If Bobcat Goldthwait were a teen-ager today, “I’d be a kid making web content with a camera somewhere. If I was a young man, I might have bypassed the whole comedian-actor thing and just been a filmmaker.”
He pauses, chuckles, then says, “Then I’d probably have spent my whole life going, ‘I wonder if I could have been a comedian.’”
He smiles – an expression that is equal parts kindness and subversion. Sitting in the lobby lounge of the 92nd Street Y-Tribeca, he’s a compact guy in a sweater, glasses and snap-brim cap – a guy who could be somebody’s dad (which he is). He’s just answered questions after a screening of his film, “God Bless America,” and he’s happy just to have gotten the chance to direct films at all.
“To make the films I want, I just have to live within my means and scale down my lifestyle – and be with somebody who’s cool with that,” he says.
“God Bless America,” available on VOD, opened today (5/11/12) in limited theatrical release. The film, Goldthwait’s latest, is a brutally funny takedown of contemporary pop-culture. Inspired by what Goldthwait refers to as a marathon viewing of the reality show “My Super Sweet 16,” it attacks everything from obnoxious shock jocks to angry TV talkers to the entitlement society that too much reality TV and self-esteem training has bred.
From Glenn Beck to TMZ to “American Idol,” no one is safe from Goldthwait’s razor-edged wit, which is informed by his unhappiness at the kind of things that pass for news in the world of the 24-hour news cycle. Indeed, he says, it seeps into our lives, whether we’re interested or not.
“Every week there’s a different equivalent of Charlie Sheen having a breakdown,” Goldthwait, 49, says. “I knew about Kim Kardashian getting married – and then getting divorced – and there’s no reason I should. I don’t have hostility toward Kim Kardashian – just toward the people who take that stuff seriously. Imagine being a grown adult and making a living reporting on the comings and goings of Snooki.”
In fact, a TMZ camera crew showed up one night while Goldthwait was filming a scene from “God Bless America” and tried to goad him into making a scene of his own for their cameras by asking, “Bobcat, how does it feel to be a has-been?”
To which Goldthwait calmly replied, “Which is worse – being a has-been or being the guy interviewing a has-been?”
Still, Goldthwait doesn’t want people to misconstrue what he’s saying: “Young people probably think I’m saying, ‘Don’t watch this stuff,’ but I’m not. I’m saying that people need to talk to each other and to really talk about themselves. Don’t just post a comment somewhere. Talk – instead of shouting at me with emoticons. Pick up a paper and read things that you wouldn’t necessarily click on if you were online.”
He pauses, chuckles again, and says, “I sound like the old guy saying, ‘Get off my lawn.’”
Goldthwait, a Syracuse native, broke through in the early 1980s with a group of comics – including Emo Phillips, Jerry Seinfeld, Judy Tenuta and the late Sam Kinison – who rode a revival of reenergized and inventive stand-up comedy. He began landing acting jobs – in films like “One Crazy Summer,” “Burglar” and, most visibly, the “Police Academy” comedies – while continuing his stand-up career.
His stand-up persona was, at a minimum, distinctive. His hair and eyes in wild disarray, he blended a mix of growls, yelps and shrieks with pointed observations about the world around him. But the persona – the guy who screamed and looked like he was having some sort of fit or seizure onstage – eventually got in the way of the material.
Goldthwait still does stand-up on occasion, principally to support himself while making movies: “But I jettisoned the persona a few years ago,” he says. “I wrote an act that was mostly story-telling.”
There are those among his contemporaries who still work the comedy circuit: “A lot of them are still on the road – and you can make a living,” he says. “They’re like classic-rock bands, playing state fairs. I could do that; but so many places just want you to be a nostalgia act.”
He launched himself in 1992 as a film director with “Shakes the Clown,” which a critic referred to (and Martin Scorsese once referenced) as “the ‘Citizen Kane’ of alcoholic clown movies.” He subsequently directed 2006’s “Sleeping Dogs Lie,” which he jokingly refers to as “the dog blowjob movie,” and 2009’s “World’s Greatest Dad,” which starred his long-time friend Robin Williams.
But he has no illusions about his ability to crack the mainstream with movies as dark, smart and edgy as his.
“When I first had a movie at Sundance (“Sleeping Dogs Lie”), I had meetings with a lot of people with production companies, who had projects they wanted me to do,” he says. “But I think it’s kind of clear that I have to stay out of the studio system. I can’t imagine that they’re in a big hurry for me to join.”
He’s also spent considerable time directing live TV, including Comedy Central’s “The Man Show” (which starred Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla) and “The Jimmy Kimmel Show.”
“That prepared me to make movies on this budget,” he says. “When you’re on the floor, you’re making split-second decisions. Now I’m quicker to make decisions because I know what I want.”
His goal – aside from making a good movie – is simply to make something that does well enough to permit him to make another one. He hopes to make a film based on the Kinks’ album, “Schoolboys in Disgrace” and has several other scripts in various stages of readiness.
“Sometimes I watch my films and to me, they’re all flawed,” he says. “You just hope you’re getting better. I don’t know what I’ve learned from the past ones. I just hope to keep writing and making all different kinds of movies. The people I look up to make all different kinds – but you always know who made those films.”Print This Post