Nobody in Hollywood has a name — or a voice — quite like Bobcat Goldthwait. And we’re not just talking about the comedian-turned-filmmaker’s speaking voice, that high-pitched bray that made him stand out among the standup crowd back in the ’80s and ’90s. His voice as a storyteller is notably distinct as well; after all, it’s not every writer/director who would purposely choose to spin yarns about alcoholic clowns (Shakes the Clown) or women who develop a too-intimate relationship with their pet dogs (Sleeping Dogs Lie).
Goldthwait’s voice resonates loudly and clearly throughout his latest project, the anthology series Bobcat Goldthwait’s Misfits & Monsters, which premieres on truTV tonight at 10 p.m. Each of the eight half-hour episodes affords the creator the chance to experiment with wildly different genres and tones; for example, the second installment is a ’70s era political satire/monster movie mash-up, while the third episode goes the mockumentary route. “We also have an MGM musical about casual racism and a time-travel story that’s basically a Jerry Lewis movie set in Dealey Plaza during the Kennedy assassination,” Goldthwait teases about what’s to come in later episodes.
No matter how outlandish his narratives get, though, there is one constant element to each tale: “I’m always trying to empathize with these people, even if they’re people who would be considered different from the norm.” For this Role Recall, Yahoo Entertainment took a stroll with this one-of-a-kind storyteller through some of his best-known characters and stories.
Police Academy 2–4 (1985-1987)
Goldthwait was well into his comedy career when the film industry came calling, inviting him to join the ensemble of the burgeoning Police Academy franchise. Rather than try to adapt his standup persona to film, he used the movie as a platform to introduce that persona to a mass audience. “I just did a watered-down version of the standup character,” admits Goldthwait about how he approached the part of Zed McGlunk, who was introduced as the leader of a street gang in Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment. “The director, Jerry Paris, encouraged me to ad-lib a lot. It didn’t say in the script, ‘Zed goes ‘Aaa! Aaa! Aaa!‘ There was a lot of ad-libbing and goofing around. Not that this is an excuse, but I really didn’t know what I was doing!”
All that goofing around paid off, as Zed returned for the next two sequels, Police Academy 3: Back in Training and Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol, this time as a rookie cop instead of a terrible crook. Goldthwait remembers that, at that point, his initial ignorance about the filmmaking process gave way to frustration. “Let’s just say I was kind of a dick,” he says chuckling. “I was always saying stuff, and then they offered me more money. But they would get mad at me, too, because I would [suggest storylines]. I was almost thrown out of the academy for trying to introduce plots!”
Asked whether he’d ever consider reviving Zed for a Police Academy reboot, Goldthwait indicates that it’s not in the cards. “I got that question from TMZ, and I said, ‘If they’re going to reboot it, they should do what they did with 21 Jump Street and make it a comedy this time.’ That made it to air, but what didn’t was when I told them, ‘I don’t know if it’s the time to be doing wacky police movies.’ The kid was like, ‘Why,’ and I go, ‘Because they’re killing civilians now.'”
In between Police Academy movies, Goldthwait happily played second banana to his friend and fellow comedian Whoopi Goldberg in this crime comedy, which didn’t make a large dent at the box office but enjoyed a long afterlife as an ’80s pay cable staple. “Whoopi kind of got me started [in comedy] by grandfathering me into the Comedy Store in L.A. She’s always been a good friend, and I think that helped in regard to feeling comfortable with her on set.” While he hasn’t acted opposite Goldberg in years, he’d love to direct her in one of his own movies. “It would be fun to do something like that with her — I just like working with my friends.”
Hot to Trot (1988)
After three years of supporting roles, Goldthwait got his shot at leading man status opposite — wait for it — a talking horse. Needless to say, that collaboration wasn’t Triple Crown-worthy, not that he’d ever blame his equine co-star for the movie’s failure. “Let’s not throw the horse under the bus! Blame me and the director. Leave the poor animal out of it.” If anything, Goldthwait would prefer to thank the horse, and Hot to Trot, for making him realize that his ultimate career ambition was “director” and not “movie star.” “That movie changed my life and launched my directing career, because it was like ‘Wow, I am powerless as an actor.’ I was really left out to die making that movie, and it made me go out and make my own short film immediately afterwards, because it was such a frustrating process.” The experience of feeling powerless on set also shaped the way he directs actors in his own films. “I try to work with people who are going to bring ideas, because why have them around if you’re not going to have them contribute? I’ve only had a few instances where an actor has been so far off base that I go, ‘I’m not going to let this guy ad-lib anymore.'”
It’s no secret that Christmas albums are the gifts that keep on giving. Just ask Mariah Carey and Josh Groban, whose respective holiday records Merry Christmas and Noël are stocking stuffers every year. The same holds true for Christmas movies, with films like Elf and Bad Santa getting tons of replay whenever the calendar flips over to December. That’s why Goldthwait cherishes his small but memorable role in Scrooged, Bill Murray’s retelling of A Christmas Carol that’s entering its third decade as a holiday favorite.
“Even when I made that movie, I was superhappy, because I knew it would be on every year,” jokes Goldthwait, who plays the Bob Cratchit-esque employee that Bill Murray’s heartless TV president fires on Christmas Eve. “I really feel that Bill is the funniest person I’ve been around. He would pitch a whole bunch of stuff, but often use the subtler jokes or ad-lib. I remember there was an ad-libbed scene where he twirled me around and then lets me go; I go flying. But when I went flying, my head hit the back of the elevator, and I passed out briefly! When I came to, I thought ‘I’ve got to let them know I’m OK,’ but they were already walking away from me going, ‘That’s the one, Bill — you killed it.’ And meanwhile I’m like, ‘Number 12 on the call sheet is fine everyone. Don’t worry about me.'”
Production on Scrooged started in December 1987, and originally the cast and crew weren’t going to get the Christmas holidays off. That is, until Richard Donner gave them the gift of a vacation… by firing everyone. “He fired everybody a couple of days before Christmas under the guise that he was going to hire us all back,” Goldthwait remembers. “So he made sure that we got that holiday. He said, ‘You’re fired’ and everybody cheered. He’s kind of an awesome guy.”
Shakes the Clown (1992)
After Hot to Trot convinced him that he should be directing, rather than acting, Goldthwait decided to make his filmmaking debut with, as he describes it, “an alcoholic clown movie.” Initially, he planned to stay off-camera altogether, instead pursuing John Goodman to play the title character, who has to clear his name after being framed for murder. Unapologetically dark and weird, Shakes the Clown was a passion project for Goldthwait, but audiences weren’t similarly impassioned to seek it out. He got a taste of the critical and commercial shellacking that was in store when he and his co-star (and future SpongeBob SquarePants) Tom Kenny screened it at a film festival to a resoundingly negative response. “They hated it,” Goldthwait recalls. “Tom said to me, ‘What were we thinking?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know, man.'”
It may have taken 25 years, but these days Shakes the Clown has a devoted fanbase. To mark its silver anniversary, Goldthwait and Kenny staged a special screening in Los Angeles and were greeted by an enthusiastic crowd that included Adam Sandler. “I feel like it isn’t much different from what I’m doing now,” Goldthwait muses about the movie’s recent renaissance. “It’s like if John Waters had only made Multiple Maniacs, people would say, ‘This is the worst movie ever made.’ But once he had a body of work, people went, ‘Now I get it. This is an actual style!’ So I think that maybe happened to me a little bit.”
Radioland Murders (1994)
Like Howard the Duck before it, the ’30s era comedy Radioland Murders was supposed to prove that George Lucas had more to offer the world than Star Wars. And also like Howard the Duck before it, Radioland Murders turned out to be an expensive disaster for Lucas, eventually driving him back to the far, far away galaxy. “Lucas was around, and I became friends a little bit with him,” says Goldthwait, who has a small role as a writer for the fictional Chicago-based radio station, WBN. If Lucas realized that the project was doomed, he didn’t share it with his cast, which included comic heavyweights like Michael McKean and Stephen Tobolowsky. “I didn’t think, ‘Well this movie won’t be a hit.’ It was so big and fun. And Mel Smith, the director, was a sweet guy. I remember one day I was smoking a cigar, and he said, ‘You should try one of mine — they’re Cuban.’ And I went, ‘Mel, these are your cigars. I’ve been stealing them every day on set.’ He had been blaming the camera department!”
Sleeping Dogs Lie (2006)
After his experience with Shakes the Clown, it would be understandable for Goldthwait to want to avoid film festivals for the rest of his career. But when his overdue follow-up, Sleeping Dogs Lie, was invited to the Sundance Film Festival, he couldn’t say no. And it’s a good thing he didn’t, because that movie — unlike Shakes the Clown — was greeted by rave reviews, despite the uncomfortable subject matter: A woman (Melinda Page Hamilton) performs a sexual act on her dog, and inadvertently reveals that to her fiancé’s family. Goldthwait gives full credit to his leading lady for the film’s success. “When I first started auditioning people, I was like ‘Holy crap, I’ve written a horrible movie.’ Then Melinda came in, and I thought, ‘She has to do this!’ I’ve got to give it up to her for being in it; her agents were telling her not to. I need to work with her again — she’s great.”
World’s Greatest Dad (2009)
Along with Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams was another foundational person in Goldthwait’s life and career. The two moved in the same standup comedy circles and had an off-stage friendship that lasted until Williams’s death in 2014. Goldthwait also directed the late actor in one of his finest performances, as a grieving father and high school English teacher who tries to posthumously improve his teenage son’s reputation after the kid’s accidental death. “He read the script thinking he was going to help me out by playing the school principal or some other small role,” Goldthwait says. “But then he called up me up and said, ‘Could I be the dad?’ It was very kind of him, because if I was going to write a movie for Robin, I certainly wouldn’t make him an English teacher! I think he already tackled that pretty well.”
Bobcat Goldthwait’s Misfits & Monsters (2018)
Goldthwait rarely has a problem coming up with stories — the main issue is getting them made. That’s why an anthology series like Misfits & Monsters is proving to be the right outlet for him, as he’s able to translate an idea directly from his brain to the page to the screen. The series has also been an outlet for some of his real-world concerns. The second episode, for example, started out as a Rebel Without a Cause-influenced story until the 2016 election led him to rewrite it in a more political vein, with David Koechner playing an obvious Donald Trump stand-in. “I don’t hate Trump or his administration, but I despise the cruelty of what they’re doing on all levels,” Goldthwait says, adding that he’s participated in marches for various causes. “It’s funny, I’m not on social media except Instagram and I was just at a march last week and posted pictures. I got this insult saying, ‘Bobcat, you’re a liberal? Unfollow!’ These guys have been following me because I was in Police Academy and they have no idea of my standup or the movies I make. They’re like, ‘Zed, you betrayed us!’ and I just think, ‘You’re jumping on a few decades late.'”
Bobcat Goldthwait’s Misfits & Monsters premieres Wednesday, July 11, at 10 p.m. on truTV.
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