Tthese days, Bobcat Goldthwait prefers not to vote. Anyone who knows his name probably knows that voice, a guttural yowl that makes him look like a character being destroyed by an oversized mallet. It made the comedian, filmmaker and actor a star during his tenure in the Police Academy films back in the 80s, but no one wants to be reduced to a bit, so he retired the quasi-persona in 2018.
“It was a decision I made,” Goldthwait told the Guardian on a phone call from Los Angeles. “I went back to the street after watching the Kimmel show, and I did not look forward to it … The voice did not suit me. But I know the people, they worked hard all week. and that’s what they’re expecting, so I probably digested it a little longer than I should have. I did an OK set, but people in the crowd shouted, ‘Mute!’ It’s my daughter’s favorite crochet hook. “
His new documentary Joy Ride chronicles the chapter of his life informally beginning with that decision, as he embarks on a back-to-basics standup tour with his longtime friend Dana Gould. The plan was simple. “We started doing some shows, and I thought we’d shoot them, and cherry pick the things we liked,” he says. “It would have been a pretty traditional special, and then the pandemic struck.”
He got all the pictures he needed until the blockade started in early 2020, but with the free time on his hands, he got busy by going down with the editors and building outside. The product of their additional work is a more substantial diptych portrait of two men bound by the broad contours of their common philosophy of life. Her string of bookings comes in a wide range against self-righteousness, bigotry and the rest of the world assorted bullshit.
“I did stand-up again after 15, 16 months,” he says. “It felt great, but people are very excited — the same kind of knuckleheads who travel on a plane now come up to comedy clubs and decide this is where they do their anti-wax against the man. I’m going to d ‘Street, and sometimes there are people where I do not know if they’re hangmen of the Police Academy or what, but they expect me to have a different ideology than I … I started in Boston. I’m used to the’ “People hate me. What I’m not used to is a bunch of Proud Boy wannabes clapping their arms, mumbling about how Covid is not really. That’s weird for me.”
One of the key bits in Goldthwait’s set is the Police Academy Fandom, which has an overlap with the right side, which he finds surprising. Police officers and their most ardent defenders have claimed the Daffy comedy franchise as their own, and do not always appreciate the progressive bend of his star material when they see him on stage. His time spent as an officer Zed McGlunk may have gotten him out of the casual ticket, but he’s still half amused and half worried that legislation would see this slapstick lark as a partisan in her favor. “It’s a bit like the Bigfoot community,” he says. “They love everything about Bigfoot, including the beef commercials. Every press is a win.”
The pair did not get too much audience pushback during the tour that Joy Ride would be giving credit to Goldthwait for playing rock clubs with a more self-selected audience than comedy clubs these days. “[At comedy clubs,] half of the people are there because they know me and Dana, a quarter are there because of some movies I was in 30 years ago, and a quarter are there because they might have gotten a groupon, or needed something to to do the Date Night, “he laughed.
He is clear-eyed enough to see through many of the established controversies currently revolving around the comedy world, as talents that fit Goldthwait’s overall profile — male, white, middle-aged — praise their grief over a changing climate. His act with Gould stands as a rejection of the oft-repeated demand that no one be allowed to push boundaries anymore, denied in their competent puffed-up riffs at clan rallies, the US Special Olympics team, and teamed up with Massachusetts car dealership owner Ernie Boch Jr. . “People like to say, ‘George Carlin couldn’t do his deed today! What would he say about all this?'” Goldthwait says. “Do you know what he would say? I know exactly what he would say. He would say something funny and cut about your fucking bullshit. There is no culture of dismissal. It only exists if you are a whistleblower or a victim.
One of the biggest names to beat the cancellation culture drum is Jerry Seinfeld, who called himself Goldthwait’s unofficial nemesis with an out-of-nowhere touch about comedians and cars getting coffee. In the clip, Seinfeld sends Bridget Everett about Goldthwait’s unhappiness, his despair, his lack of success, and, yes, his voice.
“Every issue should be allowed,” Goldthwait says. “I will defend the freedom of the people, even if I do not agree with what they have to say. But at the end of the day, the question is whether it’s funny. When Jerry [Seinfeld] makes a homophobic joke that is only on the status quo. He is not even diligent. I never had an ax to sleep with the signal field. Then on his show he went on that weird tear against me. In an interview, I saw him say that was his favorite part of that season. He’s a bad winner. I felt like I was in a scene in a Western where the gun dropped his guns, but then the signal field rolls into town, and he has to take his Colt 45 off the wall for one last showdown. ‘Do you really want to talk to me?’
The new movie focuses more on friendship than hostility, but shows how personalities some obviously find rather friendly souls to each other. Even though Goldthwait clearly remembers how Gould harassed them in their early encounters – “It was not well-meaning ribs, I was just mean to him and he would hide from me” – somewhere along the way they began to appreciate each other’s comfortable company. Goldthwait removed dashboard-mounted lipstick cameras to shoot the scenes of the car murder, instead of shooting from the back to create the impression that we were driving with some friends instead of watching a performance. “I don’t gravitate towards people who are‘ on ’all the time,” Goldthwait says. “I love people who are organically funny. In retrospect, I have a feeling that’s why Robin and I came close.
He refers to the late Robin Williams, a longtime friend and occasional actor in Goldthwait films, from a cameo in the cult classic Shakes the Clown to the star of the pitch-black comedy The World’s Greatest Dad. He portrays a frustrated English teacher devastated to find his son dead by auto-erotic asphyxiation, at which point he melts a suicide note to preserve some of the boy’s dignity. His prose touches a public nerve, and long ago the sad father forged a complete literary phenomenon far beyond his control. The themes of the Depression caused some to associate Williams’ character with the man himself, now an icon of inner pain behind an optimistic outing.
“I get frustrated because Robin’s character says, ‘I thought the worst thing in life was coming to an end on my own, but now I know the worst is going to end with people doing it on your own,'” Goldthwait explains. “And then people on the internet confuse that with something Robin himself said that could not be further from the truth. You see a stupid meme of him looking closely at those words said, and I like, ‘He did not really say that! ‘
Speaking of World’s Greatest Dad – the film was a topic of conversation a few weeks ago for its striking similarities to the musical Dear Evan Hansen, at the release of his film adaptation. When the musical about a teenager who drops a suicide classmate’s journal got first traction, a friend told Goldthwait about the strangely specific similarity between the two. “I got a ticket and went to look at it, and I thought, ‘Ah, this is good,'” he recalls. “Even though there’s almost a line in the game being picked up right by the world’s Greatest Dad, which I still believe was a coincidence. But at that point, in the middle of the game, I went, ‘Oh my God!’ very loud. I did not make it to laugh, it just came out. ‘ Another thing is that in the commercial for the movie, I do not remember if this is in the game or not, but the mascot of the school is the Bobcats, I definitely asked if there is anyone out there who messes with me. “
As always, life is weird for Bobcat Goldthwait. Even though his alter ego was meant to keep him on the floor, he could not expect surrealism to reach into a series of reactionaries, or to see his job fired and supported on Broadway, or his deceased friend look and see a parody yourself. Whatever bizarrely goes his way, he keeps a straight throat by doing the work so beautifully presented in the new film. Every time he picks up the mic, delivers his punch lines, and laughs, things make a little more sense.
“To be excited, to have fans – it’s not natural, and no one believes me,” he says. “Success is all about fulfillment. Going on stage with Dana and other people I love, laughing and having a great time. That’s about it. Performance in places where the other star-bellied shots get what I do.