In retrospect, Gilbert Gottfried’s 9/11 joke was maybe ‘too soon’

Las Vegas Magazine

Gilbert Gottfried.

In comedy, timing is …


Current Las Vegas Hilton headliner Gilbert Gottfried remembers a moment of remarkably errant timing nearly a decade ago, when he was among the comics recruited by the Friars Club to roast Hugh Hefner in New York City.

Audio Clip

  • Vince Neil and Alicia Jacobs and comic Gilbert Gottfried
  • Your Browser and plugins either do not support HTML5 or Flash, or you have JavaScript disabled.

In a performance that has become revered among comics, Gottfried surveyed the audience, measured the merits of terrorism jokes against the anguish being suffered across the country and …

“I came out and said, ‘I have to leave early tonight, I have to fly out to L.A. I couldn’t get a direct flight, I have to make a stop at the Empire State Building,” Gottfried, appearing in “Icons of Comedy” at Shimmer Cabaret through Sunday, said on last Friday’s episode of Kats With the Dish (the new radio show I co-host with Tricia McCrone that airs at 6 p.m. Fridays on KUNV 91.5-FM). “And people were booing, and gasping, and one guy yelled out, ‘Too soon!’

“I thought he meant I took too long between the setup and the punch line.”

Gottfried then braced and turned to an old comedic standby: The Aristocrats. This is the title of a joke favored by almost every professional stand-up, which begins with a man pitching an act to a talent agent. The setup is left to the imagination of the comedian, who ad-libs all descriptions of group sex, bestiality, incest and other taboo subjects. It ends, always, with the talent agent saying, “That’s a hell of an act? What do you call it?” The comic’s nonsensical answer, “The Aristocrats!”

With nothing to lose, Gottfried told that joke.

“When I figured I had completely lost them, there was nowhere to go but further down, I started telling ‘The Aristocrats,’ and that just exploded. The whole place was cheering.”

The moment saved Gottfried that night and provided him one of the great comic anecdotes ever. The performance was captured in the 2005 Penn Jillette-Paul Provenza documentary film “The Aristocrats.”

“Penn is the one who told me to take part in the film, and it was for free,” Gottfried said, “so that makes it Penn Jillette’s greatest magic trick.”

More from the man who voices the AFLAC duck and the “Aladdin” parrot and started his career on the ill-fated 1980-’81 cast of “Saturday Night Live”:

• On his new book, “Rubber Balls and Liquor,” which he offers autographed on his Web site (and which was selling for $13.21 Wednesday afternoon on “Actually, it was autographed by Bronson Pinchot. … I was really busy, so I had him do it. That’s why it’s so cheap.”

• On his gig at the Las Vegas Hilton: “For years, they had this comedy-only clause at their club, but now they’ve become much more lax about it. Now they advertise me, ‘Gilbert Gottfried: Perhaps a Laugh by Accident.’ ”

• On how some comics are derided, and others praised, because of a flock mentality: “There are certain people you can attack. People attack Gallagher, they attack Dane Cook, they attack Carrot Top. It boils down to, you need these names that it’s OK to attack and you’re not really taking a risk. It’s like, if people ask you, ‘Who is your favorite comic?’ Whether or not you’ve ever heard Richard Pryor, you say “Richard Pryor” because it is safe. You have to say, ‘Richard Pryor is my favorite, and Dane Cook, I hate!’ Then, you are safe!”

• On how his adult humor plays to his children: “My kids are not mine, I picked them up somewhere in my van! … They’re black, oddly enough. … But I’ve got two kids and a nephew, and when one of them comes out with a dirty word, it’s like I can’t say to them, ‘Don’t do that,’ because I’m making a pretty nice living off it.”

• On his role as the voice of the duck in the AFLAC commercials: “I actually had to audition for that, and it was down to me and Liam Neeson. I was going to go to ‘Schindler’s List,’ and he was going to be doing the AFLAC commercials, but it changed at the last minute.”

• On his experience as a cast member during the 1980-’81 season of “Saturday Night Live,” which was the first cast to replace the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players”: “With us, it was not that we were not ready for prime time, it was that we were not ready for comedy. … There are only two people who most people will remember from that cast, and they were Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy. I was on later in the show, if at all. After a while, this is how much I didn’t get along with the writers and they hated me: In one episode, I was cast as a corpse in a funeral scene.

“I was just like laying in a coffin, just in case the camera passed by. Rather than spend $2 on a manneqin, they had me lay there.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Also, follow Kats With the Dish at

Kats Report