If we owe one thing to the Police Academy movie franchise that launched in 1984, it is the massive exposure it gave to then-burgeoning comedian Bobcat Goldthwait.
It was his delivery that first dug his hooks into fans. A unique style was the second part of that one-two punch: Through a twisted snarl and sputtery vocal effect, he further engaged us as he dropped his brutally honest comedic bombs. His physicality, a simultaneous blend of reluctance and explosiveness, helped keep us on edge, eager to always follow him to the punchline.
Over the years, his stand-up has become stylistically more straightforward, allowing the focus to remain on his continued ability to release brilliant insights, whether he’s waxing autobiographical or tackling social commentary.
When Goldthwait isn’t entertaining crowds via the stand-up forum, he certainly isn’t lounging. Over the last 30 years, he’s been acting, making movies, doing voiceovers, and directing. The latter includes several TV programs, from talk shows to dramas.
On January 31 and February 1, he returns to Phoenix for four stand-up shows at CB Live. We got to talk with him about what attendees can expect, as well as his latest projects that involve comedian Dana Gould and filmmaker Judd Apatow.
Phoenix New Times: You are back in Phoenix for a couple nights' worth of shows. What topics are on deck?
Bobcat Goldthwait: Well, it's always — at least for the past 15, 20 years — been about telling stories. My shows are still somewhat autobiographical, and I do that for a couple of reasons. One is that, then, you know the material is yours. Other people won’t have the same stories, and then you’re not derivative. Although I was in a car wreck with (comedian) Dana Gould, so he’s probably got some of the same stories at this point. Oh, we didn’t hit each other, we were in the backseat of the same car.
The two of you are working together.
Yes, he and I have been doing a two-person show, and we're filming that at the beginning of February in Atlanta, Athens, and then Asheville. That will end up being around 90 minutes and have somewhat of a documentary feel to it. In this show, the two of us are on stage together, not doing back-to-back performances.
Speaking of documentaries, you made Call Me Lucky in 2015 about comedian Barry Crimmins. Now, there’s some new activity with this film.
That’s what I am currently working on — making that a narrative movie version with Judd Apatow.
Barry is an interesting character — stand-up comic and activist against child sexual abuse. How did you get interested in telling his story?
I’ve known Barry since I was a teenager. I started doing comedy because he was running an open mic, and that's where I got my start. But why did I make the movie? There's a lot of reasons. I mean, I think one was that his story was so amazing. He went to the floor of the Senate, and he took on AOL because they were allowing child pornography to be openly exchanged. So it was a very Frank Capra kind of thing, you know, a little guy against the system. That, along with my love for the guy — he’s like a father figure.
Have you worked with Judd Apatow before?
No, but I've known him for a long time since he was a P.A. and was one of Adam Sandler’s roommates. I am pretty sure that’s when I met him, because Adam was in my fine alcoholic clown movie, Shakes the Clown.
You’re getting close the 30th anniversary of Shakes. Are you going to do anything celebratory?
We screened it for the 25th anniversary in L.A., and I was so surprised that it sold out — shocked. The majority of the cast showed up, including Adam Sandler, Julie Brown, and Tom Kenny. It was really cool, and I was so surprised that it was sold out. I was shocked. I don’t know if I’ll do anything for the 30th.
Was it mostly longtime fans that came out, or do you think it’s found its way to a new or younger audience?
It’s usually people 30 and older that seem to have a soft spot for it. You know, it wasn’t very well-liked when it came out, so it’s weird to me that it has this cult following. In any case, I’m appreciative of it, but I think I may also do myself a disservice by making all my movies with such different tones from one another. Maybe if I hadn’t, I’d have developed a bigger fan base as a filmmaker.
You’re staying true to your vision, though.
Yeah, all of these movies, they're very personal, and they're usually kind of a little bit, slightly, extreme. They each tend to develop a fan base, and it’s funny that people who like one particular movie tend to not like the others.
How do you think the stand-up audiences have changed since you’ve been a comic?
I think the only difference is that audiences now have a voice. Besides heckling and writing the management, if people don’t like something now, there are social media outlets.
You don’t seem rattled by that technological evolution.
I think there are a lot of very successful comedians who just aren't used to anyone ever criticizing them. Now, they’re like, “Someone didn't like what I said when I marginalized a group of people.” Hello!
Right. There’s no self-reflection with some folks that are being called out.
I've always had people not like what I do and weighing in on it. So this isn’t new to me. I have moments where my comedy is still a little angry, or I might get a little too extreme, but honestly, it’s calm. I find myself diffusing heckling situations when they get rough. There’s so much anger in the world right now that contributing to it is a disservice.
We're all walking on a high tension wire right now.
It's insane. I've made fun of every administration since I started doing comedy, going back to Reagan. Yeah. But this is the first time that making fun of the president gets me death threats on Instagram, which is the most benign form of social media, by the way. And I joke because it's funny to me that the biggest insult in our day and age is that someone will unfollow us. I used to play arenas. A million people have actually unfollowed me. You're really late — this doesn't hurt my feelings (laughs).
From directing episodes of shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Maron, and now Netflix’s new show starring RuPaul, AJ and the Queen, to performing, your career is so diverse and prolific. What could you add to the resume?
You know, I really would love to do a musical. I joke about that, but I really would.
Is there one medium where you feel the most at home?
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I think being behind the cameras is where I feel most at home, but I have to say, when I’m doing stand-up, I think, "This is what you do, and this is fun." I’m just lucky that I get to do all the different things.
What do you want people to know about you?
That when I am on stage doing my show, I’m not just trying to pay the bills. I am thoroughly enjoying myself and so glad to be up there.
Bobcat Goldthwait is scheduled to perform on Friday, January 31, and Saturday, February 1, at CB Live. Tickets are $22 via CB Live.