Call Me Bobcat
Wildly Unpredictable Comic/Filmmaker Bob Goldthwait Does it His Way
Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait is best-known for his rein in the ‘80s as a wildly uncontrollable, decidedly unconventional alternative comedian. In the ‘90s, he expanded his brand to include directing and screenwriting with shifts as director of Jimmy Kimmel Live! and a string of off-beat films. Over the years, his raging ‘80s stage persona has tempered substantially and his current stand-up shows feature a relatively calm performance. Currently “Call Me Lucky,” his latest movie making the rounds of festivals and on-demand viewing, is a documentary about unsung comedic hero and mentor Barry Crimmins. Goldthwait spoke with INsite by phone from his home in California.
Barry Crimmins may not be a household name, but he sure has meant a lot to several generations of comics.
Yeah, I’ve wanted to tell my friend’s story but I also wanted to make sure he knew how much he means to me - and it turns out to a lot of people.
And one of those people was your good friend Robin Williams.
I had been talking about doing a documentary on Barry for a long time and I was talking to Robin about maybe doing it as a narrative, like a movie with someone playing him, because I didn’t want him to have to relive the trauma of his life. I actually, sort of not-so-secretly, wanted Robin to do it. And that was years ago, like in the mid-‘90s. I finally made it the year Robin passed away and earlier that same year, Robin said “Why don’t you make it as a documentary?” I said, “Well I don’t have any money.” So he actually gave me the money to start the movie. It wouldn’t have gotten made if it weren’t for Robin.
It’s a great story. They say there’s a dark side to comedy but this movie also explores the inner rage of comedy.
Yeah you know there’s the angry comic and the self-loathing comic, but then there were guys like Barry and myself, I’m sure in my early career, who had this rage. I figured out his story when he disclosed to me about his abuse. Then I had a sense of relief because I knew then that he was going to start taking the steps to move on and get that rage out of him.
For those that didn’t know him how do you describe Boston’s Ding Ho comedy scene he presided over?
It was the Wild West. The Ding Ho was a comedy club in Boston and Barry booked it. He really was a gatekeeper. If he thought you were being derivative, you wouldn’t get on stage. But it was also insane because we’d do the comedy show - and he was a pretty hard-drinking guy - so we would lock up the club and then it was just Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s really crazy that we all survived it.
You were doing so-called alternative comedy before there was even a term for it. How did you see it in retrospect?
Yeah all the alternative comics came along and I think it’s about the third generation now. I’m very flattered they include me. It’s funny to me because it’s like I’m the Iggy Pop of that scene or something. It’s nice.
Your stand-up - and now your films - definitely inhabit an alternative mindset.
Yeah and a lot of more mainstream comics get really bitter about it, that attitude. It’s like the idea is if you can go on to any club and just crush it, that’s what makes a good comedian. I say bullshit. I think a good comedian - or what I like in a comedian - is somebody that challenges everything, even the way we think and they ask you to think differently too. I think a lot of the audiences I get up in front of might prefer that I do the act I did in the ‘80s. But I’m not interested in that. I’ve always tried to do what has interested me.
Set the record straight for us. Did you ever retire from stand-up or were you too busy with filmmaking to go out on tour?
I do stand-up now so I don’t have to do the kinds of movies and stuff I did when I was a young man (laughs). Now I’m getting back out more and it’s really is fun again for me and that’s cool.
Bobcat Goldthwait performs March 17 – 20 at the Laughing Skull. For more information visit LaughingSkullLounge.com