Gottfried, who died Tuesday at age 67, became synonymous with the phrase "too soon" after joking about 9/11 at The Friars Club Roast of Hugh Hefner in New York City shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. "Gottfried’s attitude toward the idea of 'too much' or 'too far' is likely the reason he never achieved the same level of mainstream success as his comedic peers, such as Jerry Seinfeld or Dennis Miller," says Travis M. Andrews. "But the very idea that he should pull punches, especially when something tragic had just occurred, offended him. The comic referred to 'tragedy and comedy' as 'roommates,' telling Vulture, 'Wherever tragedy’s around, comedy’s a few feet behind them sticking his tongue out and making obscene gestures.' He later wrote an essay for the site that he was surprised to hear the criticism from the Hefner roast: 'I don’t think anyone’s lost an audience bigger than I did at that point,' he said. 'They were booing and hissing.' Gottfried found the idea that it was 'too soon' ridiculous, if not offensive."
Gilbert Gottfried bridged the “roast” style of comedians such as Don Rickles and the wave of alternative comedy that began emerging in the 1980s and 1990s: "Gottfried’s work as a stand-up shaped many comics today, whether they would say as much or not," says Eric Farwell. "He was a figure who, along with Robin Williams, Jim David, and others, pushed stand-up to move beyond the realm of the merely observational and create space for the absurd. Gottfried’s comedy helped make way for the rise of Solomon Georgio, Eugene Mirman, Kumail Nanjiani, Ali Wong, Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, and Tig Notaro—comics unafraid of risk, who challenge the audience to get on board or keep up with the joke. He was important, and underneath his screech exists the voice of a comic who was hilarious, brave, and generous."
As a comedian, Gottfried lived a double life: "His unmistakable delivery (was) a fit for both raunchy Friars Club Roasts and children’s cartoons: the scheming parrot Iago in Disney’s Aladdin, and roles on shows like The Fairly OddParents and Ren and Stimpy," says Miles Klee. "While he had a brief stint on Saturday Night Live at what most consider the nadir of the show, he found a more suitable niche as a recurring guest of radio host Howard Stern, where he did bits 'impersonating' Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Andrew 'Dice' Clay — but many years later, Stern stopped booking him, and some believe it had to do with an incident in which Gottfried spat on cupcakes in the hallway of the SiriusXM studio that were meant for the staff. But it could have just as well been his tendency to cross every meager boundary of decorum that Stern set out for him, as in this appearance when he repeatedly used the N-word, applying it to President Barack Obama. Gottfried’s talent for offending was so immense that he pioneered the arc of celebrity 'cancelation' as we know it today. A series of tweets making light of the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan drew widespread outrage and cost him the job of voicing insurance company Aflac’s duck mascot. (His replacement, of course, had no choice but to emulate Gottfried’s signature squawk.) It prompted what was perhaps his sole public apology for such taboo material."
One can only wonder how Gottfried himself would have joked about his own death: "It would be something all-in on tastelessness, but spot-on hilarious," says Donald Liebenson . "Members of the Gilbert Gottfried Amazing Colossal Listener Society Facebook group had at it on Tuesday, riffing on Gottfried-esque comments that referenced the comedian’s own movie obsessions, such as Papillon Soo Soo, the Full Metal Jacket actress best known for her line, 'Me so horny, me love you long time,' a film referenced often on the podcast. One listener posted, 'Me so mourny. Me mourn you long time.'"
How Gottfried turned a terrible voice into comedy gold: "If some singers are said to possess the voice of an angel, then Gilbert Gottfried’s voice might be compared to that of a demon," says Andrew R. Chow. "Gottfried spoke in a hoarse yell that was shrill, abrasive, blustering, obscene; you could practically feel his spittle fill the air after each gasping breath, even if you were watching him on video. But it was exactly this incomparable delivery that made fans all over the world want to hear Gottfried say, well, just about anything. And over and over again he complied." As Chow notes, "Gottfried’s voice wasn’t a natural gift: it was a craft. Early videos of him from Saturday Night Live, where he was a cast member in 1980, reveal him speaking in a very different tone: smooth and mellifluous almost to the point of sliminess. This approach did not serve him well: he received poor reviews and was fired after 12 episodes...So he decided instead to lean into his 'pure stupidity,' as he would later describe himself, and build a persona based on irascible antagonism."
Gottfried turned his Howard Stern appearances into something of an art form: "Along with his strangely endearing stand-up act, the comedian found his mightiest platform through his years as a guest on The Howard Stern Show," says Jay Ruttenberg. "These are tapes that should be rocketed into space to alert the galaxy of the brassy attitudes that lurk in our neck of the woods — perhaps they will scare any hostile aliens away. With the simpatico host, Gottfried is Rodney Dangerfield on Carson or Andy Kaufman on Letterman; his every appearance offers a glimpse of a berserk, quick-to-boil New York of yore." Ruttenberg adds: "Some comedians unfurl yarns in the unhurried mode of a jam band, others display the taut rhythms of pop or hip-hop. Gilbert Gottfried, who came of age in a fraught New York City and died on Tuesday at 67, always felt like punk in the classic CBGB mold: nervy, artful, deceivingly intelligent, a tad unhinged, and blissfully — beautifully — obnoxious."