In Rubber Balls and Liquor, Gilbert Gottfried reminds us that he’s willing to joke about anything as if we’ve forgotten. Released on the heels of his Aflac scandal, the book (his first) is part memoir, part story-telling, part observational humor. If you’re willing to give Gottfried’s book a chance — too soon? — you might discover there’s more to the comedian than controversy. Or you might just enjoy his chapter on masturbation. Vulture spoke with the Gottfried about his infamous tsunami tweets, being the first comic to make a joke about September 11th (to which he also dedicates a chapter in the book), and being notoriously cheap.
Your book is very funny. Where did you get the title?
That’s an old children’s dirty joke.
A children’s dirty joke?
Yes, it’s one of those things where everything I say, you say back, “Rubber balls and liquor.” “I had breakfast today,” you know, “rubber balls and liquor.” “What are you going to do with your girlfriend later?” “Rubber balls and liquor.” Which really makes no sense.
Before we get into your book, what’s going on with the Aflac situation?
I can’t really talk about Aflac specifically. I can talk about the whole Japanese joke controversy. What I loved about the media is how they didn’t call anything jokes. They referred to them as comments and remarks, because if you tell people that someone made a joke, it’s like, Who cares? Jokes like this have been around since the beginning of time. Millions of years from now if a tragedy takes place, there’s gonna be jokes about it. I just tweeted jokes and they picked out what they thought were the harshest ones, because most of them were really dopey. One of the jokes was, “What do Japanese Jews eat?” “A Hebrew National Tsunami.”
That’s a silly joke.
So if they’re going to get offended by anything, it should be how fucking stupid it is. I starred in The Aristocrats, did the first September 11th joke. I’m on the “Stern” show. It’s like, He made a bad-taste joke? How is this possible? The other thing that got me about the Japan thing was when people were saying, “This causes pain to the people in Japan who have lost loved ones.” And I’m thinking, What that means is while the tsunami was taking place, the Japanese were running to their laptops and logging onto Twitter. That’s what it would have to be, because I was doing the jokes while the tsunami was taking place. When it first started, the e-mails and tweets I received were really hateful and crazy. The first people who were the most offended, the most outraged, were TMZ and Paris Hilton. “How could he say stuff like this?!” And then others were those nutty people, who are genuinely angry at Jennifer Aniston for flirting with Brad in front of Angelina.
Like you said, you did the first September 11th joke. In the book, you explained how you felt about that.
I’ll just say stuff I like, like a bad kid. And then afterwards you realize, Uh oh, now what’s happening? But I think one of the reasons I go out of the way to say stuff is that whenever there’s any of these tragedies, there are these people who feel like they’re self-important because they claim that they feel the pain of the actual people. And they’ll wear a ribbon on their lapel or a little flag pin, and they walk around and it’s like the person who makes jokes, that’s a bad, unfeeling person. But I’m good.
You never mention your kids in the book, which I thought saved them a lot of pain.
How do you like being a father?
Yeah, it’s one of those things where, you know, they’re cute when you see them, and then after a while you go, “All right, I want to sit by myself and watch TV.”
According to your book, you spent an inordinate amount of time by yourself on the couch in the living room, watching TV and masturbating. How did you manage to masturbate in the living room?
It takes practice. I think the most amount of thought I’ve ever put into anything in my life is about masturbating. If I put that much thought and work in other parts of my life, I’d be curing diseases, inventing the Internet.
In case of your death, have you left any instructions for your wife or kids?
Yeah, put me in a giant garbage bag and leave it in front of the building.
Being so notoriously cheap, have you ever left a tip?
No, I’m usually so disappointed at the service.
What else are you promoting besides your book?
Right now on Funny or Die there’s a video I did called “Too Soon,” and it’s me throughout history making “too soon” jokes. It’s like when the crucifixion was taking place, there were people there making jokes about what was going on. And I always say, in fairness to those people — at the time he wasn’t really Christ. Not until he came back.
That brings us to where we started, and your too-soon tsunami jokes.
A friend of mine’s 6-year-old nephew kept seeing all the reports, and he said, “Why is everyone so angry at Gilbert?” And my friend said to him, “Gilbert made some jokes.” And the kid goes, “Well, he’s a comedian.” This is a 6-year-old talking. A 6-year-old understands it.
Now if you could make it all better just by taking a Japanese person out to lunch and paying for it, would you do it?
No, it wouldn’t be worth it.
You are proud to be the cheapest person on the planet.
If I could cause world peace by taking someone out to lunch, I’d go, “Well, war isn’t that terrible.”