Surprisingly, hearing Gilbert Gottfried read his own memoir aloud would likely make it less grating. Like many comedians-turned-authors (Michael Showalter is another recent example), Gottfried approaches his first book by explaining that a publisher got in touch and asked if he’d write a book, so now here he is, writing this book—and hey, how does one write a book, anyway? The answer, of course, is to dust off a career’s worth of routines—originally timed for maximum spoken impact—and transfer them to the page, hoping they survive the transition. In Gottfried’s case, his abrasive whine helps shade in his desperately horny, neurotic persona as a nonstop joke machine who can’t stop himself from going for every corny punchline in the book. But flat on the page, the countless, distracting asides grow wearying fast.
Beyond that, Rubber Balls And Liquor is a fairly straightforward account of Gottfried’s life and career. Raised in south Brooklyn, Gottfried was an inveterate class clown who was urged onstage at age 15 by two older sisters who accompanied him to Greenwich Village’s Bitter End for “Hootenanny Night”: “I didn’t really need their moral support… I just needed them to hold my hand, and take me on the subway—basically, to make sure I didn’t get lost.” By 1980, when he was 25, Gottfried was a star of the most notoriously disastrous season (1980-81) in Saturday Night Live history—though as he notes, “Pointing to one bad season is like referring to the issue of Playboy with the naked girl in it.”
Most of Rubber Balls is taken up with such misadventures-in-the-biz stuff, much of it stemming from Gottfried’s incorrigibility, as when he was fired from Hollywood Squares after an infamous episode in which the contestants missed six questions in a row. (Gottfried was in the only open square.) Not to mention irate viewer responses, as when he answered the question “What animal has the largest eyes in the world?” with “Marlon Brando at a buffet.” Brando himself called to complain, which naturally prompted Gottfried to work as many Brando jokes into his stand-up appearances as possible. Rubber Balls is as much the work of a dedicated star-watcher as it is a semi-star, and that’s the source of the book’s best bits.