Back in my early teens I was alone a lot on Saturday nights, which isn’t as pathetic as it sounds. My friends and I would spend the day together but then there was a point when we all had to go home but, being teenagers, that didn’t necessarily mean going to sleep. Sometimes I’d sit up most of the night and, with cable TV still a pretty new thing, going through various channels looking for something. The USA Network at the time was an oddball channel that filled late night time with The Ray Bradbury Theater, the sort of counter-culture variety/anthology series Night Flight, and various low budget and cult films like Eating Raoul.
And then they started packaging the low budget and cult films as USA’s Up All Night and added weird, quirky host who immediately caught my attention. He squinted and had a raspy voice and the classic “this movie is terrible, folks, but let’s make the best of it” attitude that most late night TV hosts have.
That host, of course, was Gilbert Gottfried, and he really did make the best of some terrible movies. Yes, Sorority Babes At The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama is a real movie, and, no, I wouldn’t recommend watching it. In fact there were nights when I was either out or went to bed at a somewhat reasonable hour and would tape Up All Night, then fast-forward through whatever the movies were and only watch Gottfried’s bits, which usually had nothing to do with whatever the films were.
One night his segments were filmed in, I think, New York’s Dino Roar Valley. Was it a dinosaur movie? I have no idea. I’m not sure it mattered. I only remember a segment in which, after being billed as a “Dr. Gilbert Gottfried, Dinosaur Proctologist”, he held up a giant pill and said, “Boy, do I hate these dinosaur suppositories!”
Another time he hosted the show from a tattoo parlor and imagined himself getting inked and turning into a motorcycle-riding rebel. Then he got one of the tattoo artists to paint a design on his arm while he sat going, “Ow! Ow!”
He was in his thirties when he started hosting Up All Night—and already had a good career at that time, including a short stint as an SNL cast member, which I somehow missed, and he’d go on to, well, better things. But it’s Up All Night that I’ll always remember best. On those Saturday nights I was never really alone. Gilbert Gottfried was goofy and weird and funny, and though I was never lucky enough to know him or even meet him he was my friend.
Hail and farewell, Gilbert Gottfried.
Intros are very SNL-like. Way before your time there was a program like that (Shock Theater) hosted by John Zacherle (Zacherley as he was known by). Dressed as a cadaver he would pop into the middle of a movie with some related movie prop and completely distract you from the awful movie you were watching. He was wonderful. RIP to both of them. Below, his innovations –
As the host, Zacherle appeared wearing a long black undertaker’s coat as the character “Roland” (pronounced “Ro-land”) who lived in a crypt with his wife “My Dear” (unseen, lying in her coffin) and his lab assistant, Igor. The hosting of the black-and-white show involved interrupting the film to do numerous stylized horror-comedy gags parodying the film; an influential change which pioneered a now-standard television genre. In the opening sequence, Zacherle as Roland would descend a long round staircase to the crypt. The producers erred on the side of goriness, showing fake severed heads with blood simulated with Hershey’s chocolate syrup. During the comedy “cut-ins” during the movie, the soundtrack continued to play on the air, while the visual feed switched briefly to a shot of Zacherle as Roland in the middle of a related humorous stunt, such as riding a tombstone, or singing “My Funny Valentine” to his wife in her coffin. The show ran for 92 broadcasts through 1958.
Oh my goodness, if you haven’t seen it you should look up a documentary called American Scary about the Horror Host phenomenon–not just Zacherle but Ghoulardi, Vampira, and so many others, including my old hero Commander USA, and, in outtakes, Nashville’s hometown favorite Sir Cecil Creape. Zacherle, from what I’ve seen, really was brilliant–the horror host all others aspire to be.
If I could I’d lend you my copy. Yes, I have it on DVD.
Yes, Chris, RIP Gilbert Gottfried. You were lucky to have him keep you company over the air those days. Decades ago when part of my big daily job was talking to personalities over the phone to write stories before they appeared for gigs in Syracuse, a had a few minutes with Gottfried. I remember hanging up somewhat frustrated, thinking that he hadn’t once broken character to really let me in. Then I thought some time after … wait … maybe that wasn’t a character, what do I know?
You’re very lucky you got to talk to him and I find it funny that a lot of people who knew Gottfried personally say he was a very different person offscreen, but at the same time I get the impression it was hard to sort out his public persona from his private one. I think there must have been more than a bit of overlap there.
I really appreciate this post, Chris. I loved Gilbert Gottfried and have wonderful memories of watching his comedy specials with my son. Back in the day when text messages were new, I chose his incomparable voice as an alert when I got one, which was him saying something like “Wow, you must be important! You have another TEXT MESSAGE.” When I was in NYC in March 2020 the week before the lockdown (when I was getting COVID at a group therapy conference), there were posters advertising his upcoming Comedy Show, and I was always glad to see his familiar face. I was very sad to hear that he had died so young and immediately watched his appearance on “Celebrity Wife Swap” so I could see him with his wife and kids (and also enjoy his comments about them, Alan Thicke, and his wife). Hail and farewell, indeed!
He was a wonderfully funny guy and you’re very lucky to have had his voice as an alert for your text messages. I can do sort of an impersonation of Gottfried–actually my neighbor once said something about him and I launched into a full performance of some of his jokes (although not “The Aristocrats”) which my neighbor said was frighteningly impressive.
I want to hear this impersonation! If I had known, I would have requested it last May.
For obvious reasons I don’t usually do it in enclosed spaces but I honed it back when I was a teenager and would play D&D and other roleplaying games with my friends. For one game my character was a music promoter and I decided to play him as Gottfried. I would be in character for hours at a time.