Analyzing a Bobcat
Goldthwait hits Sacramento stage with Dana Gould
Around the same time that K.I.T.T. captured the imagination of TV audiences as the talking car on the hit 1980s show Knight Rider, Bobcat Goldthwait gripped the nation’s funny bone with his aggressively nervous stand-up persona. He was the original talking car of comedy.
Just as Knight Rider went off the air in 1986, Goldthwait’s career eventually wound down. But just as Knight Rider lived on and changed with a number of revivals and reboots, so did Goldthwait through film, on screen in the Police Academy series and Disney’s Hercules and as a film and television director with a disruptive voice in God Bless America and Misfits & Monsters.
Now, he’s back onstage for a stand-up comedy tour with longtime friend Dana Gould. SN&R chatted with Goldthwait before his stop in Sacramento.
You’ve done a lot of interviews I bet, right?
Oh my God, so many. You know, I was on the road for probably 30 years doing comedy clubs every weekend … for probably like 40 weekends a year. So back in the day, [that] meant that I had to do every wacky radio show, every “Taint and Teabag in the Morning,” and then it was always like Good Morning Tacoma and stuff like that. (Laughs.) It’d be like 6 a.m., and I’d be following pet adoptions and kids clogging.
That’s a hard act to follow.
Yeah. Yeah. But I think I smoked ’em.
Were you in character for a lot of those?
Yeah, most of them, for probably like 20 years. And it would always freak everyone out. Also, a lot of these things, I come in and I’m just quiet, because I’m not the kind of person who walks into a room—especially when there’s strangers—and tries to get the focus, I’m very quiet. But then when I get on the radio or TV I would turn it on, you know, and it seems like it would always flip out the host. And … they would be like worried that … I was going to be just half-asleep. So they’re going, “Hey, late night? Do you need some coffee?” And then I’d wake up. Sometimes they would cut the interviews short. (Laughs.)
I heard you talk about that character, and how it’s just based in this really nervous guy.
Yeah, I think the origins of that were I really was nervous and terrified. Plus … I was just thinking about it this morning, it was kind of subversive, you know? It wasn’t until later on that I kind of compromised and sold out that it became toothless and not weird. I mean, sure, it was still weird to people, and maybe offensive to some, but originally it was kind of very subversive. I’ve been thinking about the things that I’ve done as a creative person, and which ones that I enjoyed, and it’s always been the things where they were being subversive, you know. It was never the things that had mass appeal.
Do you still try to be subversive?
Yeah … the series that I did last year that was on [truTV], I felt that probably would be perceived as subversive, and some of the episodes seemed to piss off some people, so—you know, Misfits & Monsters—and all the movies that I write, or the ones that I write and make … they’re never mainstream. I mean, I don’t go like, “Wow, this isn’t going to be a mainstream movie, so I should make it,” but it’s just the things that interest me. You know, to do a rom-com with a tiny bit of bestiality in it or a very violent film about kindness like God Bless America where, you know, a baby may or may not get shot. … Even when I did Call Me Lucky, which is a straightforward documentary … the message, I felt, of my friend Barry Crimmins, was very important, but again, it’s not something that would be on CBS, you know?
If you hadn’t played that nervous kind of character, where would you be, what would you be making if that had never taken off?
I don’t know … my stand-up, even before the persona, was more performance art than stand-up comedy … What happened was, I was doing stuff that was kind of conceptual, then I got on Letterman when I was 20, and then I started being booked as a headliner, so now I kind of had to come up with a comedy act, or more traditional. So I was still in that persona, but I was actually doing stand-up comedy. I was doing the very thing that I originally set up to make fun of and be a little—without sounding too pretentious—a little postmodern. There’s no way not to sound pretentious when you say postmodern, there’s no way.