And no moment stands out more than his version of a raunchy old standard called “The Aristocrats” that he told during a celebrity roast in New York shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
“I just wanted to be the first one to make a truly bad-taste September 11th joke,” he told HuffPost in 2015. “I got up and I said, ‘I have to leave early tonight, I’m catching a flight to L.A. I couldn’t get a direct flight, we have to make a stop at the Empire State Building.’”
The crowd booed and hissed.
“One guy yelled out ‘too soon,’ which I thought meant I didn’t take a long enough pause between the setup and the punchline,” Gottfried said.
Having seemingly lost the audience, Gottfried said he decided to go in an entirely different direction.
“I just figured I got nothing else to lose, I’ll go to the bottom level of hell and I did the Aristocrats joke,” he said.
His effort famously won over the crowd. Yet Gottfried couldn’t help but notice a certain irony.
“They were cheering and applauding and it just proved to me like, terrorist attack? Bad taste. Incest and bestiality? Good taste,” he recalled.
Gottfried’s take on the joke was a highlight of the 2005 documentary “The Aristocrats.”
In case it’s not clear already, there’s some graphic language involved: