Bobcat Goldthwait talks provocative comedy, the Kinks, Sasquatch and more
In 1994, Bobcat Goldthwait rang in the new year by swinging naked from the top of the Oakland Coliseum, shocking a crowd gathered there to see Nirvana.
If it’s unlikely that Goldthwait will repeat that feat during his New Year’s Eve shows at the Tampa Improv, well, a lot’s changed for the comedian since then. He no longer does the manic, scratchy-voiced character that made him one of the most popular stand-ups of the ’80s. His new special is called You Don’t Look the Same Either.
He’s also become a successful director, with two of his films accepted into Sundance. His latest, God Bless America, is a dark comedy about a man who goes on a murder spree after watching a My Super Sweet 16-esque show.
In a phone interview, Goldthwait discussed his stand-up, his movies and The Kinks. Here are some excerpts.
You’ll be down here for New Year’s Eve. I’ve heard a story numerous times about you at a New Year’s Eve show in 1994. Do you remember what I’m talking about?
You’re talking about me rappelling on nude from the roof of the Oakland Coliseum — I can neither confirm nor deny that. No, yeah, I actually rappelled on nude from the roof of the Coliseum at midnight while I was emceeing, opening and performing with Nirvana on their last tour of the states. When we were on the road for New Year’s, we wanted to do something special, so the band had all these extra bombs and things to go off at midnight. I thought I’d rappel on nude. I think it’s funny that I actually didn’t mind being naked, but I still wore a hat because I didn’t want people to see my bald head.
We do show our vanities in the strangest ways.
Yeah, yeah. I had no problem with them seeing my penis or my love handles, but I would try to keep the illusion that this isn’t a balding pate.
Besides obviously not doing your character anymore, how would you say your stand-up’s evolved over the years?
Well, I think it’s always kind of evolving. I think my earlier stand-up was just me going on stage and being very influenced by Andy Kaufman and being very weird and not really having stand-up at all, and just being a strange act. Then my stand-up was kind of nasty and angry for a long time, and now my stand-up is a little more of a retrospective of me talking about my life. I work hard and I try to do a good show for people, but I guess my act is always changing. People’s perception of me I’m sure is a lot of people think I’m dead or think if they come see me, it’s just going to be me doing my act from the ’80s, which I honestly think a lot of people would prefer that.
Switching over to movies, how was the reaction to God Bless America? Was it encouraging to you or more demonstrative of what that film was trying to say?
There’s folks that like that movie a lot and they’ll come up to me and tell me that, and then there’s the folks that don’t. I think people get confused because the characters in the movie actually have opinions and then some people go: “Well, this is just a list of things Bobcat Goldthwait doesn’t like.” Which isn’t really true — there’s some things they complain about that I’m actually guilty of or that I’m a fan of. So I just think people think when they watch movies or television that they’re always aiming the movie towards the broadest net, they’re trying to appeal to everybody. So in the meantime, they don’t really say anything about anything. For me, the theme of that movie was asking people, “Are you part of the problem or are you part of the solution?” Some folks felt threatened by the movie because it didn’t reconfirm their feelings about things.
Your movies start with a perverse set-up — bestiality in Sleeping Dogs Lie, autoerotic asphyxiation in World’s Greatest Dad, murder sprees in God Bless America — to tell these moral messages. What about that appeals to you?
I don’t know, I guess that’s just my style. The last movie I made, I didn’t really have that and I wonder why I didn’t do it. It shows up in other screenplays. It really shows up in — I wrote a movie based on The Kinks album from the ’70s called Schoolboys in Disgrace and I’ve been trying to develop that for years. It’s different from my other movies — it’s actually going to take a big budget and we’re going to film it in England. But it’s the same thing too, there’s a horrible incident at the very beginning and then we back up from there and tell a morality tale. My movies, I don’t really see them as slices of life or accurate portrayals of anything that’s real. I do see them as little fables.
Do you think that style comes from your history of provocation in comedy?
Well, I do know it’s almost the same formula. I used to always go out on stage and be weird and ask the audience if they could see what I was saying. It’s a little P.T. Barnum — shock them and then try to get your message across. I don’t know why my stories always ... they do have this thing. I don’t know what make people make of the movies I make, I don’t know what people’s perception of me is. But the guys whose movies really influenced me are Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges and all those guys.
You mentioned the Kinks musical you’ve been working on. What’s the status on that?
It is waiting for a budget and I just came back from London, I go there a lot. I’ve been meeting with folks and trying to get things going. My biggest fear is to make a musical out of this material and then have Ray Davies not like it because he’s my hero. So I want to make sure I do it right. One of the elements is Trish Sie is involved — she’s the woman who directed a lot of the OK Go videos, so hopefully it should be dance numbers that are clever. Also if you’re a fan of rock music, I don’t want to alienate you. I hope you can go to the movie and not cringe and enjoy it.
Are you working on anything else in between that?
Yeah, I just finished a new movie called Willow Creek. It’s a Sasquatch movie. We went and shot it up in Willow Creek, which is where the Patterson footage was filmed 45 years ago. It’s a mixture of real elements and Bigfoot, which I’ve been fascinated with since I was about eight.
I just worked with Marc Maron — I directed four episodes of his new television show that’ll be on IFC next year. It’s just like the way I used to; I worked with Jimmy Kimmel and Dave Chappelle. I love working with comics because I like to take what they had in mind and hopefully facilitate their vision. Comics are always treated as if we’re crazy or something, and I like to help guys make their shows come across.
-- Jimmy Geurts, tbt*