Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait on the Bill of Rights, Ted Nugent, Westboro Baptist Church, and His Film God Bless America

You may know Bobcat Goldthwait from his recent films, the cult sensation World's Greatest Dad and this year's God Bless America. Or his rather infamous role as the squeaky-voiced gang leader Zed from the Police Academy movies.

But Goldthwait was a standup comic first and foremost. He began performing when he was still in his teens, though his career eventually took a bit of a digression. Thirty years after starting, he seems to have finally found his comedic voice onstage.

Goldthwait's a master storyteller whether he's working in film or standup format, and his comedy sets are a balance of self-deprecation and absurdity, which you can witness for yourself when he takes the stage at this weekend's Phoenix Comedy Festival.

The event benefit Arizona's Bill of Rights Monument and, fittingly enough, Goldthwait had plenty to say about the content of that august document, including the first and second amendment. During our recent conversation with the comedian, he dished on his feelings about the right to bear arms, as well as his opinions on Ted Nugent, Westboro Baptist Church, America's over-obsession with human trainwrecks, and other topics.

Why did you agree to participate in the Phoenix Comedy Festial/Bill of Rights Comedy Fest?
I agreed because this will be part of my community service work (laughs). No, I looked it up after they asked me to do it. It seemed kind of interesting and I said, "Yeah, I'm on board, it's a great idea." I'd love to see it in other cities and towns too..

Do you think comedians are ideal spokespersons for the First Amendment? There have been many comics that have stretched the boundaries of free speech over the years through controversy, like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin.
Well, I think that comics are people that are pushing for it the most, but there are certainly are people in music and other art forms doing it too. So yeah, I think freedom of speech being protected by comedians makes sense.

Speaking of controversy, we've heard that your latest film God Bless America caused a little bit of an uproar amongst conservatives.
People [have gotten] upset because there's characters that are clearly based on Tea Party members who get shot and killed in the movie. But they don't get shot and killed for their ideology, they get shot and killed because there's a lot of Tea Party members who are just assholes. What really lit the fuse for me to write this screenplay was I saw a Tea Party sign where it says, "We came unarmed this time." Well, I thought, that's really crazy, so I'll see your crazy and I raise you a crazy.

The main character goes on a killing spree, offing annoying reality TV stars and people similar to the folks of the Westboro Baptist Church. When you wrote the screenplay, were you compiling a list of annoying people you wanted to kill?
Nah, I really don't want to kill anybody, and the real solution to these things isn't getting rid of those people. Really, I wanted to write a movie about how we all have this appetite for distractions. I don't really care about the Kardashians or people like that, but why do we as a society have this appetite for them? Why are we making celebrities out of these people?

Because they're human train wrecks, especial the Westboro members who protest at funerals.
Again, that doesn't piss me off. I really want to make a movie that questioned our appetite for this stuff. The Westboro Baptist Chuch people are a the equivalent of shock religion. These people aren't really interested in Christ's values, they're interested in making themselves famous. Some people have said that the movie is anti-Christian because you see someone who's clearly the Westboro Baptist people holding a sign that says God hates Jews and they get killed and now I'm anti-Christian. Well, that's the real sign they hold up . . . I would say that's more anti-Christian than me doing a comedy where they get killed.

Was the main character an avatar for your frustrations with attention whores?
I agree with about 89 percent of the stuff Frank says in the film, but I don't agree with all of it because I'm part of the problem too. But I really was just trying to make a movie that questions the distractions. I don't think anybody should be getting shot or killed or put to death.

So you're against the death penalty then?
That's the funny thing, I actually agree with Bill O'Reilly on the death penalty. I'm against it just like him. But he's too busy trying to make people like me... "Oh, Hollyweird with all the lefties, everybody gets their marching orders from the left." Which is really funny, like yeah, we all get our marching orders from Fox Studios, or it's a very liberal place, Clint Eastwood can't even get a break Yeah, we're all lefty pinkos here. Ronald Reagan and John Wayne got a shot in their day here.

Bill O'Reilly and some of the other conservative pundits consider you to be a leftist?
No, I haven't heard anything from Bill O'Reilly's camp but on Breitbart's website, they are actually even more extreme. The movie's been called "leftist snuff porn," which is funny. I think that if someone wanted to make the conservative version of this movie I would support it. I'm not against freedom of speech and I'm also into people being creative. I think people get confused between freedom of speech and an actual threat. When Ted Nugent says that, "Next year if Obama gets elected I'm going to be in jail or dead," he's implying that he's going to kill him, so that's not a joke. That's the problem with the Second Amendment, if you really do care about owning a gun and think that's important, the right to, which I actually do. You have a lot of crackpots defending something that's super important.

What's your opinion about gun nuts like Ted Nugent? The Obama administration has not done anything to take away anyone's guns and that's something that keeps coming from some of those people. And then they say he's going to do it if he gets reelected. It's just crazy. I think the way it's set up that if you're not a criminal and you're not a dangerous person you should have a gun. Why would you be opposed to that? The waiting period is inconvenient, but that's part of, I'm willing to do that. American people are like, "Wah, I want it now, wah." I blame Burger King. I'll tell you what, owning a gun makes you act right because you go like, "Do I really want to get in a fight in traffic with this guy? I don't want to have to use my gun."

You own a gun yourself?
Oh sure.

So that covers the first two amendments. What's your stance on giving quarter to British troops?
(Laughs) Well, I have to say I'm a big fan of the British. If Ray Davies wants to come over to my house and crash he's welcome to, even if he joins the military.

You were involved in a punk band in the early '80s?
As a kid I was involved in band like when I was 13. I graduated from High School in '80 so punk started breaking when I was a sophomore. So yes I was in bands that were punk when I was a kid. It was fun. In order to see the Ramones, I got a job working for the road crew so I actually roadied for the Ramones back in the day because I was actually assembling the PA so I could see their shows. It's funny when I think back, "Wow, you saw the Ramones way early."

What was the name of the band?
The first band was the Dead Ducks. I'm still in touch with some of the Dead Ducks.

Did you perform standup between the bands at the shows you played?
Yeah, I'm a terrible singer. Once I got kicked out of the band I just basically became the MC and the comedian. I like to say I started doing standup when I was 15 but reality I started when I was 13.

You're getting back into comedy after retiring from standup recent years, correct?
Well I did quit for awhile, but I have a new Showtime special that's on now called "You Don't Look the Same Either." I continue to do standup when I'm not making my small movies. That's basically it, I don't really have much of an agenda but I'm either in production making a movie or I'm on the road doing standup. And I do my movies on my own terms. So I do them, they're very low budgeted. I'm not really interested in appealing to everyone, it's never my goal. I'm just trying to make movies that interest me in making. So that's why I make them really small. I'm not competing with Battleship and I'm not bitter that I'm not Kevin James.

Do you regret doing those Police Academy movies?
No, I think it's like an easy go-to for my detractors. I don't feel bad that I did those [films]. I was making those movies around the same time my friends were getting out of college so I think we all make some pretty dumb choices at that age.

Plus, it helped spring you into the spotlight, correct?
It did but on what terms? It happened doing stand up and stuff. It just taught me a lesson about...I got involved in a lot of things I didn't really care about. It took me almost 30 years to realize that. Things like just being a celebrity for being famous is really empty and silly a path to pursue. Fame and money really, I know people don't believe it may make some people happy but there's got be a reason why all those kids from Jersey Shore are going into rehab.

I loved those movies as a kid, especially your character Zed.
That's okay. but I mean . . . I know that kids, I know people know me from that and they have fond memories and that's okay . . . but being the dude from Blues Clues probably, people would know you too but it doesn't feel good, it doesn't interest me. I mean I don't say when someone comes up to me and wants to talk about Police Academy, I don't go, "Oh, please, don't bring that up." But I also feel that I like making stuff, looking forward so sometimes I felt like that persona in the way people knew me was kind of a trap, and I'm happy to move past it. Even if I am an old fucker.

A lot of people know you for some of the bigger films in your career but you've always have had a penchant for art house stuff, even going back to Tapeheads.
Yeah. Because it's all about making stuff...that's fun and stuff you like.

How has your comedy changed over the years, delivery style and content-wise?
Well not content-wise, now I think I tell a lot more personal stories. The only difference is I judge from the persona. I've always had material in there that first HBO special I'm doing material about Oliver North and the Iran-Contra Scandal. I've always had material in there about events but...when I did some of these people I wasn't talking about the same kind of stuff you'd get on the Tonight Show. I had my own angle.

Do you have any other projects coming up?
Making some more movies and I sure to keep making them and I just keep making these small movies and I keep doing standup. It took me almost 30 years to find out what I really enjoy and happy. I don't have a glamorous life style but I always hated that part of show business. So I'm pretty happy.

Bobcat Goldthwait is scheduled to perform on Sunday during the Phoenix Comedy Festival at Sm phony Hall. Tickets start at $50.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.