Gilbert Directed by Neil Berkeley

Gilbert Directed by Neil Berkeley
Courtesy of Hot Docs
Throughout Gilbert, comedian Gilbert Gottfried appears rather uncomfortable to be letting people see the "real" version of himself. That's not necessarily because his life is filled with any revolting truths or cringe-inducing revelations. In fact, it's quite the opposite. The irritatingly voiced and unapologetically filthy comic seems reticent to reveal that he's actually a relatively well-adjusted married father of two, just trying to make an honest living in comedy. In pulling back the curtain, Gottfried showcases an endearingly sweet side that's often at odds with the awkward and annoying persona he's spent so many years cultivating.

The film introduces this not-so-startling revelation with archival footage from a place that's become known for eliciting confessions: the Howard Stern Show. Stern takes great pleasure in outing Gottfried as recently engaged, while Gottfried squirms uncomfortably as if he's just been accused of pedophilia. Flash forward ten years and we find Gottfried living a fulfilling existence with Dara that he compares to a Twilight Zone episode where he's stumbled into an alternate reality. Fellow comedians recall the horror show of a woman they were expecting to meet when Gottfried first announced he was dating someone, but Dara is as attractive, down-to-earth and supportive as they come.

Even though Gilbert is quick to deflect any and all personal questions with a joke rather than display so much as a hint of vulnerability, we get to know plenty about the comedian's diverse career, which has spanned Aladdin to The Aristocrats. There's plenty of commentary from showbiz pals like Jay Leno, Penn Jillette and Arsenio Hall. Jillette divulges that yes, Gottfried will sometimes even use his grating trademark voice in private conversations if he gets worked up enough, while comedian Dave Attell hypothesizes that Gottfried likely developed his unique voice to help talk over mutinous crowds when he was first starting out.

But we get to peel back even more layers of the onion when witnessing Gottfried with his family, including the two sisters he still visits pretty much every day. They detail how difficult their father was on Gilbert growing up, and we sense the pain he feels from his father never getting to see the success he's enjoyed. It's all the more heartwarming, then, to see Gilbert dote on his own son and daughter — who both insist he's not especially funny — as he includes special notes to both of them when preparing their lunches for school. The closest thing to a dark side of Gottfried the documentary uncovers is the containers of hygienic supplies from the road that he hoards under the bed and his tasteless tweets after the Japanese tsunami that would cost him his voiceover job at Aflac.

The documentary is directed by Neil Berkeley, who by this point should be considered some kind of expert at profiling unconventional artists, having previously made documentaries about painter/puppeteer Wayne White (Beauty Is Embarassing) and writer/podcaster Dan Harmon (Harmontown). Gottfried proves to be a bit of a tougher nut to crack though, reluctant as he is to open up too much to even those closest to him. There's still plenty of truth to be mined from his tireless work ethic and inner turmoil in accepting the love that has found him.