BY JONATHAN VALANIA Born in Boston in 1962, Robert Francis ‘Bobcat’ Goldthwait has been trafficking in frantic, anarchic punk rock comedy and, later, thoughtful subversion for more than four decades. His highly-combustible early stand-up persona — shouty, sweaty and stammering — was akin to a scared Chihuahua on bath salts: Hulk-smashing, fire-starting and definitely not housebroken. He was banned from The Tonight Show for lighting the set on fire.
After his early success in stand-up, acting and extensive voiceover work — including a recurring role as more or less himself in the Police Academy franchise — he transitioned to the other side of the camera, writing, directing and starring in 1991’s Shakes The Clown, a tar-black comedy that jammed econo about a depressed, alcoholic clown who works children’s birthday parties for a living, the high point of which is a rumble between a gang of clowns and a rival gang of mimes (more on this below). It remains a landmark of boozy gallows humor that was among the first films to pull back the curtain on the notion that clowns, and by extension comedians, are often dark and desperate characters, crying-on-inside, needy and self-medicating. The Boston Globe’s Betsy Sherman called it “the Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies.”
His 2012 film God Bless America is about an unlikely duo that go on a cross-country killing spree wasting assholes, bigots and sociopaths of every stripe that foretold the grimly darkening onset of Trump’s America. His 2015 documentary Call Me Lucky told the true story of Barry Crimmins, a veteran Boston comic/childhood sexual abuse survivor turned online pedophile hunter. He is currently touring The Show With Two Heads with fellow stand-up comedian Dana Gould which stops at Underground Arts on Sunday. Last week, I got Bobcat on the horn.
DISCUSSED: Impeachment, Shakes The Clown, Reverend Horton Heat, time machines, Nirvana’s Bleach, pedophiles, Little Murders, AOL, prophecy, the Whiskey a Go Go, Kurt Cobain, the fall of the New Rome, Robin Williams, nude rappelling, Judd Apatow, RuPaul and The Psyclone Rangers.
PHAWKER: Howdy! How are ya?
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: Okey doke!
PHAWKER: So let’s just jump right into it. You probably have no recollection of this fact, but you and I have a history. We met in 1993 backstage at the Whiskey a Go Go, where my old band The Psyclone Rangers were opening for Reverend Horton Heat. And you came up to me after our set and offered to direct a music video for us.
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: Wow!
PHAWKER: Don’t know why it didn’t happen, or why we didn’t take you up on that — probably because we just assumed you were the crazy shouty, high-pitched-voice guy of your stand-up act back then, but then you turned out to be a deep cat and an in-demand director — but it was one of the band’s many, many regrets.
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: [laughs] Let’s go back and do it!
PHAWKER: We could go back in a time machine and get it done. So I want to start out asking you a few things about the distant past and then I want to talk about the current moment we are in since you have proven to be such an insightful and incisive social critic of American life.
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: Well, thank you.
PHAWKER: First, I want to just say for the record that the line from Shakes The Clown — where the clowns get into a rumble with the mimes, “you silent motherfucker!” — remains among the top ten funniest lines in the history of Hollywood comedies.
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: I can’t even take credit for it. That was an Adam Sandler ad lib.
PHAWKER: Oh really?
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: Yeah, most of that movie was ad libbed, so I can’t really take much credit for the dialogue.
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: I was in Ann Arbor and Kurt wanted to interview because he liked my stand-up so he interviewed me on a college radio station. He gave me a copy of Bleach, and my friend Tony and I were listening to it in the rental car, and we were saying how this is really good and rock n’ roll kind of sucks these days because we’ll probably never hear from them again — and then a year and a half later I was opening shows for them.
PHAWKER: I read that one night in Oakland that you were lowered down onto the stage on a rope stark naked while Kurt counted down or something…do tell?
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: It was New Years Eve and yeah I rappelled in nude — so I wasn’t lowered down, I rappelled down, I had rope burns on my ass and stomach. And I wasn’t nude, I wore a hat — didn’t want people to see my bald head. I had the In Utero wings on and my hat.
PHAWKER: You were good friends with Robin Williams and like all right-thinking people I loved Robin Williams and it’s terribly sad that he’s gone. Can you tell me something about him that I would be surprised to learn, or an anecdote that shows a side of him that most people wouldn’t expect.
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: He was my best friend and I think we were so close because I kept our relationship private, so I don’t really talk about him too much. I didn’t have anyone that I talked to more, so him being gone, a big piece of me is gone, so I don’t really talk about that too much…
PHAWKER: That’s fine, I respect that. So, true or false, your 2012 movie God Bless America was essentially prophecy masquerading as a black comedy, a preamble to Trump getting elected, that foretold the New Nero ascending the throne of the New Rome a few years later?
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: I think we’re back to that time machine you were talking about. I’m not happy that it kind of predicted the future. At the time we made it I was like ‘We’re are going?’ It’s a little bananas. There’s a speech that [actor] Joel Murray gives in the office that people tend to bring up to me now as being prescient. It’s funny when I was writing that movie I really wasn’t trying to write dialogue per se, I was actually aping this movie called Little Murders that [cartoonist] Jules Feiffer wrote. The people in that movie talk like people in a Jules Feiffer panel.
PHAWKER: I must say, I am not a violent person, and I’m not prone to violent thoughts, but the premise of that movie — wasting assholes that get in your face — was very satisfying.
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: Thanks, I like to say ‘it’s a violent movie about kindness.’
PHAWKER: Getting to now, this is probably a stupid question but: Impeach? Or don’t impeach?
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: Oh, I say impeach. The idea that people are waiting around worried about how it’s going to affect their political career is just odd.
PHAWKER: It’s weird to me, because I was there at the time, that people point to the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton as the model for how the public reacts to the impeachment of a president. And, if anything, that was the historic anomaly. The reason why the majority of public opinion was opposed to the impeachment of Clinton is that it was patently obvious that the Republicans were going after him for lying about getting a blow job from an intern to score cheap political points — plus all those Republicans that were leading the impeachment charge, like Newt Gingrich and Bob Barr, were fucking around on their wives! The hypocrisy and craven political score-setting is why that blew up in the GOP’s face. With Trump, we’re talking about high crimes, treason, obstruction of justice, money-laundering, god knows what else — this is the scenario the Founding Fathers envisioned when they codified impeachment into the Constitution: a president who is so obviously unfit for office, deeply corrupt and possibly a traitor!
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: Yeah, we have treason on the line here. You know, if I only chose to fight the battles I knew I would win there’d be no reason to get out of bed in the morning. “Oh I don’t know if we can win” is a really bad gauge of whether or not to fight the good fight.
PHAWKER:Currently which Democrat candidate are you behind, or do you think can beat Trump?
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: The reality is we have a ticking clock, the fact that the world is cooking. I’m kind of obviously will support any person other than [Trump] that will acknowledge climate change is real and a crisis. It’s funny when people go ‘Joe Biden sniffs women’s heads’ — which is a fucked up, weird thing — but he’s not on tape confessing to sexual assault…
PHAWKER: Grabbing women’s vaginas against their will.
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: It’s bananas.
PHAWKER: What’s in the offing as far as film-making or acting?
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: I am doing a narrative version of the the documentary I made called Call Me Lucky, with Judd Apatow producing. So I’m working on getting that script into shape. Judd has been a friend and he was also a big fan of Barry and my film, so it makes sense that we would work together on it.
PHAWKER: Explain the documentary.
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: It’s about a veteran Boston comic named Barry Crimmins who was raped when he was four and was a comedian’s comedian who kind of ran the Boston comedy scene. He was this hard-drinking adn fighting man’s man. Back when AOL was the only game in town he went online to find other survivors and he discovered all these people exchanging child pornography. He went to the Feds and AOL and nobody did anything. So he posed as a kid and gathered all this evidence against these people and then he took AOL all the way to the Senate floor. His life is kind of a Frank Capra story. Barry was a mentor when I was growing up because I met him when I was 15.
PHAWKER: Is Barry still alive?
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT:No, he passed away last year. But he knew we were making a movie about him. So, working on that. I also directed an episode of RuPaul’s narrative show on Netflix called AJ & The Queen — which was awesome. Anything that’s subversive I’m very excited to be part of.