TIFF Diaogue: Bobcat Goldthwait on 'God Bless America,' William Hung and Why He Doesn't Want to Be Famous

TIFF Diaogue: Bobcat Goldthwait on 'God Bless America,' William Hung and Why He Doesn't Want to Be Famous

Sep 19, 2011

Bobcat Goldthwait’s latest film, God Bless America, sold to Magnet Releasing after playing in the Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness category. It is the fifth film by the director who claims he is embarrassed about his ‘80s movies, where he was a long-haired, “Grover” voiced comedian. Now he speaks with his normal voice, although he still worked the midnight crowd like a pro. He announced that his movie really is for sale, “not some Red State bullsh**,” referencing Kevin Smith’s Sundance “auction.”

God Bless America is actually about everything that’s wrong with America. Frank (Joel Murray) gets fed up with a culture where TV judges ridicule contestants, political pundits yell and scream, and all his friends or colleagues talk about are other celebrities. Frank starts killing the people who bring down our culture, joined by a 16-year-old girl Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) who likes what he represents. A conversation with writer/director Goldthwait furthered the discussion of American cruelty. He was ready to spill more secrets about his satirical point of view.

Bobcat Goldthwait: Do you want an exclusive that I haven’t told anyone today?

Movies.com: Lay it on us.

BG: Here’s the exclusive. People want to know what the real germ is. The real germ of this came from when I worked on Kimmel, we had William Hung on the show. And I was like aw, this poor guy. Then we were shooting a bit with him and he was kind of difficult. He was kind of an *sshole. I was like, “Wow, everybody’s corrupt.” Maybe I shouldn’t admit it but that’s really been the germ of it.

Movies.com: Once they get a taste of the spotlight, maybe they buy into it.

BG: Yeah, we’re all corrupt.

Movies.com: The movie has an anti-cruelty stance. Do you take that perspective? Are you against the culture of cruelty?

BG: Yeah, and it’s kind of funny because I made a violent movie about not being cruel, which is kind of weird. That was the point. I think I do agree with Frank a lot on that. I really did finish the movie Tuesday [Sept. 6] so it’s hard for me to suss out exactly what it’s about. I do believe Frank just wants people to be nice. I totally agree with that.

Movies.com: Is there no redemption for mean people? We just have to get rid of them?

BG: No, I wanted to make something that hopefully if people watch it, they’re kind of forced at the end to go, “Where do I fit in? What side am I on? Am I part of the problem or am I part of the solution to it?” I don’t know, when people are so rude and mean, that they are aware of it. No, I think I’m aware of it. I’ll apologize later.

Movies.com: Does it build and spiral in groups, if one person starts teasing then everyone joins in and gets to a really nasty place?

BG: Yeah, yeah, which is weird because I know the power of that as a nightclub comedian. That’s the other thing. I’m not innocent. I think I really planted the flag on a lot of celebrity bashing and things like that. I said to myself I wasn’t going to be part of it anymore. People have been obsessed on the Diablo Cody things that the Roxy character says. She’s a 16-year-old psychopath. There’s no way she would like Juno. There’s no f***ing way. My daughter, who’s really funny, whenever she says something funny, people go, “Oh, you’re like Juno?” And she’s like, “I want to stab them in the throat when they say that.” So that’s why that’s there. I think that rings true. It is probably celebrity bashing, but…

Movies.com: But Frank tells her they can’t kill Diablo Cody, so was that your line? Artists get a little bit of a break?

BG: Right, well, Frank just wanted to kill somebody who was mean. That’s what Frank keeps going back to.

Movies.com: Is there a danger that the movie could become a list of things and people you hate?

BG: Yeah, and I think it’s funny because some of the things I put in there, I really don’t care about. I just put them in there. I don’t care about American Idol at all. I don’t at all. I just don’t like hearing about it. I don’t hate the Kardashians because I don’t care about them. I hate people that talk about the Kardashians, and I don’t even hate them. I just want to say, “Use your brain. Let’s talk about ANYTHING else.”

Movies.com: Well, should complainers also be on Frank’s list?

BG: People who complain and don’t do anything? No, then they’d probably have to come shoot Bobcat Goldthwait. But nobody gets off. Chris Nelson, one of the guys who worked on the movie, said nobody gets a free pass. Including me. I think the line got cut, but Frank used to say, “Yeah, I used to watch it but I can’t do it anymore. I used to be part of it. I just can’t.” He does still say, “I’m out” but he used to say that he used to laugh and stuff. Maybe I should’ve kept that in but that’s where I stand.

Movies.com: Do you think people can become self-aware and could self-awareness be the beginning of the end of the mean culture?

BG: I think that sounds way more hopeful than I am but that is kind of what this movie’s about. It is what this movie’s about. I wish people would be nice. I know that sounds very juvenile.

Movies.com: I don’t think it does. I say that too.

BG: I think it’s really hard. Someone said, “Oh, it sounds like you guys had a lot of fun on the set.” Well, I’d be the hugest hypocrite in the world if it was a real drag to come to work on my set and then I’m an *sshole trying to make a movie about there’s too many *ssholes in the world.

Movies.com: Your Red State joke was very funny. This audience more than anyone would get that. Do you have issues with Kevin Smith and his self-distribution plan?

BG: Oh, no, no, no. It’s just so unlike me to mention the fact that the movie’s for sale, I was just trying to figure out a funny way to mention hey, you can buy this movie, without sounding too whorish. I don’t have a problem with Kevin. I like Kevin and I like his movies. Clearly we have a lot in common seeing that Sleeping Dogs Lie is a very good companion piece for Chasing Amy and he loves Degrassi also.

Movies.com: I was there when Kevin Smith did his fake auction at Sundance and announced his plan. The indie crowd was really inspired that he was bucking the system but you could see the old guard seething at him.

BG: One of the things I find annoying, it’s one of the reasons I’ve lost interest in comedy is that I’m reduced to being on a reality show. I’m posting Facebook, blog and Twitter. It’s gotten away from a guy writing an hour act and going on stage and saying, “This is what I have to say.” I don’t want to be a personality. I don’t want to be famous just for being famous. I’d like to say something and that’s it.

Movies.com: They’re describing God Bless America in terms of Bonnie and Clyde. Would Network be a more accurate comparison?

BG: Oh, man, that’s the one I always go back to. That was the movie I watched when I wrote the movie. It’s funny you picked up on it. That’s the movie. That’s who Frank is. He’s mad as hell, he’s not going to take it anymore. But I think the people who know that expression don’t know what the movie is. I went back and watched Dog Day Afternoon, similar in the fed up guy. Falling Down to me is a movie that’s kind of weird. It’s really about all this weird white rage. He’s mad that he’s scared because there’s black gangs and he’s frightened of the Korean grocer that doesn’t give him respect. It’s kind of a racist movie. He’s had it with hobos. [Laughs] He wants hobos to be nice. I don’t think the targets are really all that worthy. John Fleck plays an aggressive panhandler and he lays him out. I don’t know if that guy needed to be humbled.

Movies.com: With the titles World’s Greatest Dad and God Bless America, are you just into sarcastic titles?

BG: It’s kind of like a title just hits you and if it seems right, you go, “Yeah, I get it.” You know that you like it because it’s kind of funny. I don’t think my titles help sell the movie though. They go, “God Bless America, what’s that about? It’s a salute to the troops.” So I know that World’s Greatest Dad, there were families that rented the movie thinking they were going to see Mork in a screwball comedy.

Movies.com: I’d hoped the press got the word out on that one.

BG: Well, I think if you saw the big red font on the box.

Movies.com: You wouldn’t call a movie World’s Greatest Dad if it’s really about the world’s greatest dad.

BG: I think maybe it got confused further with Bob Crane’s Superdad movie too.

Movies.com: I noticed in your movies, you don’t usually use a lot of extras. Do you prefer emptier scenes?

BG: I think that’s the indie world. I think I’m getting better as a moviemaker but one thing about extras that does scare me is watching for the bad backting. They’ll come up with some ridiculous business.

Movies.com: Do you ever notice an extra look into the camera on a big Hollywood movie?

BG: Oh, I see it when I’m editing. I’m like, “God d*mmit!” I want to have an award show called The Peas and Carrots, like the Spirit Awards, but you give out awards for best background acting.

Movies.com: I’ve seen it in big Hollywood movies.

BG: I think some people go, “Oh, no one’s noticing” but that’s the kind of stuff I’d be really bummed out about. Can we just blur the guy’s face?

Movies.com: Have you been gratified that people know you as Bobcat the director?

BG: It’s still kind of a bubble. It’s only in the film festival world. In the rest of the world, not so much.

Movies.com: Even after World’s Greatest Dad?

BG: Sure. I go out and do standup and a lot of the clubs I play in, they’re not even aware that I make movies.

Movies.com: So you still do standup?

BG: Yeah, it’s how I afford my lifestyle. I do standup so I can keep making these small movies.

Movies.com: Do you still do the “Grover” voice?

BG: No, because that could be possibly why I’m not popular anymore in that world. I just don’t have it in me because it’s not who I am. I love Jerry Lewis but by the time he was doing Cinderfella, it wasn’t cute anymore.

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