Event: Bobcat Goldthwait
Venue: Comedy Club of Jacksonville, 11000 Beach Blvd 32246
Date/Time: September 11-12, 8pm Early Show, 10:30pm Late Show
Contact: 904.646.4277 or www.jacksonvillecomedy.com
Bobcat Goldthwait has found a softer voice. He’s let go of the screechy persona that defined his early years in stand up and such 80s films as One Crazy Summer, Scrooged, and the Police Academy franchise, and he’s more relaxed in his approach to his craft whether on stage or behind the camera. That shift has also caused critics to take a step back and re-evaluate their opinions of Goldthwait as they wait for his next trick.
Goldthwait appears September 11-12 at the Jacksonville Comedy Club after many failed attempts at retirement. “For years I thought I didn’t like stand up, but what I realized that I didn’t like was the persona that people knew me for. People were coming out to see that persona so I felt that I had to deliver that,” he says. “Out of not wanting to disappoint the audience, I felt myself kind of trapped. It was when I decided that I was not going to do that persona and I was going to be me and tell stories and people were going to like it or not, that’s what made stand up fun and interesting again.”
Never a traditional comedian, Goldthwait grew up a fan of Andy Kaufman, Brother Theodore, and the exaggerated characters played by Steve Martin. He developed a stage persona based on an early character who was an anxious Bigfoot. “I laugh because it’s all pretty weird that I went on and made a hairy Bigfoot movie one day,” he says of his found-footage film Willow Creek, which premiered at the 2013 Independent Film festival of Boston.
He may be coming at audiences from a different angle, but Goldthwait still has the same sense of creative urgency that he felt as a young performer. “I used to fuel all that into stand up and I still do stand up but it’s more about me telling stories,” he says. “My act is always changing. I was always doing what I was interested in, so my act has certainly changed a lot over the years.”
Topical events and political satire have always figured prominently in Goldthwait’s stand up material, but the intelligence behind his jokes was often overshadowed by the manic delivery. It was also a way to keep all eyes on his antics rather than focus on the man himself. “I think most people would be surprised to realize that there was any kind of political concept to what I was doing,” he says, recalling an encounter with an interviewer from NPR at recent press event for his most recent film, Call Me Lucky, a documentary on the life and work of comedian/activist Barry Crimmins. “This guy was being really snarky. He was kind of condescending and I was like, ‘Dude, I never watched Police Academy. This is your bullshit, not mine.’ It’s kind of funny. I almost feel uncomfortable when people start taking me seriously. It makes me want to cringe, you know? I’d be the first one throwing up if I read the words ‘Bobcat Goldthwait on Tour.’”
It’s been a year of validation for Goldthwait. Call Me Lucky premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. He received the Filmmaker on the Edge Award in June, which was presented at the 17th annual Provincetown International Film Festival by John Waters. He’s also developed a new show Those Who Can, which will air on TruTV. “I think all the years doing stand up has really helped with my ability to be on a set and know, ‘Okay, that will work and that will get a laugh,’” he says. “The challenging stuff is the movies. I’ve probably been more productive now with those than anything else. I’m pretty close to pulling the trigger on the next one and I’ve written so many scripts. Since World’s Greatest Dad (2009), I’ve written about 11 movies.”
One of those movies, his third film Sleeping Dogs Lie, was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize in 2006 at Sundance in the Dramatic Features category and presented by Waters as his pick for favorite film at the Maryland Film festival. It’s a touching film about honesty that explores the film’s unconventional subject matter in an unapologetic way, proving that Goldthwait is still willing to push the limits of social acceptance if it influences the integrity of his work.
“It’s all about the awkwardness. I wanted to do a movie about honesty. I didn’t go into it thinking, ‘This will freak people out.’ It’s just how I think. It’s a challenge for me. If I make a movie about a woman who reveals this in her past, can you still empathize with her? That’s usually what I’m going for in all my movies, even Call Me Lucky, is to make movies where you empathize with people. I’m not interested in making movies where you sympathize because I feel like that’s manipulative. The challenge is to present people so that they are actual human beings.”
Writing and directing was not a deliberate career arc, but instead an unconscious evolution that he wishes he’d recognized sooner. “I wish I’d known early on. Maybe I’d have pursued filmmaking as a kid and gone to school for it or something, but then I probably would’ve been a guy who made movies wondering if I could do stand up. Or maybe I would’ve gone down the wrong path. I often say I had the beginning of my career that most people have at the end. I sold out as a youngster and now I don’t have any interest in that. I only work and direct on TV shows with people that I respect, and I don’t take jobs for money. I make my movies outside the system so I can keep them personal.”
Goldthwait’s direction of The Jimmy Kimmel Show in 2003 and return in 2007 resulted in a huge ratings spike and increase in viewership. He attributes his role in the show’s success to their shared language and mutual appreciation of each other’s work. “I think it was easy for me being a comedian because I do speak stand up. I always have a very soft spot for Jimmy, and he’s still my pal. He was always someone that believed in me all these years as a director when most people were using my name as a punchline.”