Comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who died this week after a long illness, has a dozen game credits to his name for reprising his role as Iago, the cowardly parrot from Aladdin, in various Disney, Kingdom Hearts, and Lego games. Less well known is that he also voiced another much more infamous character, not in games but still on PC: Clippy, the hated “digital assistant” that for several years was built on Microsoft Office.
Nobody liked Clippy. The googly-eyed clip, which would pop up onscreen to ask if you wanted to help with even mundane, basic tasks, was ranked among the 50 Worst Inventions by Time Magazine, earning a spot alongside infamous implosions including New Coke, Agent Orange, the Ford Pinto, and hydrogen blimps. Clippy was so widely hated that when Microsoft finally decided to do away with it, it launched an entire ad campaign to celebrate.
The whole thing is bizarre. Microsoft isn’t just shit talking its own product, it’s doing it with gusto, and it really puts Clippy through the touch as well. First, he’s fired, but not before his boss tells him he’s “the most annoying thing in computer history” apart from Microsoft Bob. Devoid of purpose and sense of self-worth, Clippy spirals.
Attempting to regain his place in the office hierarchy, Clippy goes undercover in the office, trying to subliminally convince everyone that the new Clippy-less Office XP is crap. The effort falls apart when an IT guy manages to convince his manager that he’s smarter than a house plan.
The wheels really come off in part three: The family’s dinner goes awry when Clippy’s mother admits she uses Office XP. Clippy skulks off for a sketchy, beer-soaked swim, where he is controlled by Duke.
The humiliation is complete. There’s no redemption for Clippy, no happy ending – he’s an irritant, a useless tit, everyone knows it, and everyone is happy to see him go. And even when he finds some glimmer of purpose, the moment passes and he’s left behind – trapped in the purgatory of defunct technology, alone, unnecessary, and forgotten.
No fully forgotten, however. Clippy has really earned a second comeback in the spotlight, although it took nearly two decades to happen: absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say, and in 2021 Microsoft said on Twitter that bring clippy back like a Microsoft 365 emoji if the tweet has 20,000 likes. Just over 171,000 likes, and Microsoft kept his promise. Unfortunately, the emoji doesn’t include the voice of Gilbert Gottfried yelling at us “let’s put together some pages of shut up!“
It’s hard to imagine another actor as effectively, or so gamely-embodying an aggrieved clerical assistant. Gilbert Gottfried died on April 12 of heart failure resulting from myotonic dystrophy type II, according to a Rolling Stone obituary. He was 67 years old.