(Note: This item has been updated; it was originally posted at 6:45 p.m. ET)
Two words, especially, are not in Gilbert Gottfried’s stand-up vocabulary: “Too soon.”
The sandpaper-voiced comedian and voice actor (most prominently, Disney’s animated film “Aladdin”) has long had a reputation for steering toward the heat, where even some of his fellow edgier comics — say, Lisa Lampanelli or Dave Attell or Jim Norton — might be self-preserving enough not to tread. Be it after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks or a natural disaster, Gottfried — like some sort of Emergency Insult Technician — barrels toward the scene of the tragedy ... and begins firing off his mouth.
Fortunately for Gottfried, this rapid response worked in his favor shortly after 9/11, when his “he’s-really-going-there” jokes mere weeks after at a Friars Club roast won him a great measure of comic-industry huzzahs — and was even featured in Paul Provenza’s standup-comics-talking-shop feature film, “The Aristocrats.”
Unfortunately for Gottfried — whose credits include voicing TV’s “Fairly OddParents,” “Duckman,” “Family Guy” and “Superman” — such response played far less effectively mere days after Japan’s earthquake and tsunami tragedy, to a room the size of the entire planet, on Twitter.
The oft-off-color Gottfried reportedly fired off about a dozen under-140-character would-be “punch lines” that landed with a thud of offended disgust and outrage — and sparked the swift reaction of one of his employers, who fired him. (Sample tweet: “Japan is really advanced. They don’t go to the beach. The beach comes to them.”)
On Monday, the disability insurer Aflac fired Gottfried — a frequent cartoon voice actor — as the voice of its waddling commercial mascot, saying in a statement: “Gilbert’s recent comments about the crisis in Japan were lacking in humor and certainly do not represent the thoughts and feelings of anyone at Aflac ... Aflac will immediately set plans in motion to conduct a nationwide casting call to find a new voice of the iconic Aflac Duck."
Beyond the question of bad taste and judgment, It’s worth noting three things:
1. About 75 percent of Aflac’s business is in Japan. (Reuters says Aflac made its name in the ‘70s selling cancer expense policies in Japan.)
2. Aflac had announced it’s giving $1.2-million in Japan disaster aid to the Red Cross.
3. Gottfried has since deleted the reported tweets.
More than 2,000 people have reportedly died, and thousands are unaccounted for, in Japan’s disaster.
THE AFLAC COMMERCIAL IN JAPAN: