The Bobcat Goldthwait Interview
Bobcat Goldthwait is a legendary comedian. In the early eighties Goldthwait lived in Boston, and was infamous for his unpredictable performances. At the age of twenty he first appeared on David Letterman. He wrote, starred in, and directed the acclaimed "Shakes the Clown," one of those films that everyone who it saw loved, but no one went to see. Like the Velvet Underground. R.E.M. wrote a song about the movie called Binkie the Doormat, which is on their latest album, Adventures in Hi-Fi.
Goldthwait has been seen in countless films and television shows and specials. Most of us know Goldthwait for his loud, sardonic on stage persona, but in person he is a quiet, soft spoken man. Recently, The Weekly Week had a chance to sit down and talk with Bobcat in the Green Room at the Comedy Connection.
WW: You started doing standup when you were in a punk band called "The Dead Ducks?"
Bobcat: I was in the band when I was a teenager, like thirteen to fifteenth, The Dead Ducks. I'm sure more people were laughing at me then enjoying my performance. So it really isn't much different, my standup, you know. Except my standup now is a little more melodic probably. It was the same trip, you know, sarcasm.
WW: Did you start off in between songs and just start talking to the audience?
Bobcat: Yeah . . . Eventually I was just kicked out 'cause I really sucked. I ended up going immediately from that to doing standup at the same shows that I used to be on. but now I was going on just in between bands. And I started also at the same time with Tom Kenny. And Barry Crimmons was from our home town. Yeah, Barry was hosting a local comedy show when we were sixteen.
WW: I met this band, they're called Knickers in a Twist now, but they were called the Pop Tarts.
Bobcat: Oh yeah yeah yeah. I know the Pop Tarts. Yeah, we would do standup with the Pop Tarts, and they would get mad at us, 'cause we were making fun of them a little bit. I remember their drummer didn't know how to drum yet, so she would dance on the stage. She was kind of doing the Mighty Mighty Bostones deal. So Tom and I would dance during each others acts and the Pop Tarts would get mad at us.
WW: I read somewhere that you started [your standup career] reading Dear John letters?
Bobcat: No. My earlier standup was kind of more making fun of standup. I would go on stage and read a Dear John letter and just cry. But that's more like stuff I did here in Boston, when I was eighteen. And that would be my whole act. It's funny I just ran into a waitress that was here when I moved from Boston. I remember I just sold all my shit on stage, that's what I did. That was the show. It was weird, 'cause once I got on Letterman then I started getting booked around the country as a headliner. So I became a comedian, the very thing I was trying not to be and making fun of.
WW: Did you write an act that was more standup?
Bobcat: I just found myself telling more stories and telling more jokes and doing all that crap that I originally tried to make fun of. You know, you are what you hate.
WW: I heard that when you moved form Syracuse to Boston that you actually moved into the Comedy Connection. . .
Bobcat: I did show up to the Connection, and that's where I met Tony V. But a buddy of mine had a roommate that was thrown out of Emerson so I moved into this guy's dorm room and took his I.D. and like, his ticket. I lived there for like a year at Charlesgate. So I was at Charlesgate living as an Emerson student for the first nine moths I lived in Boston.
WW: There are a lot of rumors about you in Boston. Did you ever break a TV?
Bobcat: I broke a lot of TV's.
WW: There was a rumor about you at this party. . .
Bobcat: Oh, I broke Barkley's TV.[ Paul Barkley, former owner of the Comedy Connection] I smashed up his house pretty good. But yeah, I've broken lots of TV's, but usually it's televised.
WW: Tell me about some of the more interesting gigs you remember in Boston.
Bobcat: I just remember this gig in Worcester. They had a balcony, we performed on a balcony but underneath you was a restaurant. And I just remember during the holidays climbing up this ledge, this six inch ledge. I was just standing there throwing Christmas decorations down at the people in the restaurant. I'm sure I didn't have my pants on either.
WW: You took your pants off?
Bobcat: I really didn't like that gig and I didn't want to get booked there anymore. . . and it worked.
WW: You and Tony mentioned that they would send . . .
Bobcat: Yeah, we were always sent out to kill the show.
WW: If they wanted to stop having to play those rooms they would send the two of you?
Bobcat: Yeah, and other people they weren't impressed by or they were frightened by. You know, it's not like I did well every night. So it was like I'd either do well or I'd go down in flames. By the nature of my act. It left an impact one way or another. And I think more established comedians and people who booked these rooms were really afraid of that. And rightly so. 'Cause they just wanted to book a show that they had no complaints for. And then they'd book me and Tony V. The cool thing is that there was such an explosion and there were only so many comedians that I had work. And then at Sam's [Play It Again Sam's] I became the house comedian there, 'cause I lived across the street. I was just there all the time. I wasn't even booked most of the time. When somebody fell out or something, I was just there all the time. That's really where I honed my chops more than anywhere.
WW: Was the Twisted Balloon, the bar in Shakes the Clown, based on Sam's?
Bobcat: Yeah. It was totally based on Sam's upstairs. After everyone would come back from the road they'd have their war stories . . . and people would always be like, "Aren't comedians always a lot of fun?" And no, they're a bunch of miserable pricks. That's what Shakes was supposed to be about, but no one ever, ever reads that into it. They think it's about something else, or that I hate clowns. I don't even care about clowns. Standups I hate.
WW: How did you get on Letterman?
Bobcat: I was eighteen and I called up and I asked how do you get on. They said, "Well, you come down to New York." So it was about a year and a half or two years of going down there. I auditioned about thirteen times. And then what happened was I just assumed I wasn't getting the show 'cause I'd already done so many auditions. Probably like eleven auditions. Then I played the Connection one night and Robert Morton was there. And I did well. And the next night they had me again, and then they booked me from that.
WW: About how much material did you have at the time?
Bobcat: I probably had about twenty-five minutes of standup at the time. So then I got booked at all these places and I had to scramble and get an act together.
WW: What year was that?
Bobcat: I don't know. I was twenty years old, I think.
WW: Was there ever a rivalry between clubs like Catch a Rising Star and other Boston clubs?
Bobcat: There were always politics in all the clubs that you worked, you know. Like if you worked at some clubs you couldn't work at other clubs, and there were guys that performed at all of the clubs. And if someone didn't like you or thought your act was somewhat derivative of them or whatever, you wouldn't get booked. And it was crazy because there was this huge pecking order and you'd wait around to go on. And back then I'd hang out with people that I really didn't care for just to try to get a spot. And now I don't do that anymore. I'm not talking about stand up, but I'm talking about as far as feature films are concerned. You know I don't hang around studios. I guess I should be more of an ass kisser, I don't know why I lost the will to ass kiss.
WW: Would there be any reason? Is there something that you really want to do?
Bobcat: Sure, I'd like to make more films. I'm always writing scripts and trying to get films going.
WW: You made a film called "The Making of Bikini School 3". What's that about and where can we find it?
Bobcat: I don't know where you can see it. It just like floats around. I've been tempted to put it out. Actually I had an offer to put it out but I felt strange about it. They were just trying to cash in on the fact that David Spade was one of the stars of it. I thought that it would be kind of scummy to exploit somebody that way. Maybe it'll turn up on Comedy Central you know it was a half hour long it had Tom Kenny, Jim Kramer, Jack Galleger, Spade. . .
WW: When did you make this?
Bobcat: I made it years ago. It's a parody like Spinal Tap you know but of bone head teen comedies you know with all the back stabbing and stuff. . .
(Knock on the door)
Man: Hi. How are you doing?
Man: How have you been?
Man: How are you feeling?
Man: Excellent. Good to hear, lousy. Got you tea and everything?
Man: Is Tony here yet?
Man: Okay. Packed house.
Bobcat: Good. I'm in that hotel. I didn't stay at Tony's.
Man: Yeah, I know.
Bobcat: They thought I checked out.
Man: You're kidding me.
Bobcat: My key didn't work. So you guys should make sure . . .
Man: Why was this?
Bobcat: I don't know.
Man: You were there last night, right?
Man: And you tried to go back today . . .
Bobcat: And I tried to use my key, and it didn't work. I'm in there now. But I mean . . .
Man: Okay. Yeah.
WW: Does that happen a lot?
Bobcat: No . . . no.
WW: I'm wondering what your view on alternative comedy is?
Bobcat: I think it sounds really precious when you call it "alternative." I call it alternative comedy too, for lack of a better word. It's like I have two acts. I have an act that I make a living doing. That people are paying money and expecting to see. And then there's the comedy I do at coffee houses and things like that, with people like David Cross and Jeneane Gerafalo.
(Knock at the door)
Bobcat: Hey Anthony.
Tony: Are you guys done with your interview? Am I interrupting?
Bobcat: I'm getting interviewed right now.
Tony: I'm sorry.
WW: You can join in, it'll be a party.
Tony: I got you a present.
Bobcat: Is from someone in the audience, and did you rip the card off here?
Tony: It's for Pearl Harbor Day. Pearl Harbor Day is tomorrow.
Bobcat: Thank you.
Tony: I don't know if you have this.
Bobcat: I don't think I do.
Tony: I got one and I love it.
Bobcat: Wow. Bardonavich.
Tony: It's a great book.
Bobcat: This is great. Thanks. I'm sorry. The interview's over.
Tony: Tony comes in, show stopper.
WW: So you have stuff you do in coffee houses?
Bobcat: It's different. It's more, it sounds pretentious to say, more spoken word. It's just different. You know, I don't do the persona people know me for. It's not something that I'm trying to get away from. It's just the way I perform at those places.
WW: Is there one way you prefer?
Bobcat: I prefer to direct and I really like doing physical humor more than anything. People don't know me for that. I did a Comedy Central thing, it was Pulp Comics. But I shot all these films and did a lot of physical stuff. And I really like doing that. I'm a really big Buster Keaton fan. Early Jerry Lewis. I hope I get to do more.
WW: What is it that annoys you most about comedy? Are there trends that you see that bother you or anything?
Bobcat: No, I'm embarrassed when I see guys that are angry, and they're angry about absolutely nothing. And I always feel quasi a little bit responsible for that trend. Not completely. I'm sure I'm at least one eighth of the problem there. So that's embarrassing to watch.
WW: When people pretend to be furious about . . .
Bobcat: Lint. What's kind of funny is like twelve years ago I would do a rant about minutia, but that was the joke, that I was getting so worked up about Groundhog Day. I don't think it's probably changed, I mean I'm sure it was probably this way a hundred years ago, but there's a lot of comedy that has nothing to do with comedy. You know, it's just getting this noise from the crowd. Wooooooooo!
WW: There's certain comics who broke a lot of trends and were real edgy and had this real edgy promise but sort of burned out. But then there were others who were able to pull it back. Like there are some people that just go off the rails.
Bobcat: Well, I know I've spent time off the rails. It would've been easy for me to be dead. Propelling in from the roof of the Oakland Coliseum nude New Years Eve at a Nirvana concert. It would've been easy for me to slip and fuckin' kill myself that night. For me to go and do an act when I'm really down or in a lot of pain and pretend I'm happy that would be really hard. But on the other thing, there's times when I'm feeling okay and it's kind of ridiculous for me to go up there and pretend to have all this angst about all this shit.
WW: Does your act change?
Bobcat: My act changes, even when I'm doing old material. Some of it's what's going on today and some of it is what I can remember. And some of it is how I'm feeling.
WW: Do you write a lot of new stuff?
Bobcat: No. When I go up and do those sets at coffee houses, what I do is I sit and I watch the other acts and then I'll just write material about the topics we're all talking about or remember what happened to me on that day.
WW: So you never sit down and write paragraphs . . .
Bobcat: No. I used to when I got started.
WW: Do you write stuff down?
Bobcat: Yeah. I have notes, because I go out on the road and I do a lot of crap and sometimes it'll be three weeks in between shows so I might write a few notes to remind myself while I'm up there. Places to go and stuff.
WW: Do you do a lot of improv, improvisational standup?
Bobcat: Kind of, that's where the writing comes from. It's not like I'm Robin Williams or something.
WW: Does he really ad lib that much? Or does he rehearse it to look ad lib?
Bobcat: I've seen him . . . I remember he was getting ready for Johnny Carson's retirement and I was getting ready to do a Comic Relief. So for like four or five nights in a row we went out to the clubs and I had a bunch of topics I was kind of honing it down and by the end of the week I had a monologue. And I'd seen him do the same thing, he was honing down what he was going to do. Then I remember when he finally went to do the Tonight Show he didn't do any of the material that he'd come up with in the club. And he is writing all the time. And he is making mental notes. Like all of us I've seen him pull old material out, and I have seen him ad lib a lot of material.
WW: Have you ever had run ins with any people you've really pissed off? Like Sylvester Stalone or Axl Rose?
Bobcat: Yeah, most of the time people are just being kind of silly. Sylvester Stalone said he would kill me and all this stuff.
WW: Was he kidding.
Bobcat: Oh, no. He said, "I'm going to rip your fucking heart out." Then I ran into him in a bowling alley and my feeling was, okay punch me. I'm not like getting in his face, I just figure I'll lean into it and make it a shorter fight. If you're going to kick my ass, let's be expedient about it.
WW: When did the thing on the Tonight Show, where you set Jay Leno's chair on fire, did you know ahead of time that you were going to do something like that. 'Cause you had the lighter fluid . . .
Bobcat: Yeah. I was at a 7-11 and I thought, I'm going to set his chair on fire. Yeah, I had to buy lighter fluid. Although it's okay to talk about it now. Yeah, it was pre-meditated. But I think at that point it would have been harder to go out there and do a monologue. What's really funny is that they cut a lot of shit that I said out of the Tonight Show that night. And it wasn't really all that scandalous it was more like he was pissed.
Tony: Given that they did cut a lot of your material what they left, the chair on fire.
Bobcat: They could have cut that out.
Tony: They have the ability to do that.
WW: Did anything bad happen to you because of that?
Bobcat: I was on probation and four thousand dollars worth of fines. I talk about it in my standup. Then they asked me back next week to do a dumb sketch. Then they asked me to be back on, and that week on the Jon Stewart show I said that I thought Leno had Ron and Nicole killed for the material. Then he unbooked me, it was the day before I was supposed to go on. My problem when I watch the Tonight Show and I'm watching comedians I just end up laughing too hard at them all. And I assume being on the Tonight Show is the highest level of being original and clever.
WW: Do you dislike most comedy you see?
Bobcat: I don't watch it, and it's not because I dislike it. You got to understand, I started hating comedy. So I didn't even have a period to get burned out on it. I came from a place where I hated it. I liked Andy Kaufman, Steve Martin, Monty Python, and George Carlin. And I thought everything else was just shit. So I started from that point.