Once best known for playing Zed, the manic cadet in the Police Academy movies, comedian, filmmaker and master of absurdity, Bobcat Goldthwait will be headlining a weekend at the Houston Improv from September 24-27.
The 53-year-old has reinvented himself as one of the most successful independent directors working today. His films World’s Greatest Dad, God Bless America and Willowcreek have enjoyed positive reviews, and his first documentary Call Me Lucky recently opened at the Sundance Film Festival and is being called his “masterpiece” (Hitflix). Goldthwait shrugs off the accolades and quips, “most young people only know me as the guy who shows up occasionally on their favorite podcast.”
On the topic of Call Me Lucky, Goldthwait credits the film’s jumpstart to his dearly departed friend, Robin Williams. “[The film’s subject, Barry Crimmins] didn’t believe I was going to [make this movie], because I’ve been talking about making it for 20 years. But I didn’t know how [to tell this story] until Robin suggested I make it as a documentary. He gave me the initial money to [get started] and it came together very quickly.” While Williams never saw the finished film, critical reaction has been overwhelmingly positive – and, as Goldthwait puts it - “very humbling.”
Call Me Lucky focuses on Barry Crimmins, a comedian and political activist, who suffered repeated molestations as a young child. Through his activism, Crimmins went on to shut down child pornography rings perpetrated though AOL’s chat rooms and brought the issue of Internet child abuse to the national conversation. As Goldthwait explains: “Here’s a guy who felt all this rage in '90s. Part of his recovery was him going online and searching for other people who suffered the same [abuses]. The process changed the world, and helped all these other people. It’s pretty dark subject matter, but it’s also a very life affirming movie.”
Dozens of Goldthwait's comedian friends appear in the documentary, including David Cross, Steven Wright, Patton Oswalt and Marc Maron. Yet despite his years as a stand-up, Goldthwait admits to having a rocky relationship with the art form. “Comedy’s completely changed in the advent of digital media. The people that ruin stand-up for me are the ones that talk about it like it’s a sport – like you do on sports radio. They dissect it, they argue about it. To me, that’s like arguing about poetry. It’s completely stupid.”
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Goldthwait names Andy Kaufman as one of his major comedic influences, primarily for his use of anti-humor. “I’m not nostalgic about comedy, because as a teenager I was already disenfranchised by it. My initial stand-up act was really kind of a parody of stand-up. Somewhere along the line I actually became a comic and I don’t know how that happened.” Going deeper, Goldthwait is even quick to differentiate between the terms “comedian” and “comic”, explaining that “[a comedian] is just what some people do for a living” where “[a comic] is who they are as people”. Without getting too heady, Bobcat laughs his analysis off and concedes that he “just gets a little nervous when people start taking the clown too serious.”
Unsurprisingly, Goldthwait has become a go-to director for his shooting stand-up concerts. In 2014, he directed Patton Oswalt’s Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time and this year he’s directed new hours for Marc Maron and Brian Posehn. “When directing stand-up, you have two jobs,” he says. “One is to give each special a unique look and make the audience [at home] feel like they got the best seat in the house. The other [job] is to let the comedian be. [The comedian] shouldn’t be worried about technical things on the night of - all they should have to do is give a great show.”
As far as his own stand-up career, Goldthwait seems to have a new lease on life. “For years, I would definitely say I was trapped in this zone of expectations, where I didn’t feel like disappointing [the audience], but I wasn’t enjoying myself onstage. But then I realized, it’s not the stand-up I didn’t enjoy – it was the persona I was doing. So I made the decision to jettison [the persona].” Nowadays, the comedian feels more “honest” onstage and “a little past” worrying about pleasing everyone all the time. “It’s those shows where folks allow me to ad-lib and goof around where I walk away thinking ‘Man, that was a pretty good show.’”
Six performances are scheduled for September 24-27 inside the Marq*E Entertainment Center, 7620 Katy Freeway, No. 455. For more information visit improvhouston.com or call 713-333-8800. $17-$30.