NEW YORK (Reuters)- Comedian Gilbert Gottfried apologized on Tuesday for a series of jokes made on Twitter about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, comments which got him fired as the voice of insurer Aflac.
“I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by my attempt at humor regarding the tragedy in Japan. I meant no disrespect, and my thoughts are with the victims and their families,” Gottfried said in a statement.
Since 2000, the comedian had been the voice of the quacking duck in Aflac’s commercials, shouting “Af-LAC!” at opportune moments.
But the company was quick to dismiss him after a dozen jokes made on his Twitter account last weekend, many of them crude and sexual riffs on the effects of the Japanese disaster.
Aflac made its name selling cancer expense policies in Japan in the 1970s and still derives about three-quarters of its revenue there. Its stock was down almost six percent to $50.94 near the end of the trading day on the New York Stock Exchange.
Gottfried’s jokes included: “I just split up with my girlfriend, but like the Japanese say, ‘They’ll be another one floating by any minute now.'” They have since been deleted from his Twitter account.
Howard Stern, a long-time supporter who often has Gottfried as a guest on his satellite radio show, defended the comedian on his program on Tuesday.
“When the Aflac people hired him to be the Aflac duck, they knew ... this is an offensive guy, this is a guy whose humor is offensive. He’s made fun of every disaster I’ve ever heard of,” Stern said.
Stern added, “There’s no reason for him to be fired.”
Indeed, Gottfried did not lose his job when he joked two weeks after the September 11 attacks that it was hard to get a direct flight from New York to California because “they said they have to stop at the Empire State Building first,” according to a New York Observer account at the time.
Reporting by Ben Berkowitz, Dean Goodman and Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Dave Zimmerman