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You may have heard the stories about Saturday Night Live legends Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock getting discovered thanks to their early nights performing at The Comic Strip in New York City. But Gilbert Gottfried beat them both to it.

Gottfried, who died Tuesday at 67 following a long illness, started performing stand-up in the city as a teenager and was still only 25 when SNL added him to the infamous Season 6 cast in 1980, which is (mostly) available now on Peacock.

As Gottfried told Joe Rogan late last year on his podcast, fans and critics weren’t ready for SNL to swap out the entire cast, dooming them from the start. “The idea back then of Saturday Night Live with different cast members? Now it’s like the cast changes every five minutes,” he said. “But back then, it was like, no! It’d be like saying in the middle of Beatlemania, that, oh, we’re getting four other guys to be The Beatles. Or when Friends was on, we’re recasting Friends, but just watch it the same way.”

Jean Doumanian, who replaced Lorne Michaels, had guest host Elliott Gould cold open Season 6 in bed with the new cast members (a la Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice) introducing themselves by name and by comparison to their predecessors. Gottfried, stuck at the end of the bed in pajamas, told Gould: “I’m kind of a cross between John Belushi and that guy from last year. He did the Rod Serling. Nobody can remember his name.” (Harry Shearer) The fourth episode of the season (the first to list Murphy as a cast member), also put Gottfried center stage to introduce a short film, “Who Is Gilbert Gottfried?” In this SNL multiverse, Gottfried’s father worked as a doorman so destitute the family lived in the building’s revolving door, and young Gilbert had to pretend to rob a bank so he could use the bank’s security camera to record his audition, including a joke you might’ve even heard him tell years later: “My wife is so fat…she’s so fat when she sits around the house, she sits around the house.”

In real life, Brooklyn-born Gottfried’s dad ran a hardware store with his grandfather, and the family lived above it.

And while he only lasted one season on SNL, Gottfried would discover that his voice would keep him employed for another four decades. He helped promote the early MTV in the 1980s, rejoined Murphy to chew up the scenery in Beverly Hills Cop II and as the archenemy in the Problem Child movies. If you were in high-school or college around then, you more likely saw him hosting USA Up All Night, or performing on TV with David Letterman and the radio with Howard Stern.

But many millions more associated him with the Friars Club and Comedy Central Roasts, and one in particular — the Roast of Hugh Hefner, filmed in NYC on Sept. 29, 2001, when Gottfried responded to a heckle of “too soon!” about his 9/11 joke by launching into his version of “The Aristocrats,” a joke so crude it prompted a documentary about it after he told it. Gottfried told me in 2017 that he hadn’t planned on telling it, making it his most inspired ad-lib. “And then it was like explosive laughter, and I remember there were two different critics who wrote articles about it. At least two, and one of them said it was like a cathartic experience. And the other said it was as if I performed a mass tracheotomy on the crowd.”

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You can see and hear it on The Aristocrats, and he told a different version of it for his later special, Dirty Jokes. The Comedy Central roasts of Bob Saget and David Hasselhoff are the only ones currently available in full on Paramount+, but for just the best Gottfried zingers, Comedy Central put out this compilation on YouTube.

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It seemed like every 10 years or so, Gottfried would find the invisible line of cultural propriety and throw himself completely over it. Or find himself cast off for other reasons.

In 1981, he got fired from SNL. In 1991, he surprised FOX and the Emmy Award producers by going off script on live TV while presenting the award for writing in a variety show, with riffs on Pee-wee Herman’s arrest for masturbation, plus now the added bonus of hearing him try to pronounce the names of some of your favorite comedy writers and performers.

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In 2001, he brought “The Aristocrats” to the public. In 2011, he got fired as the voice of the Aflac duck after his string of joke Tweets about the tsunami in Japan.

Maybe he had a 10-year itch? Either way, he didn’t need to scratch it last year, or even in the last decade of his life. He instead chose to start a podcast that was a love letter to Old Hollywood, “Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast!” And he kept spreading his love back to other comedians and comedy fans. Perhaps you’ve seen some of the many tributes from comedians to Gottfried on Twitter.

If you called on him, he’d heed your call.

For the benefit, Night of Too Many Stars, Gottfried reprised his role as the voice of the scarlet macaw Iago in Disney’s Aladdin, all because an autistic young man only learned how to communicate with his parents and the outside world thanks to Gottfried’d voice.

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He’d show up to troll U.K. viewers for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, reading parts of the Brexit agreement in 2018. Or a year later, when he eagerly dressed up as Hitler for Netflix’s Historical Roasts. Or we could count on him to lend his voice to whatever sounded most inappropriate: erotic scenes from “Fifty Shades of Grey” or the lyrics to Cardi B’s “WAP.”

Truth was, Gottfried was a mensch.

The sincerely touching 2017 documentary about him revealed that Gilbert offscreen had a much softer voice and a light touch on all who came into his orbit. He had a loving marriage. He doted on his two kids. He trekked daily to visit his sisters while they were alive. His character proved a polar opposite to the loud, grating sound with which so many of us associated him.

Peacock had promoted Gilbert to the landing page this week. It’s a real treat.

Even if Gottfried told me back when it premiered that he had his doubts.

“I remember the filmmaker, Neil Berkeley. He approached me, and he said, he always wanted to do a Gilbert Gottfried documentary. And I said, you should really set your aspirations a lot higher than that. Because I thought you should at least be dead for 20 years before they do a documentary, or discover penicillin. And I discovered penicillin when a doctor gave it to me, but no, but thank you, remember to tip your waitresses. No. And then when I saw the film, that to me that was like, that was sitting in hell. I’ve seen it about four times and each time I get that impression, like, that when you die, the first thing they make you do for part of the eternity is to sit there and there’d be a big screen in front of you, where you have to watch your entire life.”

As I told him then, I’m telling you now. we’re all better off for him agreeing to that documentary was he was still alive to see it, and our enjoyment of it. And him.

Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat for his own digital newspaper, The Comic’s Comic; before that, for actual newspapers. Based in NYC but will travel anywhere for the scoop: Ice cream or news. He also tweets @thecomicscomic and podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.

Source: NYPOST

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