Skip to main content

If you don't want to hear an edgy joke, don't listen

By Gilbert Gottfried, Special to CNN
updated 10:21 AM EDT, Mon July 16, 2012
Gilbert Gottfried says if you don't think Daniel Tosh's jokes are funny, don't listen and don't go to his shows.
Gilbert Gottfried says if you don't think Daniel Tosh's jokes are funny, don't listen and don't go to his shows.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gilbert Gottfried: During a stand-up comedy show, Daniel Tosh made jokes about rape
  • Gottfried: A woman objected. Comics make jokes; people can decide to laugh, not laugh, leave
  • He says people criticized his jokes after 9-11; Aflac fired him for making Japan tsunami jokes
  • Gottfried: Media, Internet like to blow things up; comedians' job to find line, step over

Editor's note: Gilbert Gottfried is a comedian and actor. Follow him on Twitter @realgilbert.

(CNN) -- Daniel Tosh, host of the Comedy Central show "Tosh.O," recently came under attack on the Internet. People on the Internet with way too much time on their hands love attacking someone all at once.

The attack on Tosh came after an account of one of his stand-up shows at an L.A. club was posted to a website. According to the account, relayed by a female audience member to the person who kept the website, Tosh started making some rape jokes during his show.

The woman was shocked that the shocking Daniel Tosh would say such shocking things.

She called out from the audience in the middle of his set, "Actually, rape jokes are never funny." To which Tosh allegedly replied, "Wouldn't it be funny if that girl got raped by like five guys right now. Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her?"

I'm not going to talk here about the joke. I'm not here to give an opinion about whether what he said was funny or not funny; that's strictly a matter of taste, as is any joke. My subject here is whether it's OK for him to say it.

Opinion: Nothing funny about rape jokes

If you have never in your life seen a comedian perform, here are the instructions:

Gilbert Gottfried
Gilbert Gottfried

If a comedian tells a joke that you find funny, you laugh. If he tells a joke you do not find funny, don't laugh. Or you could possibly go as far as groaning or rolling your eyes. Then you wait for his next joke; if that's funny, then you laugh. If it's not, you don't laugh -- or at very worst, you can leave quietly.

This is the way going to see a comedian has worked for centuries. Some comedians tell nice jokes that you can tell to your kids. Some use bad words -- they work "blue." If you don't want to hear a joke that's blue, you shouldn't go to a comedy club where a comedian who makes blue jokes is performing.

Back to Tosh: There was talk that he might lose his TV show. I, for one, say this will not happen. Big corporations that hire you decide what will shock and offend them. Their hearts and brains are located in their piggy banks. If they already wanted Daniel Tosh to be gone, they could use this as an excuse. I know of what I speak.

Let's jump back a few years, shall we?

A few days after September 11, 2001, I was doing a Friars' Roast of Hugh Hefner in New York City. Outside, smoke was still in the air. People seemed very reserved and were not totally laughing at any of the comics that night. I wanted to be the first one to slap them out of it. I said, "I have to leave early tonight. I'm flying to L.A. I couldn't get a direct flight. We have to make a stop at the Empire State Building."

No one in the history of comedy ever lost an audience more completely. You could hear chairs move back and murmuring throughout the crowd. Gasping, groaning.

One guy yelled, "too soon," which I thought meant I didn't take a long enough pause between the set-up and punch line. I figured there was no lower I could go, so I went into doing The Aristocrats jokes. These are very blue. The crowd soon exploded with laughs and cheers. So: Terrorism is shocking and in bad taste, but a joke about incest and bestiality is totally fine.

Jump ahead a few years. Over that period in between, I've done several very poor-taste jokes. Then the tsunami in Japan happened, and it's all over the news, with newscasters pretending it hits them personally. Newscasters really should get acting awards.

Anyway, I figured I'd treat a natural disaster the same way I treated terrorism ... with comedy. So, I proceeded to tweet jokes about the tsunami. Most of them were actually quite silly. If there were anything to be outraged about, it would have been about how dumb the jokes actually were.

I have always felt comedy and tragedy are roommates. If you look up comedy and tragedy, you will find a very old picture of two masks. One mask is tragedy. It looks like it's crying. The other mask is comedy. It looks like it's laughing. Nowadays, we would say, "How tasteless and insensitive. A comedy mask is laughing at a tragedy mask."

I'm returning from a job out of town. My agent says, "You're not going to print anymore tsunami jokes, are you?" I look on the Internet and on every news site, it says, "Aflac fires Gilbert Gottfried."

Of course, as is procedure, when you make a joke nowadays, you must immediately make a public apology. So, much as Tosh did with his rape jokes, I did with my tsunami jokes.

People on the Internet were screaming for my death. The news media jumped in, but of course their job is to make a mouse fart sound like it's a nuclear explosion. They reported on it and repeated my jokes, which seems odd: If what I said is so shocking and inexcusable, why are they repeating it? Well, it's to get asses in the seats.

They referred to my jokes as "comments" and "remarks," not "jokes" because if they did, any rational person would have said, "So, a comic made jokes. What's the story here?"

I've been telling jokes like this for a very long time, so the reaction surprised me.

It's like eating Corn Flakes every day for years, and then one day you eat Corn Flakes and all hell breaks loose. Aflac thought I was such an evil person and what I did so heinous that there was only one way to deal with this: Hire a new guy to imitate Gilbert Gottfried, pay him less, save a trainload of cash on commercials, thus bringing closure to this horrible tragedy.

My favorite tweet that a fan sent me was, "Aflac fires Gilbert Gottfried after discovering he's a comedian." I got this tweet after the nut jobs on the Internet were through and common sense prevailed.

I had an overwhelming response from people saying the same thing, "**** 'em if they can't take a joke."

George Carlin once said, "It's the duty of a comedian to find out where the line is drawn and then step over it."

I don't want to compare myself to George Carlin because when I first heard his quote, I laughed and said, "He said dooty." I guess he was more intellectual than me.

In conclusion, I wish to inform every comedian, the new motto is: "Guns don't kill people. Jokes kill people."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gilbert Gottfried.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:34 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT