Five Favorite Films with Bobcat Goldthwait
Plus, the comedian-turned-filmmaker on his latest, God Bless America.
Comedian, actor, and filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait became a fixture on the stand-up comedy circuit in the '80s and '90s, developing an idiosyncratic persona that he parlayed into a string of movie roles and TV gigs. But rather than ride that schtick into the nostalgia sunset, Goldthwait turned his talents to filmmaking. His debut film, 1991's Shakes the Clown -- aka "the Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies" -- would become something of a cult classic (Martin Scorsese's a fan), while 2009's World's Greatest Dad earned strong notices for its unique brand of black comedy and one of star Robin Williams' finest performances in years.
This week, Goldthwait returns with God Bless America, a delightful valentine to popular culture in which a disgruntled office drone (Joel Murray) and his teenage sidekick (Tara Lynne Barr) go on a cross-country killing spree designed to right the wrongs of contemporary bad manners, reality TV and other social ills (if you're texting in a theater, fear for your worthless life.)
We sat down for a chat with Goldthwait recently, and the first thing he did was send his camera crew on a break with a line from Albert Brooks' Real Life -- so right away we knew he was going to be great. Read through for more of his thoughts on the film and his career, but first, here are his Five Favorite Films.
(Hal Ashby, 1971; 85% Tomatometer)
It's hard to boil them down. I would say, well, Harold and Maude, obviously, because it seems like something... you know, when I saw Harold and Maude, I didn't laugh; I was a boy and I just felt like a Starbelly Sneetch finding the other Starbelly Sneetches, you know. So that movie was a biggie, and still is. I'm thinking of movies that I go back and watch, ever time I see them.
Young Frankenstein, you know... I think Young Frankenstein influenced me because it was a comedy but they really treated it like the James Whale Frankensteins. There's a real sadness in that movie.
They replicated the Universal horror look really faithfully.
Yeah, and they used a lot of the same effects and stuff, yeah.
Do you find when people do something serious and then set the comedy within it that it makes the comedy better?
Yeah -- and a story, you know? In a lot of comedies the story comes afterwards. They'll cram in a "friends are the most important friends" or some bullsh-t.
I find that with your stuff, like World's Greatest Dad, they're almost dramas -- and the comedy evolves out of that.
Yeah, and that's the way I approach it. I kind of don't even consider... I mean, I think of all of them as comedies, but I don't concern myself with the jokes at all. It's more about staying true to the world and the themes that we come up with.
Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994; 91% Tomatometer)
I'd say Ed Wood; the Ed Wood movie I really love a lot. I love the idea of -- I think it's a great movie -- but I identify with this kook who makes movies because he has to, and works with his friends. I don't think Ed Wood is the worst director: His movies are personal, and you can't take your eyes off them. [Laughs.] You know what I mean? There are way worse film directors.
I read where Tim Burton said something like the difference between himself and Ed Wood was that he was lucky -- which is why that movie is so affectionate. It's not a mockery.
Oh no, no, not at all. It's very kind and sweet, and warm. I love that movie.
(John Waters, 1981; 88% Tomatometer)
I don't know which John Waters to pick. The go-to would be Pink Flamingos -- that was another movie that was pivotal, when I discovered that -- but I would pick Polyester out of his movies. I've got a big soft spot for John Waters, 'cause again, there's a guy who's doing things on his own terms, and I think people would find his topics shocking but he has a lot of kindness towards these people, these characters. I love him. I just saw him this weekend when I was in Maryland.
You two should do a movie together.
Well I'll tell you, he's been so supportive. He and Todd Solondz and myself met, and I was like, "Wow, this is a harmonic convergence. This is the Mount Rushmore of f-cked-up." [Laughs.] My wife dubbed it the -- you know how they had the Million Dollar Quartet, with Elvis and Carl Perkins and that? -- well she dubbed it the Hundred Dollar Trio. [Laughs.]
(Preston Sturges, 1941; 100% Tomatometer)
Next, Goldthwait talks God Bless America, avoiding nostalgia comedy, and revisiting Shakes the Clown.
I would say Sullivan's Travels would probably round out the five. That movie is kind of what I'm always wrestling with, you know -- there's the idea of, "Do I go out and entertain people [laughs], or do I go out and say something?" I love that movie. That's just another movie that, you know, Preston Sturges movies -- they're not really set in the real world, or most of them aren't set in any real world, but the characters are always very realistic; and then he has these great, oddball one-dimensional characters that show up. Clearly that's something that's kind of influenced me, 'cause I don't think the world that my movies take place in, it's not a real place. I always laugh at people who go, "Well, you know, they would have been caught" in [God Bless America] and I'm like, "It's not real, man." I don't wanna have a scene where Harvey Keitel is in front of this big map of the United States going, "I gotta get inside their brains. I gotta figure out where they're gonna strike next."
[Laughs.] Tommy Lee Jones ordering a search of every outhouse, farmhouse, henhouse...
[Laughs.] Yeah, Tommy Lee Jones going: "Somebody! Get a patrol car to the Kardashians! I think I've figured it out!"
You have to suspend some disbelief there.
Yeah, yeah. And I think that maybe in this movie that works for people. We do a good job of hopefully suspending it by shooting a baby within the first 10 minutes. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] That was a very enjoyable moment.
Well thanks, man.