Like the song goes, a horse is a horse of course, of course. Except, of course, when that horse is starring alongside you in your first major motion picture as a leading man.
That’s the situation that Bobcat Goldthwait found himself in 30 years ago when he stepped onto the set of Hot to Trot, the 1988 comedy in which he shared the screen with an equine named Don that “spoke” in the voice of John Candy. Hot to Trot was the comedian’s reward, if you will, for successfully making the leap from standup to the big screen, with scene-stealing supporting roles in comedies like the Police Academy sequels and Burglar.
But Goldthwait soon discovered the perils of saying yes to starring in high-concept horse comedies — his co-star’s bathroom habits being chief among them. “The horse’s tail would go up before he had to take a dump,” the 56-year-old actor and director remembers. “There was a horse wrangler named Corky who would catch it with a shovel and it would never hit the floor.”
That disposal method worked well most of the time, but Goldthwait recalls one day when Corky missed his cue in spectacular fashion. “We were doing this serious scene, and I saw the tail go up. I look at Corky and he’s sitting on an apple box and doesn’t move. The horse had diarrhea and it just blasted the wall. It blasted me! Everything from the neck down. It was like a Jackson Pollock of feces on the wall. The first AD was like, ‘Uh, that’s a wrap for today, ladies and gentleman.’ Not even like, ‘Let’s clean the wall and move to the other set.’ The film was just shut down because the horse had diarrhea.”
Three decades removed from witnessing his co-star’s Jackson Pollock impersonation, Goldthwait doesn’t blame the horse for shutting down his star vehicle. “Let’s not throw the horse under the bus,” Goldthwait says, laughing. “You can blame me and the director — let’s leave the poor animal out of it.”
Viewed another way, the horse may also have recognized — as Goldthwait definitely did — that Hot to Trot wasn’t going to be a comedy classic and let its feelings be known in the only way it could. For the record, audiences and critics agreed with the horse’s review; Hot to Trot received resoundingly negative reviews (it has a rare 0 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes), as well as four Razzie nominations, including Worst Picture, Worst Actor and Worst New Star for Don. Meanwhile, its pitiful $6 million box-office gross ended Goldthwait’s leading-man career before it even began. “I was really left out to die making that movie,” he says now. “It was such a frustrating process, and it put me in comedy jail.”
To be fair, some comedies are simply ahead of their time. For example, it took 25 years for Goldthwait’s notorious 1991 bomb Shakes the Clown — which he wrote, directed and starred in — to be recognized as the darkly hilarious provocation that it is. But the decades haven’t been similarly kind to Hot to Trot, which remains an odd and largely unsuccessful mixture of sports comedy and corporate satire. Goldthwait plays overgrown adolescent Fred Chaney, whose cruel stepfather (Dabney Coleman) is all too eager to force him out of the family stock brokerage business. Left to his own devices, Fred doesn’t have much business savvy, so it’s a good thing that his dearly departed mother willed him a supersmart horse that understands both the stock market and how to talk about it. It’s like The Secret of My Success meets Seabiscuit, only, you know, not good.
Goldthwait would be the first to tell you that Hot to Trot failed in its mission to entertain moviegoers. Making the movie wasn’t an entertaining experience either, particularly when he saw the way his co-star was treated. Goldthwait remembers the horse being hit in the mouth with a stick to prompt it to movie its lips as if it were speaking. “It was horrible,” he says. “Honest to God, I wouldn’t do this movie now because of how I feel about animals. That poor horse — it knew that when I was around, it would have to do stuff that it wouldn’t normally do. They were like, ‘Come on, Don.’ And Don is just clenching every time he sees me.’”
There is a happy ending to Hot to Trot, though. It’s the movie that convinced Goldthwait he should leave acting to actors and focus his talents behind the camera instead. “That movie probably changed my life and launched my directing career, because it was like, ‘Wow, I am powerless as an actor.’ It made me go out and make my own short film immediately afterwards.”
That short film begat Shakes the Clown, which later begat such acclaimed cult favorites as Stay, World’s Greatest Dad, and God Bless America, all of which are just as weird as Hot to Trot, but much more successful in their thematic, not to mention comedic, ambitions.
“Even back when I was making Hot to Trot, I was writing movies or ideas for movies and just wasn’t getting the encouragement,” Goldthwait says of his turn towards directing. “I had managers who thought they were too weird. When I wrote Stay, my manager at the time read it and called an emergency meeting where he said, ‘This is a well-written script, but I’m not sending it out because I’m afraid what people are going to think of your mental health!’ It’s funny now, but I fired the guy. I said, ‘You know what? Maybe I am crazy, but this is the kind of story I want to tell.”
Hot to Trot is available for rent or purchase on Amazon.
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