Twitter has enabled hundreds of famous comics with a platform to test material or connect directly with fans. Comics are among the most popular Twitter accounts, and for good reason: they know how to throw out succinct and funny observations. It’s perfect for the 140-character medium. Occasionally, though, the impulse of a Twitter account might lead to comments one soon regrets. Veteran comic Gilbert Gottfried learned this in the harshest way, when he tweeted some jokes about the tsunami in Japan and was subsequently fired as the voice of the Aflac duck in those popular commercials. Gottfried is widely known, and beloved, as a “too soon” comedian but a corporate gig can change the ramifications. While promoting a new book, Gottfried spoke with Salon about the controversy:
Salon: Were you shocked when Aflac reacted the way it did.
Gottfried: I remember I was away in Philadelphia working; I came back and then the whole world blew up. When people say, “Are you sorry you did it?” I’m kind of mixed on the whole thing because it’s my character. You start to feel sorry and then you wonder what you’re feeling sorry for. That I made jokes?
Salon: Those particular jokes are exactly what you do.
Gottfried: The funny thing was, any comedian who heard it didn’t understand what the big deal was about, and usually started their emails to me with, “Hey, did you hear about the Japanese so-and-so,” and then they’d go into a joke. And my fans, in the very beginning when it first happened there were the psychos’ emails, the ones who I think live on the Internet and are shocked; I think they’re the people who send hate mail to Jennifer Aniston for calling Brad Pitt …
Salon: Right, right. They take it all very personally.
Gottfried: Yes! But then there was just an overflow — pardon the pun — of people going, “Hey, what’s the big deal? You made jokes.”
Salon: Did anyone you know say, “too soon”?
Gottfried: No. The other part that really got me was when they’d report how much these things hurt the Japanese people. And I’m thinking, so what this means is that when the tsunami was taking place, their top priority was [going to] Gilbert Gottfried’s Twitter account, translating the jokes, and being offended. I’m thinking, they really need to get their priorities straight.
And the crazy people in the press were saying, “Imagine if it was your loved ones,” and I’m thinking, so? If it were my loved ones I [wouldn’t be] going, “Let me get onto some Japanese comedian’s Twitter account, and see what he’s saying …”