21st Apr2017

2017 Tribeca Film Festival: ‘Gilbert’ Review

by Catherina Gioino

Features: Gilbert Gottfried, Whoopi Goldberg, Artie Lange, Arsenio Hall, Bill Burr, Richard Kind, Howie Mandel, Jay Leno, Penn Jillette | Written by Neil Berkeley, James Leche | Directed by Neil Berkeley

gilbert_poster

If you don’t know his face, you’ll definitely know his voice. But what about his personality?

Gilbert Gottfried has seen the typical comedian’s rise to fame, from his small start working clubs as a teen to making big breaks like voicing Disney characters, and the grand kahuna of all, lending your voice to commercials. But there’s one question we all have about the mysterious man: is that really his voice?

Turns out that isn’t the only question we should have for him. Gilberta film directed, written, and produced by Neil Berkeley,  follows the side of Gottfried that no one sees: his personal, non-decibel-provoking one. A personal life? Gilbert’s? Does he even have one? It’s already shocking enough to somehow possibly fathom whatever social life Gottfried may have, but seeing it is outer worldly. Berkeley does an excellent job of truly portraying the hidden side of Gottfried. He even asks at one point in the film if Gottfried is scared of showing the world what his personal life looks like, to which Gottfried responds frightfully.

Like all biographical documentaries that follow a person’s growing up to becoming, this is no different. The film uncoils Gottfried’s terse relationship with his father, just as it shows the loving and rather hilarious relationship he had – and still does have – with his sisters, and what the three siblings had with their mother. Of course, his father’s lack of approval becomes a key topic within the film, and features various other comedians who comment not only on Gottfried’s life but also on comedians’ lives in general, and how it’s all for show for their parents, as Joe Piscopo said.

Speaking of other comedians, there’s an odd range of guests that speak on Gottfried, perhaps opting to go for a small handful of people who truly know of Gottfried’s personal life as opposed to a giant catalog of ships. Whoopi Goldberg, Artie Lange, Arsenio Hall, Bill Burr, Richard Kind, Howie Mandel, Jay Leno, Penn Jillette and more all make appearances as talking heads in the film. We even get a look at Gottfried’s interactions with Jim Gaffigan and Dick Van Dyke for his podcast, “Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast!”

The film doesn’t shy away from the hard hitting controversies Gottfried has found himself in. Of course there are the throwaway flaws the usual bio-docs have that gain a laugh, like his cheapness and knack for collecting hotel shampoo samples, or his wife Dara’s uneasiness with Gottfried’s daughter-sex joke. But remarkably, this film features the news stories we want to hear from Gottfried. It addresses head-on the Japanese tsunami debacle of 2011 where he was dropped as the voice of the Aflac duck after tweeting several poorly-timed jokes. Not only does the film portray his firing as spokesman, it shows the backlash he endured and help he received about reentering the public sphere.

A poorly timed joke is nothing new for the Brooklyn-born comedian. During the 2001 Friars’ Club roast of Hugh Hefner, Gottfried–  of course– made a falling towers joke. As the boos in the clip and the talking heads in the doc would tell, that was Gottfried’s lowest moment of the night. And as Jeff Ross would explain it, Gottfried dug himself even deeper to help the audience forget his blunder. And then came the publication of The Aristocrats joke. A joke so inappropriate, it spawned a documentary of its own a few years later as a direct result of that roast, Gottfried immediately shook himself off and went on to become a regular at these roasts who knows when to test the waters and disregard lines.

Gilbert is a must watch for budding comedians just as it is for people who want to know more about a rather mysterious man. The film is set to premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival on April 20th.

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