I know about as much about Gilbert Gottfried as most pop-savvy people do: I’m familiar with his Twitter controversies, his voice-acting career, his propensity for telling offensive jokes “too soon,” and his inspired riffs on various Comedy Central celebrity roasts. As far his standup act, I’d never seen it, and extended YouTube clips are scarce. I know and like Gottfried in small doses, but how does he fare, scratchy voice and all, for some 90 minutes?
I decided to find out last night at the Palm Beach Improv, where he’ll be performing again tonight. The room has packed, and he brought along an opener who arguably received as many yuks as he did: Sean O’Conner, a young, shambolic comic with a faded Batman shirt and a propensity for obscene storytelling that was or was not actually rooted in his own life – and that more often than not dealt with uncomfortable sexual situations. The material, delivered with awkward beats and deadpan timing, was so funny that it didn’t matter if it was true.
Gottfried followed in what turned out to be a self-reflexive, devil-may-care affront to the conventions of standup comedy. He eschewed transitions, fumbled theatrically with his microphone stand, wrangled his arms around his skull in a literal example of self-effacement. It was a brazenly shapeless evening of comedy, which started with references to his controversial tweets about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami – in which the 5’5” Gottfried mocked the height of the Japanese people by talking way, way down to them. Then he took on the audience, comparing us (complementarily) to an ice pick gouged in the ear, battery acid thrown in the face and a rusty crowbar jabbed in the eye. In Gottfried’s rehearsed free-association, this latter imagery inspired a riff in which various celebrity midgets began to jump atop the crowbar like leprechauns on a trampoline. This, in turn, yielded to an array of hilariously offensive jokes about his hatred for midgets.
Not all of Gottfried’s rambling bits killed this well, but it didn’t stop him from continuing them until their merciless end. We sat through numerous esoteric diversions that seemed to go on forever, including an impression of David Brenner reading from “Hamlet,” which seemed to fly over most audiences’ heads. Then – surprise – we were treated to some prop comedy involving a stack of napkins and a pair of wooden bowls, which lead to Gottfried’s reading from an imaginary Talmud and then eventually the comedian’s bread and butter: recitations of filthy jokes that were met with the comedian’s most uproarious response of the night.
I’m not sure if what I witnessed last night was standup comedy or kabuki theater, but the schizophrenic style of this longtime “comedian’s comedian” certainly kept us all on our toes, awaiting whatever bizarre direction to which the show would turn next. Gilbert Gottfried in 90 minutes is essentially just Gilbert Gottfried in many consecutive and unrelated small doses, which sounded pretty good to me.
Gottfried’s engagement concludes at 7 p.m. tonight, Sept. 1, at the Palm Beach Improv, 550 S. Rosemary Ave., Suite 250. Tickets cost $22, and there is a two-drink minimum. Call 561/833-1812 or visit palmbeachimprov.com.