Actor, comedian and hoarder Gilbert Gottfried has a dazzlingly strange lifestyle. He admits it. The reflection of a man who had it all and was somewhat wiped out by some crude jokes a few years before the documentary was made still shows how he lives in comfortable conditions but not at the highs of his pre-Tweet controversy. Gilbert doesn’t do a good job of showing that as he wanders around his lavish New York apartment in a fancy robe and slippers, but it does show a contrast between the man he is today and the man he was at a time when he was the hot topic comic that could both star in Disney’s Aladdin but also knocks out sincerely revolting and brilliant jokes.
It is usually one or the other, but as the many comedians and guests, family and friends that are interviewed throughout Gilbert will tell, they have no idea how he does both. Neither does director Neil Berkeley, who seems somewhat stunned by the lifestyle he witnesses. Raking through the packets he has kept from hotel rooms, the files he refuses to throw out and the clothing he hasn’t worn in years but holds some vague sentimentality toward, it is all revealing but never horrifying. Gilbert gives an ideal look into the life of the comedian but never feels like it gets too close to comfort with its subject. Gottfried is open, there is no uncomfortable spot that Berkeley is forced to shy away from.
That much is reassuring because it opens Gilbert up to some interesting discoveries and some reaffirmations of his quality as a performer. What becomes so clear throughout Gilbert is that the man is hilarious. He is the Bill Murray of the stand-up comedy genre, appearing here or there with no reason to do so. Wandering around a military re-enactment stall, riffing on what he sees and hears. It is the sign of a fantastic comic, and that is what Gottfried is. Those everyday trip-ups and the not so secure style of life are provided intimately and without grossly persuading audiences to look deep into his personal life. He is a stalwart and genuine comic and someone with a real love for his work. He is lucky that he finds himself in an environment that reciprocates his personality, as is touched upon in the latter moments of the documentary when it seems Gottfried’s world collapses in on itself.
One for both comic fans and documentary purists, the work ethic from Berkeley reflects the hardened efforts of the man he documents. Life on the road, starting a family and keeping the comedic connections up even in times of real struggle, Gilbert is a fantastic and broad bit of documentary filmmaking. It hits all the right notes, but the lack of deviation from the norm shows a lack of innovation. Gottfried is up for it, so why does Berkeley not try something sincere or beyond the pale? It is the gift of complacency that he should make a documentary so solid yet screaming out for something new, something exciting. At least the man being profiled is exciting enough.