SXSW Dialogue: Bobcat Goldthwait on Failing, Rush Limbaugh, Useless 3D and His Upcoming '80s Horror Movie

SXSW Dialogue: Bobcat Goldthwait on Failing, Rush Limbaugh, Useless 3D and His Upcoming '80s Horror Movie

Mar 15, 2012

I was always a Bobcat Goldthwait fan so it never surprised me when he started making unique indie movies. Of course as a kid I liked the Police Academy series where his character went from bad guy to new recruit and citizen on patrol. I even liked the talking horse movie Hot to Trot. I sought him out at my local small town comedy club to hear his irreverent standup, about the then big news of videotaped police beatings and heroin chic.

Goldthwait’s latest film is God Bless America, the story of disgruntled cubicle grunt Frank (Joel Murray) and teenager Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) on a killing spree. Their targets are the mean people who make society worse, the music show judges making fun of bad singers, the Super Sweet entitled teenagers, and shock jocks. The film sold out of the Toronto International Film Festival before playing at SXSW this week. It premieres April 6 on VOD and theatrically May 11 in 20 cities. You sold the film out of Toronto so what’s it like coming to a film festival already sold?

Bobcat Goldthwait: Yeah, that’s a different experience. Coming to a film festival already sold is nice because half of the hustle is done. You’re not worried is this going to become a product that people can see? So now it’s nice to watch it with crowds and do promotion, instead of trying to do all of it. Is this your first film in the VOD model?

BG: No, World’s Greatest Dad was like that. I actually really like it because even if it was a big hit in the arthouse world, there are so many places it wouldn’t be. I remember on World’s Greatest Dad I was on the road and I was actually playing Boise and I was talking to this kid who just watched the movie two days ago. There’s no way in hell this kid would’ve [seen it without VOD]. So I do like that and I have no delusions. I know my movies aren’t mainstream so it’s perfect for it. Sometimes it’s on VOD before even the press screenings so it’s convenient for me.

BG: Well, I did flirt with making this in 3D. Really?

BG: No. That’d be funny, baby splatter coming at you in 3D. No, I have astigmatism that 3D doesn’t work for. It’s cliché to be an indie filmmaker and not like 3D but I like 3D because it’s a good red flag for me. It usually means here’s a movie for you to avoid. Here’s a movie that’s going to be about absolutely nothing. What about Hugo though? You’d want to see Hugo.

BG: I did see Hugo but I did see it in 2D. I do go to some 3Ds but I think that would be an exception, not the rule. You made God Bless America before the Occupy movement started. Is it even more relevant now?

BG: Yeah, it is weird, right? It just seems like there are a lot of people who are disenfranchised. After Rush Limbaugh I really wish I had that one character call her a slut. That would’ve been pretty funny. If you were writing the movie now, would you sic Frank and Roxy on the presidential candidates?

BG: Not really because it already is probably a little too political. Frank’s whole thing is about people who are vicious and he just wants people to be nice. Here’s the thing: Liberals and progressives are very whiny but I do find in the conservative movement this really, really just hate. Not witty, you know what I mean? So there’s people who say you should have both sides. I’m sorry, that’s not how I see the world. If I saw it that way, I would but that would be false for me. That wouldn’t be my truth. I mean, would you show both sides of the racism movement? Just to be fair and objective?

BG: Hey, they got a point there. Yeah, exactly. What are you going to do? What we learned from Rush Limbaugh is these people don’t believe in anything. They’re just concerned with being wealthy and famous. If I was Rush Limbaugh’s fan I would be super disappointed with him for apologizing. I would go, “That’s very cowardly. What are you saying? So you’re saying what you say for three days isn’t really important or you don’t believe it because money’s involved?” He stands for absolutely nothing. Sort of like he’ll just say the opposite of whatever’s in the news.

BG: He’s a snake oil salesmen. These guys are Dusty Roads. They’re all A Face in the Crowd. Has William Hung seen the movie yet?

BG: [Laughs] No. That’s funny. No. I think certainly the thing about show business is it really does corrupt everybody. Even Susan Boyle, wouldn’t that have been a beautiful moment if she didn’t come back on stage? If she just came out, sang that song and wasn’t talked back into it? And I understand. They said, “Look, your life can change and here’s money” but it would’ve been such a beautiful moment. But I went for the brass ring. It took me 25 years of being really unhappy and frustrated in show business to realize that I needed to quit and just go off and start making these small movies. Are you talking about the ‘80s movies?

BG: I don’t really care about distancing myself from anything I did in the past but for me, I wasn’t happy when I did it. There’s people who are fans of that and they go, “Oh, what an a-hole” or whatever. I just wasn’t happy being famous, pursing fame without saying anything. I must have been pretty evolved because I liked all those movies and your standup, but when Shakes the Clown was coming out I was also interested in what you had to say as a writer/director.

BG: I have fond memories of some of that stuff. One Crazy Summer, that’s the best time I’ve ever had in my life as far as work. Joel reminded me yesterday that I was making great advancements in indoor model rocketry. I was shooting model rockets down the hallway of the hotel. I get excited when people see that movie and like that movie.

Warning: The following trailer is NSFW and contains graphic content. When you see movies coming out like Jack & Jill and Zookeeper, do you not feel so bad about Hot to Trot?

BG: No, I feel Hot to Trot did deserve the beating up. I was very young, I’m not making excuses, and very naïve, and I would work every day trying to put my input into that movie and I was just labeled difficult. The director would do 70 takes on things just to beat me down so I wasn’t ad libbing and changing stuff. So it was a bad experience before we even knew about it.

BG: Oh, work wise making that movie was the worst experience I’ve ever had making something. But it did deserve its critical beating. It’s great the internet wasn’t around then because I just flew to Hawaii for two weeks when it opened and just didn’t look at a paper and stuff. That was very smart of me. Where did the Grover voice come from in the first place?

BG: I would read Dear John letters on stage. I would do all this really strange stuff and then start crying. That would be my set. Then I’d be like, “You people want to hear jokes?” It kind of came from that, this guy who shouldn’t be doing standup but this persona was very nervous and then it became kind of angry and a little more crazy as a defense to hecklers and stuff. I started in Boston and the crowds were really tough. It became this thing where I loved the safety of being another person on stage and another person that people knew, but eventually it became me saying what I really did believe and how I saw the world but still in this persona. It wasn’t until recently that I realized I didn’t dislike doing standup. I disliked perpetuating that character. A few years ago I decided I couldn’t do it anymore and in a lot of markets it just cost me work because there was plenty of Improvs where that’s who people wanted to see. That’s the reality, but I just wasn’t happy. I mean, all these decisions I make are not very good for my pocketbook but I’m more happy than I’ve ever been. Now you’re a filmmaker who’s made five films.

BG: Yeah, but I’m also a 50-year-old guy who rents. I wish I could go back to renting. Don’t get me started on the housing loan scam. Frank and Roxy should go after bankers.

BG: Like we were talking about would you go after a candidate if I was doing it now? No, but in hindsight we should’ve definitely shot a banker. It would’ve been so funny. That’s a good idea. That would’ve been a really good scene. That’s probably the scene that’s missing. I feel like there’s one beat missing. Could Frank have had romantic feelings for Roxy? Could you have gone there?

BG: Oh, he does. That’s when it all falls apart for Frank. He actually starts thinking like he’s so strident on what is right and what is wrong. The subtext is when he starts actually viewing her as a woman, he realizes that he is human. That’s the idea, that Frank realizes he is human and nobody is perfect. Nobody can live up to his ideas of how he wants the world to be, including himself. That’s hopefully a subtext with the third act. Why did it take you 10 years to direct again after Shakes the Clown?

BG: I’ve never given this answer and I just realized why. It was the material that I had written. The material I had written was me trying to pander to other people, to make the right screenplay that I thought would be popular or could attach a celebrity to or star to, instead of writing personal movies. When I wrote Sleeping Dogs Lie, I had no agenda. I was just really trying to see not even if I could make a movie, if I could write a screenplay and hand it to someone and they could read it and go, “Oh, this movie works for me.” Stay, not Sleeping Dogs Lie. I still call it Stay. You could probably take that title back at this point. No one remembers the Ryan Gosling/Naomi Watts movie Stay.

BG: Yeah, I know. [Laughs] I wish I’d had more tenacity. Now I wouldn’t have let them change it. What happened with that movie, Sarah, the woman who’s now my wife, we were just friends and she read the screenplay and said, “Let’s just go make this movie.” I was like, “I don’t have any money.” She said, “We’ll just start.” We shot it for 20 grand originally and then I used a crew from Craigslist and just made it in two weeks. That changed my whole life. So now I keep making these small movies not in an aggressive way, not like f*** you world, but I make them for me first and I hope that some people connect with them. But I’m not going for mass appeal. I’m just trying to get these stories out of me. The funny thing is once I decided to make these personal movies, I’ve written six screenplays since World’s Greatest Dad. I just write ‘em all the time. And by the way, I hate the writing process but I want to get them out. What’s the next one going to be?

BG: I may actually make another movie with Darko right now. We’re all talking about it which is kind of, I would say it’s like an ‘80s horror picture but my take on it. I know that sounds kind of eh, but I think it’s still got my tone, definitely my stamp. Is there any Windy City Heat sequel?

BG: People always talk about that and sometimes it does interest me. Is Scary Perry still out there?

BG: Oh sure, Perry’s still in all of our lives. Don and Mole do a podcast with Perry. I talk to Perry every once in a while. Did he ever figure out that you really only shot like 15 minutes of this movie?

BG: Well, the rest of the movie was filmed with his stuntman. But the version he watches at the end of Windy City Heat is just 15 minutes.

BG: He’s never seen a 90 minute movie, now. Do you think they could repackage Shakes for the Blu-ray with Adam Sandler on the cover?

BG: Then make me really small. That’d be pretty funny. I should try to do that. I never put any effort into it but I’d love to do a reissue with a lot of the cast, get a couple cases of beer and have us sit around and tell stories. That’d be fun. The one we did for One Crazy Summer was actually really fun, with Steve Holland and Curtis Armstrong. It’s the most infantile commentary ever. It’s just us making fart noises. It’s really funny, I was really happy with it. There was talk about doing another Police Academy, but it’s kind of died out. Would there be any fun way to revisit that now for who you are now?

BG: Well, they are doing one, a reboot which I think is really wise seeing that some of us have passed away and that we’re all old. I wish them all the luck in the world. I don’t have bitterness towards it. It’s funny that that’s what people associate you with because you were in less than half of them, three out of seven.

BG: What I think is funny too is if you have baggage about me because of Police Academy, that means you watched them. I didn’t watch them. I’ve watched 2 and some of 3 on cable, but I’ve never seen 4. So whatever. Again, I don’t have bitterness towards it but I jokingly said they should get Rob Zombie to reboot the series.

Categories: Features, Interviews
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