Bobcat Goldthwait's Second Act
A Q&A with Famed Actor, Comedian, and Director about Snickers, Directing in Alaska, and His Upcoming Show at Jr's Last Laugh
It's not uncommon to come across a celebrity who has reinvented himself or herself over the course of a career, but for Bobcat Goldthwait, his transformation from absurdist comedian and screechy-voiced actor to indie film director wasn't as much of a transformation as it was a life choice. In a recent Snickers commercial, the 51-year-old can be seen with his friend Robin Williams, donning a scraggily wig and whipping out his trademark panicked shriek, a persona that sticks with many Bobcat fans. However, if Goldthwait were to eat the proverbial Snickers bar ("Eat a Snickers, you're not yourself when you're hungry"), you would find out he's not the angry young man with the vocal chord-destroying screech. Instead, he's a relaxed director and screenwriter who has decided to work on his own terms.
What's interesting about Bobcat's career is that the two halves don't seem to come into contact much. Fans of his early stand-up and acting work in movies like the Police Academy series, Scrooged, and Hot to Trot don't often seem to converse about Goldthwait's career with those that view him more as an edgy, accomplished writer and auteur, whose credits include World's Greatest Dad and God Bless America, as well as directorial turns for TV shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live and Chappelle's Show, something that Goldthwait himself has acknowledged.
Still, it's hard to appreciate Bobcat without looking at his entire career, especially now that he's recently returned to stand-up comedy in a much more subdued form than his erratic, early-career shtick, including an upcoming three-night, five show stint from Thursday, Feb. 20 through Saturday, Feb. 22 at Jr's Last Laugh. I managed to catch up with Bobcat over the phone after he returned from Alaska, where he's been working on his latest film Willow Creek, to chat about his diverse career and how doing what makes you happy is the best choice you can make.
Alex Bieler: Hey Bob, how are you doing?
Bobcat Goldthwait: Okeydoke, how about you?
AB: Eh, can't complain, it's not too snowy.
BG: Yeah, it's not Alabama.
AB: Where are you at right now?
BG: I'm in Los Angeles, but I was in Anchorage and Fairbanks [Alaska] this weekend.
AB: How was it up there?
BG: Well, it's really pretty, but it seems like I met a lot of the people who voted for Sarah Palin. [Laughs]
AB: Yeah, it's actually pretty nice here, but it seems like a lot of the people in Erie are wintered out.
BG: Oh yeah. I'm from Syracuse, so it's really similar.
AB: I didn't know you were originally from Syracuse.
BG: Yeah, yeah.
AB: That's cool. I know you made your mark in Boston.
BG: When I was a kid in Syracuse, I did stand-up when I was 15 or 16 years old with Tom Kenny, but then I moved to Boston when I was 18 and did it full-time when I was there.
AB: It was just a couple of years ago that you started to get back into stand-up, right?
BG: Yeah, I stopped doing stand-up when I was directing the Kimmel show, so I hadn't done it for years, and now I spend my time directing my own movies or working for other people, and at the same time I do stand-up. It keeps me off of reality shows is what I say.
AB: You mentioned Tom Kenny, and I remember a quote of his about how you lost interest in stand-up because you used to thrive on making people feel awkward and they started to expect it from you.
BG: You know what, the thing right now is to go on stage and be myself after so many years of being a character.
AB: What's that been like? How have people been reacting to that?
BG: There's an expectation, a little bit of nostalgia, but now I'm just there. I hope folks enjoy the show despite some expectations, but the cool thing about being around long enough is that a lot of the people that come to the shows weren't even born when I was relevant, so it's a fresh audience.
AB: It's interesting, because it seems like you get the two camps of people that know you: those that know your early work, like Police Academy and Hercules, and then the others that know you from your directorial duties.
BG: It's weird – they don't intermingle too much. People at festivals will say, "Do you still do stand-up?" and the people at the comedy festivals say "You make movies?" It is strange.
AB: Whenever I bring up your name, it seems like it's a 50-50 split, where they recognize your character from the Snickers commercial, and others know you from God Bless America and World's Greatest Dad.
BG: The Snickers commercial definitely didn't help with people thinking that I am that guy. Robin [Williams] was concerned; he was like "You know they're going to ask you to do the voice." I was like, for the money they're paying me, I will f—- a Snickers bar on camera. [Laughs]
AB: It was probably pretty nice to be able to do that with Robin.
BG: He's a good pal, so it was really nice.
AB: I remember reading this one quote from a speech that you gave at a college about how you said that success is for creeps and that you need to do what makes you happy and be nice to people. What I really like is that you're making all of these movies and it seems like you're doing what you love.
BG: That's the whole thing. It took me a long time to realize what I really wanted to do and enjoyed doing, and I'm pretty lucky, because a lot of people don't have a second act. They spend the rest of their career being a nostalgia act or something. But I've got a lot of friends who have a similar path. I work on Marc Maron's TV show directing for him, and Marc, with the podcast and his show, he ended up finding out what he really likes doing and ended up pursuing it.
AB: You do a fair bit of work with different comedians. You've got Marc Maron, Demitri Martin, and I saw that you directed a recent special for Patton Oswalt.
BG: I like working with comics because I speak the shorthand and it's just who I am and where I came from.
AB: Do they seek you out, or how does that work?
BG: Some of them are just friends. It's mostly done that way and not the traditional way. I think it makes sense though, with me being behind the camera for something like that. I've been in front of the camera during specials, so I kinda know what the guy is looking for.
AB: Yeah, I figured it would be nice that these comedians hold you in that regard. I was talking to Louie Anderson a week or so ago and we were talking about who else was going to come to Jr's Last Laugh and I brought up your name and he said you were a "wonderful human being."
BG: [Laughs] I know, I try to crush it out of him. I think he's pretty awesome too, so it's a mutual admiration kind of thing.
AB: Yeah, it's kind of cool, because it goes back to that speech you made – "do what makes you happy and be nice" – and it seems like you're hitting on both of those.
BG: Well, unfortunately I'm sure that there are people who say "I know him and he's kind of an A-hole," but it took me years of being an angry young man to realize that I didn't want to be an angry, middle-aged man or even older. It's cute when you're young and it's cute when you're old, but when you're in the middle and you're angry, it's not cute. You're just a jerk [Laughs.]
AB: Was there a specific time of when you noticed a change, where you just needed to stop this stuff?
BG: It was just about 15 years ago or so, and I was like "none of this stuff is making me happy, I need to change and figure of what would make me happy."
AB: It's like you had to find your own voice by getting away from your trademark voice, in a way.
BG: Yeah, exactly.
AB: I was talking to Derek [J. Rudy of Personal Publicity] about how you've been working on your new movie Willow Creek. I know it's been showing around at some different festivals, but it hasn't been released yet?
BG: Yeah, it'll be released at the beginning of summer. It'll have the same kind of release as my other movies, where it'll be in some theaters.
AB: What's interesting about Willow Creek is that with a lot of your movies, I usually don't know what to expect, but I never would have expected a movie about Bigfoot, which is kind of perfect, in a way.
BG: That's the thing: I just chase after things that interest me and then the byproduct is that folks just aren't sure what I'm going to do, which is funny. I'm about to start a [documentary] on a friend of mine, which just interests me. It is about as far away from a horror-suspense movie as you can get, but these are the things that I just keep pursuing.
AB: What got you first interested in Bigfoot? Was it something that's been going through your whole life?
BG: Oh yeah, ever since I was a little kid, I was totally obsessed with Bigfoot and any cryptozoology. As a little boy, I was really into it, so part of it was that I just wanted to go and visit there, so it gave me a chance to go up there.
AB: Yeah, when I heard you were up there I was thinking "Yeah, that's not a place I expect people to be."
BG: [Laughs] Yeah, I like to go everywhere.
AB: You mentioned the documentary, but is there anything else that you've been working on that's interesting you?
BG: I've finished a few more screenplays, so I always try to go out and get those going. The doc will keep me busy, but then I'll hopefully start making another movie more along the lines of World's Greatest Dad.
AB: I know you're friends with Robin Williams, so do you typically write roles for certain people, or does that start to come later.
BG: No, I usually do it the other way. I write it and later on I go "Oh, it would be great if such and such will do it." I didn't even know [Robin] was going to do [World's Greatest Dad], because I had written it with somebody else kind of in mind.
AB: Alrighty. Have you been to Erie before?
BG: Yeah, I've played Jr's before.
AB: I thought so. I think I remember talking to [Dave Litz, Jr.] that you had been there about 15 years ago or something like that.
BG: Maybe I've played it between that, but that was around the first time I had been there, so I've played it at least twice before.
AB: What do you remember from your time at Jr's?
BG: I remember it was packed and I remember I was freezing in the room where they stored beer. I also feel like Billy Blanks is from there, am I right?
AB: Yeah, Billy Blanks, Pat Monahan from Train, I know Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails is from somewhere south of here.
AB: Yeah, typically it's a lot of people that are from here and then they don't talk about it too much.
BG: [Laughs] Well, I proudly own my central New York heritage.
AB: So, what made you want to come back to Erie?
BG: I like doing stand-up, and it's a good club, so that's all it takes.
AB: Simple enough. One thing I didn't realize about you until I started prepping for this interview was that you directed Jimmy Kimmel Live for 267 episodes.
BG: Actually, it's more than that. It's like 300-some or something like that, but IMDB is always a little screwy.
AB: So IMDB is a lying bastard?
BG: [Laughs] It's a dirty, dirty, lying bastard, yeah.
AB: Have you ever been approached by other hosts to do that?
BG: Yeah, I shot a pilot for Chris Hardwick that was more of a talk show. I do think that if I were to get more into that kind of stuff, that's a full-time grind, so it would limit the amount of movies I could make.
AB: That's true. That's why you originally left Kimmel.
BG: Yeah, as much as I loved the job, it was just time for me to make more stuff of my own. I just keep doing stuff that interests me and just keep having fun.
AB: Excellent, well we look forward to having you.
BG: Thanks, man. Hopefully by then it won't be so cold, but I think [Laughs] it's going to be about as cold as Anchorage was.
AB: We'll see. It's not even the cold so much as when the city doesn't even plow. So it goes.
BG: Well, I look forward to it. I'll see you then.
AB: Alright. Hopefully, I won't get stuck along the way.
BG: [Laughs] Alright, thanks a lot.
Alex Bieler can be contacted at aBieler@ErieReader.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @Catch20Q.