Robert Goulet has played Himself at least 25 times in movies and on TV. He was Himself on Mr. Belvedere. Non-Himself appearances are comedic riffs on his image in things like the Ellen DeGeneres bomb Mr. Wrong (which he erroneously, but somehow aptly, refers to as "Mrs. No"). His persona as the stolidly debonair Broadway leading man with the big voice has left him little room to be seen as anything else in an irony-laden culture. He's taken a lot of ribbing from The Simpsons (on which he's appeared twice) and Saturday Night Live, and, at almost 70 years old, the guy can handle it.
"Is it fun to make fun of myself? Sure it is," he says. "A lot of people, I don't know why—they called me 'The 8-by-10 Glossy,' or some stupid thing like that, years ago—have a tendency to think that because you look a certain way, you think a lot about yourself. Well, I don't think that much about myself; I never did. Listen—I think if you can't laugh at yourself, you're a fool."
Goulet is no fool, and he knows how to laugh. He's amiable, sometimes pleasantly corny, the kind of guy who's going to use your first name at thoughtful intervals. And he's still got that rumbling, dignified, completely unmistakable baritone.
He's at the Paramount this week with Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, but it's easy to imagine him padding around his Vegas digs with his wife, listening to music through his 500-channel cable TV ("You can put it onto light jazz, heavy jazz. You can put it onto light classical, heavy classical . . . "), and perfecting his lounge act. He adds new jokes to the Vegas show all the time—anything that amuses him.
"My doctor friend called me up, and he said, 'Robert, why does it take 100 million sperm to impregnate one egg? Because they refuse to ask for directions,'" he says, and a sonic boom of a laugh follows. "That's a funny line, and it gets a laugh every time."
He has his final years figured out.
"I've got a Tony, and a Grammy, and an Emmy, and now I want the Big One," he says, calmly setting up his joke. "I figure that when I'm 85 years old, some guy's gonna feel sorry for me and is gonna give me a part in a movie where I play a defrocked, alcoholic priest pedophile. And they'll be so sorry for me that when I'm up for the Oscar, they'll give it to me. And I'll get up and I'll say, 'Thank you very much.' I'll go home, I'll have a glass of wine, and I'll die. It's all planned."