Gilbert Gottfried has loved Old Hollywood since he was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, but when the comedian launched a podcast featuring interviews with half-forgotten actors like F Troop's Larry Storch and Gianni Russo (who played Carlo Rizzi in The Godfather), he had some concerns. "First off, I don't understand podcasts," he says. "And I was worried that people who know who these actors are won't understand the Internet."
But Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast has become one of the most popular new podcasts of the year on the iTunes chart – thanks largely to Gottfried's warm, deferential interviewing style and the fact that people like Butch Patrick, Joe Franklin and Robert Osborne have incredible stories to tell. We spoke to Gottfried about the podcast, why he decided to embrace reality shows and which dead comedy icon he'd like to see return from the dead and drop his pants on his podcast.
Did you ever imagine that a podcast like this would attract a big audience?
I wasn't expecting it to attract anybody. At lot of the people we talk to were never really known in the first place, let alone these days. But what's been fun is seeing all the messages we've gotten. People email and say, "I have no idea who the hell you were talking to, but they were so much fun."
You're just 59, but you really have the tastes of a 95 year old man.
[Huge laugh] That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me.
How did that happen? Why are you so interested in people like Boris Karloff?
Well, it's funny. Growing up I always said the best film school in the country was your own living room. There weren't that many stations back then, but they were loaded with these old movies along with current shows and variety shows. But I remember the old movies. One station would show things by Karloff and [Bela] Lugosi, and others would have gangster ones with [Humphrey] Bogart, [James] Cagney and Edward G. Robinson. There were also musicals, so you would learn stuff whether you were trying to or not. I became a big fan.
One of the things I love about your podcast is that it's completely unrehearsed. The TV talk shows all do pre-interviews and the result is this boring, fake conversation that's mainly about promoting some shitty new movie.
Yeah. The guest always says, "The cast and crew on the movie was like a real family and it was such a learning experience!"
Right. Then the host says something like, "So, I heard you just took a trip to Alaska and something crazy happened…”"
It's always Jay Leno going, [perfect Jay Leno voice] "So, I read somewhere…someone said something that you were trapped in an elevator with a monkey?"
And your show books people no TV talk show would ever think of booking — but these people have great stories, little to lose and they're happy to talk.
Yeah. The whole thing is a new experience. I'm used to being the guest on shows. I like that because I can be in the position of thinking, "This interviewer's such an idiot." And now I'm the idiot.
Did Howard Stern inspire you as an interviewer?
I hope some of his interviewing style rubbed off on me over the years. He's certainly a master interviewer. Now that I do it myself, I admire what he does even more.
We spoke to Larry Storch recently. I went to his apartment. He's in his early 90s, but totally sharp and still totally funny. He showed me the part of his room where he stands on his head every day. He said to his doctor, "Do you think this is doing me any good?" The doctor said, "Well, you're in your 90s, so whatever you're doing, just keep doing it."
I'm used to being the guest: "This Interviewer's such an idiot." Now I'm the idiot.
F Troop was such a crazy show. Imagine a network doing anything like that these days.
I often think about that. If I had been around back then, I could have been one of the Indian chiefs. Now, they'd never allow that.
I spoke to you about two years ago and you said you'd never appear on a reality show because they just lead to more reality shows.
[Big laugh] Yes?
Well, it's funny. Growing up, I remember watching Hollywood Squares. I always enjoyed it, but I thought, "Oh God, that's gotta be the bottom of your career. I'll never do that." Then they called me, I did it and I really enjoyed it. Now, reality shows are a different thing. They were calling me for the longest time and I always turned them down. After a while, I felt like one of those old time Shakespearean theater actors going, "Oh no, I’ll never cheapen myself by appearing in one of this movies."
You eventually realize, "Well, you can't hear music on your old Victrola anymore." I’ve done Celebrity Wife Swap and another show where me and Traci Lords and a couple of other people I didn't know were in an abandoned insane asylum in the middle of nowhere. We were searching for the ghost of a serial killer and were given ghost hunting packs. A thermometer was part of it, because if you know anything about poltergeists, you'll know that if one part of the room is a degree or two lower or higher than the rest, it's a sure sign one is around. Because usually in an abandoned insane asylum the temperature control is perfect.
I know you just taped the next season of Celebrity Apprentice. How did that go? That…umm…I still don't know if I'm allowed to talk about it. It's one of those surprises that everybody already knows about. It's like one of those actors that everyone knows is gay, just nobody talks about it.
Back to your podcast, who are your dream guests for the future?
Oh God, there's another problem with this kind of podcast. So many times during the day I'll be listening to the news or reading something on the Internet and I'll go, "Okay, cross that name off our wish list." You have to interview the ones still around. Take Joe Franklin. He claims he did one TV episode where he interviewed both James Dean and Al Pacino.
And I was thinking about the age difference.
Al Pacino must have been a teenager when James Dean died.
Yeah. I guess Al Pacino made The Godfather when he was five.
I loved the Butch Patrick interview.
He was open about how he was on drugs and all the drinking. These guys get to a point where they are open about things. They laugh and have a good time. They don't care as much. What's funny is that I've interviewed guys like Marty Allen from Allen and Rossi. They followed the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Marty and a bunch of those other comics used to work clean, but when you meet them in person they tell these filthy jokes. What I've realized that even at their age, if you mention it to them on the air they go like, "Oh, I'm not familiar with that joke." They’re still worried about hurting their image.
Have you thought about booking Jerry Lewis?
That would be a dream one.
I hear he's pretty nuts these days.
As opposed to when he was straight and narrow? You know, I tried to get Larry Storch to talk about Forrest Tucker's penis. I heard he had a huge one, but he wouldn't take the bait. But Jeff Ross had seen Milton Berle's penis and was willing to talk. He had a legendarily gigantic cock. Talk about a dream guest. If he could come back and show me his dick.
It would make podcast history.
It would be like van Gogh saying, "Here's a new painting."