Successful stand-up comedians are natural subjects for documentaries, because they carry an inherent tension. Many are loners addicted to attention (as well as other substances), and their larger-than-life personalities can be the stuff of great, revealing films.
Then there are outlier comedians like Gilbert Gottfriend, the subject of Neil Berkeley’s documentary Gilbert. Many might not remember Gottfried’s meteoric rise to comedy glory in the early ’90s, but they’ll surely recall his turn as the screeching voice of the parrot Iago in Disney’s Aladdin. As crazy and abrasive as he is onstage, offstage he’s just as sweet and shy.
That’s not an act—he literally has very little to say about himself when he’s not performing. Off the road, he spends time with his wife and kids (whom he says he doesn’t deserve) or visiting his aging sisters (with whom he remains close). He’s the comedian’s antithesis: a genuine, self-effacing man without a visible drug or alcohol problem to speak of. And this makes Gilbert, the documentary, a crashing bore.
I suppose it’s another symptom of this terrible world that a documentary about a nice, talented guy can’t be enjoyable—but in this case, it’s not. In fact, it takes 70 minutes of this 95-minute-long film to touch on anything of interest—for example, the universal condemnation Gottfried received when he tweeted corny jokes following 2011’s Japanese tsunami tragedy. Also entertaining is a bit where Gottfried—who was raised Jewish—performs for a military uniform convention and exchanges jokes with a dude dressed in an SS uniform. That was hilarious! More of that, please!
But by Gilbert’s end, you’ve spent over an hour of your valuable time trailing a sweet old guy pulling a suitcase through hotel lobbies. I’d love to hang out with Gilbert Gottfried, but not in this format.