A chat with Bobcat Goldthwait, Bobcat Goldthwait interview, World’s Greatest Dad, Shakes the Clown
Bobcat Goldthwait

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When I told my mother I was going to be interviewing Bobcat Goldthwait, her face dropped, and she all but snarled, “Oh, I hate him.” It would sound like a terrible thing to say if you didn’t know exactly what caused her to say that. Goldthwait himself refers to it as “the Grover voice,” and it’s that screechy delivery that made him such a memorable character during the ‘80s…for better or, in my mother’s case, worse. In the early ‘90s, he made his first foray as a feature-film writer and director, but while “Shakes the Clown” continues to be regarded as the “Citizen Kane” of alcoholic clown movies, it would be many years before Goldthwait would become respected for his work behind the camera. Now, however, his writing and directing on “World’s Greatest Dad” has earned him some of the greatest accolades of his career, which is how Bullz-Eye came to chat with him about working with Robin Williams, his return to stand-up, and how he feels about “One Crazy Summer” nowadays.

Bullz-Eye: Hey, man, how are you doing?

Bobcat Goldthwait: I’m doing well.

BE: Excellent. Well, I watched the movie last night, and it was absolutely fantastic.

BG: Oh, thank you. Thanks!

BE: I really loved it. In fact, actually I immediately got out of the living room and put in a request to talk to Robin, too, because I was just blown away by it. (Writer’s note: this will probably not come to pass because of Mr. Williams’ schedule, but his publicist immediately wrote back to acknowledge receipt of my request, so you never know.)

BG: Oh, that’s great. That’s really awesome. Thanks, man!

BE: The movie strikes me as…I guess I would describe it as the comedy of cringing, where you never know if someone is going to get away with something, and you’re clawing at the armrest because you never know when or if the truth is going to come out.

BG: Yeah, well, that’s the kind of humor that interests me. You know, I made another movie before this one, it’s “Sleeping Dogs Lie,” and it has a lot of that kind of elements in it, too.

BE: Did you feel like “Sleeping Dogs Lie” was a turning point for you as a motion picture director?

"About five or six years ago, I just went, 'You know what? I’m not doing this anymore. I’m only going to do stuff I enjoy doing. I’m going to turn down work. If I wouldn’t watch it, I’m not doing it.' That changed my whole life."

BG: Yeah, I mean it really was. I mean, the difference is that “Sleeping Dogs Lie” I shot with a crew from Craigslist, and we shot it in two weeks. And this was so much different…you know, to be able to make a movie on film, and to be able to do multiple takes and stuff like that, and to have more time to film it right. But it was a turning point for me just as a person, because all of a sudden I was just, like, “Oh, man, I’m just going to start making things that come out of me, and it doesn’t matter if I get money to do it, I’m just going to do it,” you know? So that was a huge turning point, yeah.

BE: I know you’ve been friends with Robin for years, but how did he come to be a part of this particular film? Did you approach him, or did he hear about the script?

BG: You know, we’re friends, and it was really, like, I was out to dinner and I was telling him about the new screenplay I had written. He really liked “Sleeping Dogs Lie,” and he asked if he could read the script, but…I just found this out, I didn’t know this, he just told me this, but he was thinking about doing a cameo. He thought he would help me out in getting the movie made. And then when he read it, he was, like, “Oh, I don’t want to do a cameo. I want to be the guy.” So everything changed, you know?

BE: I do remember that he had a cameo in “Shakes the Clown,” though.

BG: Yeah, he was in “Shakes,” and, you know, a lot of the actors that I use are all a lot of the same friends. Some of the guys from “Shakes,” and some of the guys from “Sleeping Dogs Lie,” “Windy City Heat,” and all the different movies I make, I tend to work with my friends, and I tend to work with a lot of the same people, you know. But Daryl (Sabara) was somebody new, you know, and he was really great. He’s the guy who plays Kyle, the kid. And Alexie (Gilmore), she’s a new friend, too. But I like…as far as what my sets are like, Robin calls it kind of Ed Wood and John Cassavetes having a baby. (Laughs)

BE: With Daryl, were you familiar with his work in “Spy Kids” at all before the film?

BG: No.

BE: Oh, really?

Bobcat GoldthwaitBG: No, it would have been creepy if I knew him from “Spy Kids.” (Laughs) In fact, I was, like, “Yeah, what do you know about this Daryl Sabara? He’s really good.” And they go, “Oh, he’s the cute little kid on ‘Spy Kids,’ and I go, ‘Cute? This guy is, like, a prick.” I truly knew he was acting when he came in to audition, but he was still so good that I was, like, kind of concerned that maybe he would be an asshole, you know? So I had him come back in, and I think he thought he was going to read some more things, but I was, like, “No, I just wanted to talk.” And he’s a really sweet guy, and he’s just a really smart kid, you know? He’s like Gary Oldman. He’s not really too concerned with being a celebrity; he just really wants to be a good actor. He definitely does have a good amount of fearlessness, you know, just to have a teenage boy who, when I say, “Hey, I’m going to put oil on your face in every scene,” and he’s, like, “Okay, whatever.”

BE: And his character…he’s so inherently unlikable throughout the majority of the time of the film that you almost feel like Lance deserves the chance to rewrite people’s memories of him.

BG: Yeah, and then there’s that weird thing just before the events that happen in the movie, where…I kind of think it’s funny that they start bonding almost for the first time. But, of course, they start bonding over sex, which is…that’s just weird.

BE: You were talking about working with people that you had worked with before. Obviously, you and Geoffrey Pierson go back at least as far as “Unhappily Ever After.”

BG: Sure, Geoff did “Unhappily Ever After,” and then I did another thing for Comedy Central called “Windy City Heat,” and Geoff was in that. So Geoff has been in a lot of things. And Geoff was actually in some sketch shows I used to do. He’s just such an awesome…you know, he’s a great actor, and he’s so solid, and he gets some really big laughs. I just love working with him.

BE: Was it a case where you could just picture him as the authority figure?

BG: Yeah, that’s true. When I wrote this movie…and he’s got a big role in “Sleeping Dogs Lie,” too, but both those movies, I kind of had him in mind when I wrote them. And that’s it, though: I don’t usually think of…I don’t really have roles for other people in my mind. But I always hear Geoff saying things, you know?

BE: I know that you went to high school with Tom Kenny, who also turns up briefly in the film.

BG: Oh, no, it goes back further than that.

BE: Oh, really?

BG: I went to grammar school with him. I’ve known Tommy since I was six years old.

BE: Wow!

BG: It’s so funny. Yeah, I just hung out with him last night. You know, Tom and I…it’s really funny, I live about a mile away, so it’s just like when we were kids. You know, my girlfriend had made too many cookies, and she wanted to…she goes, “Oh, we’ll drop them off at the Kennys, we have to call.” I’m, like, “I’ve known the guy since I was six, I don’t have to call. I can just knock in his door and give him cookies. It’s okay.”

On Robin Williams' involvement in "World's Greatest Dad": “He was thinking about doing a cameo. He thought he would help me out in getting the movie made. And then when he read it, he was, like, 'Oh, I don’t want to do a cameo. I want to be the guy.”

BE: I actually met him back in January, and he made me the coolest dad on earth by doing a quick message for my three-year-old daughter in his best SpongeBob voice.

BG: Yeah, he’s a good man. And it’s also funny, but when he was a kid, Tommy wanted to do that for a living. Like, in his locker…this is a scoop, I don’t know if I’ve ever told this…but he used to have pictures of Olive Oyl hanging up. And I’m not even kidding! He, like, had the hots for Olive Oyl. So the fact that he is a giant voice actor now, it makes complete sense.

BE: So how did Bruce Hornsby enter the mix? Was his music always a part of the script?

BG: No, but in the back of my head, I always thought of…you know, I was really thinking of, like, “Harold and Maude” when I wrote this movie, and I liked the idea of those movies in the 70’s, like “The Graduate” or “Harold and Maude,” or even “Midnight Cowboy,” where there is one artist, kind of, that keeps driving the movie along. And that was part of the idea, and I needed somebody that Lance’s character really would be a fan of, so it wouldn’t be too jokey, you know? So Bruce Hornsby just became a part of the Bobwood Players. When we met him, we liked him a lot, and he started covering songs for me. I am really glad he was on board.

BE: I’m actually in Virginia, so he’s a hometown boy for me.

BG: Oh, well, he ended up being, like, a super great guy. And in the movie, his wife, Kathy, shows up in that scene, and his boy is the kid blowing his nose while he’s singing. That’s actually one of his sons.

BE: Nice. I noticed that the soundtrack of the film is kind of literal at times. I mean, you have songs like "Don't Be Afraid, You're Already Dead" and "I Hope I Become A Ghost.” How hard is to choose songs that mesh with the onscreen events, without feeling like you’re hitting them over the head with them?

BG: Well, you know, you could accuse me of hitting people over the head with them, and I will plead guilty to that. (Laughs) I was watching the movie last night, and I was, like, “Oh, dear God, this is almost like a musical.” Which is funny, because that’s one of the things I’m trying to get going right now. I’ve been talking…I had a meeting with Ray Davies about taking Schoolboys in Disgrace, a Kinks album from the 70’s, and turning it into a musical.

Bobcat Goldthwait

BE: I was going to ask you about that. I’m a Kinks fan, so I’m psyched about that.

BG: When I watch these movies I make, it’s, like…really it’s not that big of a leap. For my detractors, it would make sense that that would be the next logical step. And it’s funny, because sometime my girlfriend’s actually is, like, watching over me, going, “No, you can’t put that in, because that is exactly what they are saying.” I’m, like, “Alright, alright, alright.”

BE: So what was it like meeting with Ray Davies?

BG: Oh, man, it was totally ‘The Chris Farley Show.’ I was sweating, and I was, like, ‘Remember when you did that album? That was cool.’ And in the middle of it, I even told him that. I said, ‘Did you ever see that sketch with Chris Farley when he meets Paul McCartney?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah.’ ‘Well, that’s what I’m doing right now!’ And he goes, ‘Don’t worry, it’s gonna be okay.’

BE: Is he enthused about the idea of a movie?

BG: I think he was like confused. He said, “Well, who do you think would go see this as a movie?” I was, like, “All the kids that hate fucking ‘High School Musical.’ And then he smiled, and he kind of goes, “Okay.” And then he went and watched “World’s Greatest Dad,” and then I got the thumbs up. He said, “Tell Bobcat to go ahead and write the script.”

BE: When I mentioned on Facebook that I was going to be interviewing you, a friend of mine described you as the best part of “One Crazy Summer.”

BG: You know what’s funny? I trash a lot of my earlier work and stuff, but I will say that making that movie was a lot of fun. And funny enough, you say that, and besides Tom Kenny, Joel Murray from “One Crazy Summer” was someone I was hanging out with last night.

BE: What do you remember about that film? I guess it’s considered one of the lesser John Cusack films from the era, but it was so nuts that I have never forgotten it.

"Kurt (Cobain) was a fan of my standup, which was pretty weird. I know when people hear that, it’s kind of like finding out that Jimi Hendrix really liked Buddy Hackett, but he interviewed me at a college radio station before they broke and did Bleach. And then, like, about two years later, I was opening for Nirvana at these huge sports arenas."

BG: My daughter, who’s got…she’s got pretty good taste, and I was trying to expose her to Steve Holland. I needed her to see “Better Off Dead,” and I don’t know if she’s seen “One Crazy Summer,” but Steve really did have a unique voice, you know. He was doing some really funny stuff. It was kind of like film adaptations of like Mad magazine or something. But I remember that movie because…you know, most of us were in our…I was the old guy, and I was probably 24 when we made that movie. It was a lot of fun. We were in Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, and just running around, making a movie. I remember doing a lot of indoor model rocketry, you know, shooting off rockets in the hotel a lot and stuff.

BE: How did you come to find yourself opening for Nirvana’s last tour?

BG: Well Kurt was a fan of my standup, which was pretty weird. I know when people hear that, it’s kind of like finding out that Jimi Hendrix really liked Buddy Hackett, but he interviewed me at a college radio station before they broke and did Bleach. And then, like, about two years later, I was opening for Nirvana at these huge sports arenas. It was pretty funny.

BE: I read you just did some more standup gigs. Is that something you like doing every once in awhile, just to keep your chops up?

BG: No, it’s, like…I usually call it “The Alimony Tour,” but just recently, I kind of went on stage and realized that what was making it not fun for me was kind of living up to people’s expectations. You know, I always had this working class thing of, “Well, people are coming out to see me, I better give them the Grover voice.” You know, I really just put a bullet in the head of that character, and I was just kind of going up and doing it as me. I’ve enjoyed it again, and I’m also nervous about it, so that means it must be…that’s good. It’s when you don’t care and you’re not nervous that it means the odds are you’re just phoning it in.

BE: Given the subject matter of “Sleeping Dogs Lie,” I guess you weren’t surprised to find yourself on an Outlaw Cinema panel a couple of years ago.

Bobcat GoldthwaitBG: I was surprised. That’s why I had drawn that mustache with a Sharpie. And I said, “Hi, Dennis Hopper, I’m an outlaw!” (Makes shooting sounds) He just stared at me and called me an odd little man. (Laughs) Myself as a young man, I was really just kind of taking whatever work came, and I really didn’t…I can’t explain it. I was always unhappy. And then about five or six years ago, I just went, “You know what? I’m not doing this anymore. I’m only going to do stuff I enjoy doing. I’m going to turn down work. If I wouldn’t watch it, I’m not doing it.” That changed my whole life.

BE: So when you started directing for television, was that a case where, at the time, you wanted to direct and just needed an outlet?

BG: Yeah, I mean, I’ve always wanted to direct, and so (Jimmy) Kimmel has always been a big help, and he asked me to come direct his show. The more hours behind the camera was great, you know? And still now, I don’t have a problem with working on other people’s projects, just as long as I don’t have to deal with too many knuckleheads in suits.

BE: A buddy of mine said he actually just recorded you a couple weeks ago, so I guess you’re some more voiceover work for animation…?

BG: I worked over at Nickelodeon and did some stuff. But it was really funny, because they were really, like, persistent, going, “We really want you to do it!” I go, “Hey, man, I don’t do this stuff anymore.” I think they thought I was just being a dick. So, like, finally, I went in and I did it, and they were really happy. And then Tom Kenny calls me up, and he goes, “Wow, everybody just met you, and they really thought you were nice and smart.” I was, like, “So they were going to hire me even though they thought I was dumb and an asshole?” (Laughs)

BE: Well, you’ve got to have standards.

BG: Yeah, we’ve got high standards for our junior varsity celebrities.

BE: What’s a favorite project that you have worked on that didn’t get the love that you thought it deserved?

BG: I would have to…and it’s not me being, like, “It will never work, everything is doom and gloom,” it’s not like that…but usually, in general, the things I work on, I don’t really think, “Oh, this is going to be a huge deal.”I’m the direct opposite. I’m actually really surprised when anything that is personal to me, like “Sleeping Dogs Lie” or this movie, gets any kind of heat or attention. It’s really awesome, you know. It exceeds my expectations.

BE: Was there ever a point where you thought you would only be remembered as the guy who directed an alcoholic clown movie?

BG: I would have been fine with that. My biggest fear was that my obituary photo was going to be me in a police uniform. That would’ve been much worse. You know, I realize…and it’s not your fault…but I realize that I’m going to have to get going, because I am a little behind, and we’ve got a couple more folks to go.

BE: Yeah, no problem.

BG: But I’m really glad that you watched the movie and that you liked it.

BE: It’s awesome. Yeah, one of the other editors asked me if I wanted to do a review of the film for the site, too, rather than just watch it to prepare for the interview, and I absolutely am, just so I can rave about it.

BG: Oh, well, thanks! You know what’s funny: normally, if I’m doing press, people are talking to me about standup, and I’m, like, going, “Yeah, yeah, okay, yeah.” But the fact that I’m getting behind because people watched the movie and they liked it…I’m being a big fucking loudmouth. So I’ve got to be less of a blowhard and pick it up, but thank you so much, man. It means a lot.

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