It’s hard to believe, but Gilbert Gottfried appeared on President-elect Donald Trump’s reality show “The Apprentice” less than two years ago.
“Talk about strange,” Gottfried said on the phone from his Manhattan apartment. “It seemed like it was a lifetime ago that I was on that show. That was an experience.”
The quirky and uncompromising comic was eliminated early in the competition.
“I think I lasted five minutes on that show,” Gottfried said. “Unfortunately, all people saw was my former employer sternly firing me. What they didn’t see was that after he fired me, Trump took me into his office and laid me down on the couch where we cuddled for an hour.”
Rim shot, please.
Like many in the entertainment industry, Gottfried, who will perform Friday and Saturday at Goodnights Comedy Club in Raleigh, didn’t think Trump was serious about becoming commander in chief.
“I always thought it was a Roseanne-type publicity stunt when he announced he was running for president,” Gottfried said. “But I think part of the reason that he is so popular is that everyone is so tired of having to watch what they say. He doesn’t care at all about what he says.”
That makes the unapologetic President-elect Trump a lot like Gottfried, who remains politically incorrect in a very PC world – and that includes the realm of comedy.
“I always think about what George Carlin once said, which is that a comedian’s job is to find where the line is drawn and then you’re supposed to step over that line,” Gottfried said. “If Charlie Chaplin were around today, he would have to apologize to the homeless. It’s crazy what has happened in entertainment. Much of it has to do with the Internet, which makes me sentimental about old-time lynch mobs. At least those people had to leave their house and get their hands dirty before they went out and killed somebody. Today you can ruin someone’s career in seconds on your computer because of what they said. But the job of the comic is not to worry about that. You have to cross that line.”
In that case, the late Carlin is somewhere smiling. Days after the World Trade Center attack in 2001, Gottfried made a Manhattan audience wince: “I have to leave early to catch a flight to Los Angeles,” Gottfried said. “Unfortunately I couldn’t get a direct. The flight is stopping at the Empire State Building.”
“Too soon!” someone in the audience yelled at Gottfried.
“I thought he meant I didn’t wait long enough between the set up and the punchline,” Gottfried said of the heckler. “The crazy thing is that I followed with my ‘Aristocrats’ joke, which is about beastiality and incest. That was fine, but a 9/11 joke is out of hand. I still don’t get it.”
Another line crossed? In 2011, Gottfried tweeted jokes about the Japanese earthquake disaster. AFLAC, the insurance company that had hired Gottfried for voiceovers, dismissed the rebellious humorist shortly after.
“The best tweet I got at that time was this: ‘AFLAC fires Gilbert Gottfried after they discover he’s a comedian,” Gottfried recalled. “It really was ridiculous. What was even more insane was that there were so many television news reporters camped around my house after all that went down. It was if they were covering a mass murderer.”
Gottfried has also dealt with heat from critics. He survived salvos from the press in 1980 when he was part of the “Saturday Night Live” cast, the much-maligned troupe that succeeded the star-studded Not Ready for Prime Time Players, which included Bill Murray and Gilda Radner.
“We were not just pummeled by the media when we went on the air,” Gottfried said. “We were bashed before our first show ever aired.”
When asked about what material he’ll present at upcoming live shows, Gottfried laughed nervously. “I don’t want to even think about that,” he said. “If I think about it too much, I’ll be like, ‘oh no, this isn’t funny.’ But I’ll do the best I can to make it funny – and I’ll step over the line. You can count on that.”