Gilbert Gottfried and a private conversation
The importance of obscenity and disgust in the
wake of tragedy is really important to me.
I did a whole movie about it, a 90-minute essay
about Gilbert telling the aristocrats joke after 9/11.
But I’m not leading with a story about a publicly funny thing.
Gilbert and I are both mama’s boys. We were both
extremely close to our mothers. When my mom died, it was
devastating. Then about a year and a half later, Gilbert's
mom died. As stricken as I was about the death of my mom,
Gilbert was more stricken about the death of his.
I talked to Gilbert on the phone and went to New
York City to see him. And what happened that
evening—I've never spoken about this publicly—
I can’t explain.
Gilbert and I met for supper at Café Un Deux Trois,
a French restaurant. We went to a back table. This was
within a week of his mom's death, one-on-one with a friend who'd
also lost his mom. You'd expect Gilbert to maybe tell
stories about his mom, maybe get a bit philosophical.
But what we did was sit across from each other and
just vomit up the most offensive jokes we could think of.
Now, when you talk about Gilbert Gottfried, it's hard
to even imagine the level he would go to. We went to
every taboo in society. It's not an exaggeration to
say that if that conversation had been recorded and
disseminated with our names on it, it would be the
end of both our careers.
I'm talking about sexist, racist, any sort of distasteful,
horrible feeling. We sat back there for probably three hours.
And the jokes weren't punctuation; it wasn't that we would say,
"Oh, and by the way.…" It was talking about raping his dead mother.
It was anything you could imagine that was taboo.
It was just this gigantic, raging fuck-you to life.
It was black vomit of hate spewing out of us, punctuated with insane,
mirthless laughter. It was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life.
Although I was in the middle of it, neither Gilbert nor I instigated it.
Neither Gilbert nor I were part of it. Neither of us knew
what was going on. Yet we were the only ones there.
It was the most visceral, personal interaction with comedy I've ever had.
It wasn't comedy used in the way I'd seen it used before. It wasn't
"We went to the wake and we were telling jokes to stop from crying." That wasn't
it at all. It was not a celebration of our mothers' lives.
It was pure hatred for everything unpleasant in the world.
I've thought about that evening many times since.
It was our way of throwing a tantrum, destroying a hotel room.
It was our way of grabbing a gun and running amok in public.
It strikes me as a wonderfully safe, kind, cathartic way to do it.
And it remains that way—as long as I never repeat the jokes.
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