As documented in the movie “The Aristocrats,” by telling a nearly mythic dirty joke comedian Gilbert Gottfried turns around a booing audience angry that he’d made a 9/11 crack soon after the tragedy. He won’t be able to pull off the same trick after Aflac, the insurance company whose iconic duck Gottfried has voiced for years, fired him Tuesday over jokes he tweeted about Japan. But would Aflac have been better off ignoring the comments?
The offending jokes have been deleted from Gottfried’s account and followed up with a mea culpa. His Twitter bio, “Mr. Gottfried served 8 years in prison for beating up an Eskimo,” however, remains. Which goes to much held belief that Afflac has, somehow come out looking bad for canning the foul mouthed insult machine.
The Borchst Belt one-liners Gottfired posted, while surely in poor taste, were pretty trifling by his standards. He wrote things such as “Japan is really advanced. They don’t go to the beach. The beach comes to them,” and “I just split up with my girlfriend, but like the Japanese say, ‘They’ll be another one floating by any minute now.’” Not exactly the stuff of irate-twitstorms past.
The insurance company, however, is big in Japan, where it employs 5,000 people and is the largest foreign insurance company. So it may have been a bit touchy subject.
Was Aflac wrong to fire Gottfried for the comments? Surely they knew what they were getting into in working with Gottfried. He’s never been known for his restraint, and in fact the very annoyance of his personality and voice is what led Kaplan Thaler, Aflac’s ad agency to hire Gottfried in the first place. Incidentally, the agency is now holding auditions to find someone else to make that obnoxious quack.
While its well known that Gottfried provides the voice for the duck and has even appeared in a few commercials, he’s not really viewed as spokesperson. Aflac could probably have easily not inserted itself into this story. They now may be widely viewed as trying to somehow win points by making a public statement, when they’d have been better off doing what they probably wish Gottfried had done: kept their big beak shut.