Hollywood, monster movies, and filthy, filthy jokes to the extreme yet, to mainstream America, has remained a pop cultural footnote. Yet, he knows with every fiber of his being that pop cultural footnotes add the tiny details that make the magic of Hollywood real.

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