A Standup Guy

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Photo Source: Bobcat Goldthwait 2009
Bobcat Goldthwait is virtually unrecognizable from the crazy, screeching persona he created in the 1980s. Gone are the long hair and beard, the colorful clothing, and the Elmo-on-crack voice that audiences came to know in films like the second and third “Police Academy” and “Scrooged.” He is now an unassuming, bespectacled man wearing a beret over his short hair, who speaks softly but with great passion about his career as a writer-director.

In addition to directing his friend Jimmy Kimmel in episodes of “The Man Show” and Kimmel’s talk show, Goldthwait wrote and directed the 1991 cult comedy “Shakes the Clown” and the 2005 indie “Sleeping Dogs Lie” before setting out to make “World’s Greatest Dad,” starring his close friend Robin Williams as a put-upon poetry teacher and father. And while Goldthwait’s films may feature outrageous plot lines, they are also unexpectedly tender and thoughtful.

Back Stage: “Sleeping Dogs Lie” was about a girl who confesses to committing a sex act on a dog, but once you get past that setup, it actually becomes a sweet love story about honesty. With “World’s Greatest Dad,” you again have a raunchy start but a thoughtful film. Is this ability to blend tones going to be your trademark?

Bobcat Goldthwait: I just hope to keep making movies, and I hope I keep challenging myself. I don’t want to make studio movies; I want to make small, personal movies. That said, I want to try other things. But I put things through my filter. I hope to do a movie about a spree killer, but I kind of have a feeling it will end up having the same kind of tone as the other films.

Back Stage: Do you worry people will avoid the films when they hear some of the crasser plot elements?

Goldthwait: Truthfully, I know if I heard about the events that happen in my movies and heard my name attached, I would assume the films were just slob comedies. So I don’t blame people for hesitating.

Back Stage: Has it been hard to get directing jobs or films made because of who you are?

Goldthwait: Oh, I’m sure that prevented me from getting most of the directing jobs I didn’t get. Jimmy Kimmel hired me because he was a friend and he liked “Shakes the Clown,” but he’s a strong person who gets what he wants. I know it’s a deterrent, and that’s okay. It’s not like I didn’t project this image all these years; I’m aware of it. But now I’m 47, and this is what I want to do.

Back Stage: You’re known for making films with virtually no budget.

Goldthwait: People ask how I get my movies made. “Sleeping Dogs Lie” was shot in two weeks with a crew from Craigslist and people I found on an open call. With this film, Robin came on board, but it didn’t necessarily get green-lit. A couple of companies gave us money, but they wanted us to make changes, and I actually walked away from the deal. They proceeded to tell Robin’s managers that I was crazy and they were never going to get the movie made. I wasn’t being self-destructive—which I have been in the past—it was about the fact that I would rather not make a movie than have to change things about it.

Back Stage: Has working guerrilla-style ever created problems for you?

Goldthwait: With “Sleeping Dogs Lie,” someone called the Humane Society on us. We were shooting at a friend’s house, and some neighbor lady stole a script that was laying around. She pulled me aside and said, “This is the most disturbing thing I’ve ever read; this is disgusting.” I was being nice to her because we didn’t have a permit to be shooting. Then she said, “It’s not your fault; you just directed this, you didn’t write it.” And my friend goes, “Oh, no, he’s the writer, too.” About 45 minutes later, the Humane Society shows up. “World’s Greatest Dad” was a little different because of Robin. I could do things like shoot on film, get permits, and do multiple takes.

Back Stage: You also still do standup comedy, but I understand you’re performing more as yourself, not as the character you created in the ’80s.

Goldthwait: I do standup to pay bills. I’m always doing the alimony tour. For about 20 years, I really hated it. Just recently I went on the road and thought I’d film it and do a movie about how morning radio teams are douche bags and how opening acts are bitter and club owners are criminals. In the middle of us touring, I realized I was having a good time, but I wasn’t enjoying the standup. And I realized, “Oh, I hate this persona.” I realized that if I’m going to keep doing standup and I really want to have any peace of mind, I have to jettison this persona. It’s not that easy. It’s an easy crutch. And it doesn’t make matters any better when Michael Winslow was there two weeks earlier, doing helicopter farts on stage. So I got rid of the character. And when it worked, I found myself performing longer than I ever have and having more fun than I ever have. When it didn’t work, I still stuck with it.

Back Stage: Does standup really pay that well?

Goldthwait: People are surprised, but standup pays well. And I do really well anywhere where it’s still the ’80s. I just follow Bret Michaels from town to town, basically. I wish I was kidding. I take a time machine to get to my gigs.

Back Stage: What would you like an actor who is auditioning for you to know?

Goldthwait: Don’t be nervous. All they have to do is look at my acting! [Laughs.] For a comedian who has been so broad, I’m really just looking for people who play things really sincere. They don’t have to worry about being funny.

Back Stage: Are you still interested in acting?

Goldthwait: No, not really. And the real reason is I really want to keep writing and directing, and I take it very, very seriously. I really want to concentrate on it.

Back Stage: But you have a cameo as a limo driver in “World’s Greatest Dad.”

Goldthwait: Well, that role was supposed to be played by Guillermo from “The Jimmy Kimmel Show.” But he had to tape a piece on his day off. So I stepped in. The funny thing is, I went totally blank in that scene. I have no problem directing Robin Williams, but when the door opened and he was standing there, suddenly I was like, “Holy shit, I’m acting in a scene with Robin Williams!” That’s why I loved the actors I got to play opposite Robin in this film—Alexie [Gilmore] and Daryl [Sabara]—they didn’t turn invisible when they were with him.

Back Stage: How did you go about casting the rest of the film?

Goldthwait: Daryl came in and lied. He was supposed to come in and read for the character of the son’s best friend, who’s really sweet. But he wanted to play the son, so he said that was the part he’d been called in for, and then he acted all shitty towards me. So I had him come back, just because I wanted to make sure he wasn’t that dickhead that came into the room. And he’s not; he’s a really good kid. He’s a teenage Gary Oldman. I got Alexie’s tape from New York, and she had a cold and was wiping her nose and snot was coming out of her nose. But they were both perfect for their parts. I was so happy the folks who financed the movie didn’t say, “Well, we have Robin; you should get bigger names.” It’s funny: As soon as I see the right actor for a part, I get really excited about working with them. Then I get really freaked out that someone is going to talk to them and talk them out of doing the movie.