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'Gilbert': In wake of comedy legend's passing, stream acclaimed Gottfried documentary on Peacock
In the wake of Gilbert Gottfried's passing, the documentary about his life offers insight into his brilliance.
Gilbert Gottfried, the actor and comedian best known as the voice of Iago in Aladdin and for his roles in films like Problem Child, died this week at the age of 67 after a long illness. His passing, which comes in the wake of the loss of his friends and fellow comedians Bob Saget and Louie Anderson, has rocked the worlds of comedy and pop culture, as fans contend with losing his legendary voice and take stock of his life and work.
If you're not a comedy nerd, you might only know Gottfried from his work in Aladdin or Problem Child, his stint at the voice of the duck in those Aflac commercials, or maybe for his legendary (and legendarily filthy) performance at the Comedy Central Roast of Hugh Hefner 20 years ago. As a comedian he was known for his voice -- loud, unapologetic, and intentionally grating -- and for his ability to make audiences love him for telling the most off-color, filthy jokes you were likely to hear on the stage that night. As an actor he often used those same elements, minus the bluest of his material, to create characters who were, in their own way, unforgettable.
But behind that voice, and the persona that came with it, Gottfried was a beloved figure in his chosen circles. If the past day's worth of mourning has proven anything, it's that his comedy peers adored him, not just for his talent and his fearlessness onstage, but for his spirit. If you don't know his work in great detail, or even if you do, you might be wondering. The 2017 documentary Gilbert, now streaming on Peacock, is the answer.
Directed by Neil Berkeley, the film provides a tender, often surprising glimpse into who Gottfried really was, juxtaposing his brash and relentless stage persona with his private world as a husband and father of two. The simple fact that Gottfried was married and had a family might not, in and of itself, be a surprising fact, but it's clear very early in the film that Gottfried never expected that life for himself. His marriage and fatherhood came late in life, long after he'd given up on the idea, and even as his kids grow up and his wife, Dara, is ever-present in his life, he still marvels at it.
"Quite often I look at my life as a Twilight Zone episode, like those episode where this guy wakes up, and he's in this totally different world, totally different life," Gottfried says in the film. "I wake up, and I go 'What are these other clothes hanging here, and what's this weird apartment where the furniture matches?' And they go, 'Why, you're married, sir.' 'What, me and some woman live here?' 'Yes, you, a woman, and two children that are your children, sir.' I don't think I could have imagined it, and I wish I could enjoy things fully, but I feel like I still haven't woken up and said 'Oh, this is my life.'"
Gottfried's own surprise at his family life, and how it stands in contrast to and in conjunction with his comedic persona, makes up the spine of Berkeley's film, as the documentary explores everything from Gottfried's relationship with his parents and sisters to the controversies sparked by his jokes in an effort not to explain the man, but to at least come to an understanding about him. Within minutes of the film's start, we hear Gottfried's real voice, a quieter and much softer version of the one he cultivated onstage, and meet his wife and children. From there, through interviews with his comedy peers and his family, we get a better sense of how all this can be contained in one man, and how Gottfried manages to walk in both worlds.
Even within pop culture, Gottfried seemed to exist in two spaces. There was the family entertainer who made kids laugh as a parrot sidekick in a Disney film, and then there was the comedy club staple who let the R-rated jokes fly with such fervor that you couldn't help but get swept up in his filthy glee. Outside of his comedy life, he also walked in multiple worlds, from his family to his relationship with his fans to his sincere friendship with many fellow comics. But as Gilbert makes it clear, no part of this was inauthentic to who Gottfried really was. Through Berkeley's film, we come to understand a sincere openness and courage in the man, whether it drives him to tell the dirtiest joke imaginable onstage or to be present for his kids even when touring takes him away from them physically. It was all part of the same person, and that's how Gottfried deserves to be remembered: As the guy who could contain all of that and more.