Gilbert Gottfried’s Forgotten Sitcom Was the Proto-’Seinfeld’

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Gilbert Gottfried’s Forgotten Sitcom Was the Proto-’Seinfeld’

The late Gilbert Gottfried is fondly remembered for his stand-up comedy, his long-running podcast, and, of course, his parrot-based thespianism. But he was also a sitcom star. Sure, the sitcom in question only lasted for one episode, but it still counts. While the short-lived Norman’s Corner currently resides in the ash heap of TV history and is beloved by practically no one, in retrospect, the forgotten series actually came pretty close to cracking the formula that gave us one of the most successful TV shows of all-time.

Back in 1987, Norman’s Corner starred Gottfried as a New York City newsstand operator and, well, that’s about it. The sparse narrative architecture really only existed to showcase Gottfried’s comic persona; Norman interacts with friends and customers (including celebrity guest star Henny “Take My Wife” Youngman) and succumbs to the occasional daydream. Even though the pilot was ultimately rejected, Norman’s Corner eventually aired as a comedy special on Cinemax, likely to the confusion of every chronic masturbator in the 1980s. 

The show was created by Broadcast Arts’ Peter Rosenthal, who had previously built the set for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, and the first (and only) episode was scripted by a young comedian named Larry David. According to Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Susie Essman, at the time, David and Gottfired were the only two comics who were regularly asked by clubs to go on at the end of the night in order to “clear the room” of “stragglers.”

Norman’s Corner may not have been a hit, but it arguably made a lot of the same bold creative choices as David’s next sitcom project: Seinfeld. Unlike most other sitcoms at the time, it was aggressively unsentimental, and mostly served as an apt forum for reconfigured stand-up material, mining the minutiae of everyday life for laughs. Sound familiar?

The show, which marked David’s first ever sitcom writing job, no doubt laid the groundwork for the minimalistic confines of classic Seinfeld episodes like “The Chinese Restaurant” and “The Parking Garage” by limiting its scope to just a single street corner. At least Jerry and his friends went on dates and had social lives, Norman’s Corner truly was a show about nothing. 

It also holds the distinction of being the very first sitcom to be shot in high definition. You can practically see the spittle coming out of Gottfried's mouth.

According to Gottfried, Norman’s Corner very nearly prevented Seinfeld from getting the green light, after an NBC executive, who was considering David and Seinfeld’s pitch, allegedly asked, “Isn’t Larry David the guy who wrote that piece of shit pilot with Gilbert Gottfried?”

But the feedback wasn’t all bad. The Los Angeles Times raved that Norman’s Corner was “biting and charming at the same time,” and did for Gottfried what Roseanne did for Roseanne Barr, making a “formerly cantankerous and often obnoxious stand-up comedian palatable.” 

Who knows, maybe in some alternate universe, Gilbert Gottfried just made inappropriate comments on social media and got fired from the 21st century reboot of Norman’s Corner.

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this). 

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