In the 1980s, Bobcat Goldthwait rose to superstardom with his larger than life personality and unique brand of comedy. His appearances on stage as a standup comic and on film as a plethora of zany characters quickly established him as a fan favorite and cemented his role as a pop culture icon. As his career thundered forward, Goldthwait discovered a new calling, which would lead to yet another successful career, in the world of filmmaking. Over the past two decades, the comedian-turned-director has gone on to create some of the most memorable cult films in cinema with “Shakes The Clown”, “Sleeping Dogs Lie”, and “World’s Greatest Dad”. Now, Bobcat is back with his most ambitious and (potentially) controversial film to date!
“God Bless America” focuses on Frank (Joel Murray), an ordinary guy who has had enough of the downward spiral of American culture, which he sees as overrun with cruelty, stupidity and intolerance. Divorced, recently fired, and possibly terminally ill, Frank truly has nothing left to live for. But instead of taking his own life, he buys a gun and decides to take out his frustration on the cruelest, stupidest, most intolerant people he can imagine—starting with some particularly odious reality television stars. Frank finds an unusual accomplice in a high-school student named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), who shares his sense of rage and disenfranchisement, and together they embark on a nation-wide assault on our country’s dumbest, most irritating celebrities. “God Bless America” is a truly dark and very funny comedy for anyone who’s had enough of the dumbing down of our society.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Bobcat Goldthwait to discuss his career in filmmaking, the challenges involved in making “God Bless America”, his advice to young filmmakers and what the future might hold for him in the years to come!
To many of us, you are instantly recognizable from your work in standup comedy but you pursued filmmaking as well. What originally intrigued you about the world of filmmaking and made you pursue that aspect of your career?
I really first started doing this kinda stuff about 20 years ago with “Shakes The Clown” but it took me a really long time to realize that making movies is what really interested me. It is all about telling stories. I should have realized I was interested in that years ago because when I would look at a movie advertisement, poster or a trailer, I would look for the director and who wrote it. I kinda stopped looking for what it was about or even who was in it. It was almost like when I was a kid and I would watch standup comedians, even before I understood what they did for a living. I was in second grade and I saw George Carlin on the Dinah Shore Show and I said to my mom, “What does he do for a living? What is this guy’s job?” [laughs] She said, “That is his job!” I thought that was awesome! Telling stories on stage is limited because you are interrupting people’s dates half the time! [laughs] Telling stories in a movie is nice because you are allowed to do different kinds of comedy and you can actually not have a punchline every 60 to 90 seconds.
Your latest film is “God Bless America.” What was the catalyst that inspired you to write this film?
I think there were a few things. One of the biggest was that I wrote it around the time where I dropped out of watching the stuff I am making fun of, which is why some of the material is dated. It was a few years back. There was this weird time where, at town hall meetings, people were just shouting down people while they were speaking and nobody was really having a dialog anymore. The mentality of the people yelling was, “I want to see the manager!” [laughs] So, when I saw the president getting called a liar on the floor, and I am no big fan of George W. Bush, but when someone calls the president a liar on the floor of the House, it would have be depressing for me either way — that has nothing to do with politics! It was just a matter of, “Where are we going as people?” No one was trying to have a solution, it was all finger pointing and saying the most insulting things so they can dismiss people.
What can you tell us about the process of writing this really unique script and what went into it?
This movie was different. Usually, it takes me about a week to write a screenplay. That is how long it took me to write “World’s Greatest Dad” and “Sleeping Dogs Lie.” This one was different because the first draft took me about a month but it was also another 80 pages long. I had written it for my wife as a Christmas present! [laughs] I guess it was inspired not by my frustration with modern civilization but more by the fact that I am a really cheap husband! [laughs]
You really have terrific leads in this film. You worked with Joel Murray on some previous projects. Tara Lynne Barr is a relative newcomer but is terrific. What was it about these two that made you cast them for their roles in the film?
Ya know, Joel is my friend and after reading the script, my wife Sara said, “What about Joel?” I thought, “What a great idea!” I just had back surgery and it was the only time in 30 years that I have ever been high! I was on back pain medicine and I didn’t tell Joel I wanted him to be the lead, I just sent him the script. I just said, “Hey, do you want to be in the movie?” So, he really just thought he was going to play “The Boss” or something! Finally, he asked which role I wanted him to play and I told him, “Oh yeah, I wanted you to play Frank! Sorry I forgot to mention that!” Tara just came in and auditioned for her role. She has this crazy energy and a wholesomeness. It took me a long time to realize that is what I had been looking for and I didn’t realize it until I saw her.
The whole process of making this film was on your shoulders. What was the biggest challenge in bringing it from script to screen?
The biggest challenge in this movie I think was shooting an action movie on a micro-budget. That was the biggest challenge because the stunts, the blood, the squibs and all that stuff takes time. Every time you do one take, you have to do everything and redo everything. It really slows down the process and everything takes about twice as long or longer, so that was a drag, But, if I can keep making movies, I don’t want them to be the same movies over and over. I hope to work and make all different kinds of movies.
Is there a particular type of film or genre you are looking to tackle sooner rather than later?
I have been working on a lot of screenplays. One is a musical! I know a lot of people are thinking “Bobcat Goldthwait … singing?” but I am not in it! [laughs] So, there is the musical and then there is one that is more of an ‘80s kinda Steven Spielberg movie. I also wrote one, and I didn’t do this on purpose, that is more of a family picture. My wife read it and said, “You wrote a family picture?!” She was flipped out! [laughs] I told her, “I didn’t do it on purpose!” Then she said, “Really, if you got rid of a couple of the curse words, this thing could be a G rated movie!” I am going to keep those words in there for now! [laughs]
One of the parts of “God Bless America” I loved was Tara’s rant about Alice Cooper. [Click Here For Clip] Is that something close to your heart?
I am a huge Alice fan. It was funny, Gale Zappa was at the screening [the wife of legendary musician Frank Zappa] in Los Angeles, just a few days ago. She said to me, “Look, I was there when Alice first put a dress on!” [laughs] She knew the woman who either told him to or inspired him to put a dress on for the first time. I thought that was pretty awesome! [laughs] I have always been a big Alice fan but I wanted Roxy to have things — ya know, when my best friend Tom Kenny [the voice of Spongebob Squarepants] and I were growing up, we grew up in the ‘70s and his thing was Muddy Waters. Everyone was listening to KISS, Foreigner and Journey and Tommy is going, “Look, I am telling you, Muddy Waters invented those three chords those guys are stealing!” It was one of those things where not only was it valid, but it was his thing and no one else could take it away. The Alice Cooper thing in the film was inspired by that. I thought, “This kid loves Alice Cooper because none of the other kids even know what the fuck she is talking about when she brings it up!”
What is your favorite part of the filmmaking process these days?
I have to say production, even though it is the most physically draining. When I am sitting behind a monitor and I am looking at my friends and they are acting, people are seeing them act, they are doing a great job and it is not what people expect out of them and at the same time we are all having a lot of laughs on set — that is a really great feeling! I think it was my experience working with Jimmy Kimmel on so many things where I got pretty good at knowing when things work, ya know? I didn’t have to go back to the editing room. That is one of the things Jimmy said later about working with me, that I wouldn’t have him do things five times. He would do it, we got it to where it was funny and then that was it and it was usually only after two or three times. Sometimes on a film I will go, “Man, this ain’t workin’!” [laughs] Then we will throw it out. Thank God, Joel is a great improviser! He would change things up or suggest stuff. It’s funny because those scenes often end up becoming my favorite scenes, the ones that were just ad-libbed and stuff.
Looking back on your work so far, how do you feel you evolved as a director through the years?
That is really the reason to keep making movies — trying to get one right! [laughs] I hope I am improving! Ya know, the filmmakers that I look up to, be it Clint Eastwood or Wes Anderson, they don’t make the same movies over and over again but when you are watching them, you know it is one of their movies.
I know you hit the stage for standup from time to time. Is that something you might see yourself returning to do more of in the future or have you found your home in the world of movie making?
I am really fortunate that I can pay my bills when I am not doing a movie by doing standup. They are kinda two different things and it is funny because the people who come to see my standup aren’t the people who come and see my movies and vice versa. The people who watch my movies very rarely know I do standup. It is so funny. It is two different worlds. I probably should get on social media so that the two of them could meet each other!
Yeah, what seems to be the hold up there, Bobcat?
“What’s up with that grandpa!” [laughs] A couple things! One is the idea I would have to expose myself to the general public so they can say rotten things about me! I don’t know if my skin is tough enough! Then the other thing is that it becomes like a third job, this idea of keeping these people posted all of the time. If I was on social media, I wouldn’t want it to just be me saying which comedy club I am playing and retweeting someone who said something nice about me. I would actually like to make some content. I think that is what keeps me away from it.
Now, you are a seasoned vet of the film industry. What is the best piece of advice you would give to young filmmakers?
It’s funny because it sounds trite but it really is all about making it and going and doing it. “Sleeping Dogs Lie” was shot in two weeks with a crew from Craigslist, ya know? Then it got into Sundance. I think something which is really helpful is that if you are pursuing it to get rich and famous, I can’t help you because I don’t know how to do that! [laughs] If you are pursuing it because you have a story to tell, you have to boil it down and think about what the one line version of what you are trying to say at the very end of this movie that these characters are saying. That is so freeing and it really helps you write. You don’t have to worry if every joke is funny or if a particular scene is exciting enough, you just try to get to that one line at the end of the movie.
Personally, I have been a fan of your work in comedy and film for years. I’m sure you have a lot of stories to tell from those journeys. Any chance we will see an autobiography from you in the future or something of that sort?
Ya know, someday I will probably write a book or something but I am not a very nostalgic person. I think that is why fans are sometimes frustrated with me when they meet me. I am always polite, well, most of the time I am polite, I shouldn’t say always! Most of the time I am polite and I understand that these movies they grew up with meant something to them but at this point, 28 or 30 years in, it is hard for me to be excited again when somebody wants to talk about “Police Academy” [laughs] I haven’t told this story and maybe you will think it is funny. So, for all these years, when I go out to a bar, there is always this drunken frat guy who will see me and say, “Dude! You are the guy from Police Academy! How are ya?!” And I am always like, “Yeah, I am good! How are you!” and all that kinda stuff! The other night, I am at a film festival in Calgary and I am in a bar after the event. This dude comes up to me and says, “Dude! Bobcat!” And I am thinking, “OK, here it comes!” He goes, “Dude, nobody makes dark satires like you, bro!” [laughs] I thought, “Oh, it really doesn’t matter! It’s the same guy!” [laughs]
That’s great! I guess you can’t escape your destiny! [laughs] Thanks for your time today, Bobcat. The film was great and we look forward to spreading the word!
Thank you! Thanks for the compliment! I really appreciate it!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.