Two years ago, Bobcat Goldthwait said he was done with standup comedy. Several times, to different interviewers. So how is it that he's doing four full nights of it next week at the Brea Improv?
"I thought I quit, and if the [WGA] strike wasn't going on, I'd have still remained quit!" he says. "If you're doing standup, you don't need other people's money to make something." Over the phone, that unique, hyper-nervous voice of his—which he compares to that of the Muppet Grover—is subdued, but still distinctive. "I could bullshit you, but it's bleak out here on the road—I'm not gonna lie. We've turned into a nation of finks when you go onstage, with people recording the show despite being told not to."
Interviewing Goldthwait is humbling because it's following in the footsteps of greatness: Some 20 years ago, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, one of the bookers of a comedy show told him that there was a band who were big fans, and that the lead singer wanted to interview him for the local college-radio station. That singer? A little-known Seattle musician named Kurt Cobain. "They gave me the Bleach CD," Goldthwait says, "and I remember my friend Tony listening to it, saying it was good, and going, 'Rock & roll really sucks because you'll never hear from those guys again,' and then a few years later, I was opening for them, taking a bottle in the head."
And the fans didn't stop with bottles. "I've been onstage when they actually threw someone from the pit at me, and I got hit behind the knees with a kid," he recounts. "I knew even then that it was kinda special and cool."
Goldthwait became a movie star when the producers of Police Academy hand-picked him to play the hyperactive villain Zed in the first sequel—his popularity was such that they brought the character back for two more sequels as a reformed cadet-in-training. Though he doesn't like people to have a limited perception of him—he once set Jay Leno's chair on fire to make that point—he doesn't mind when people recognize him as Zed, saying, "It'd be like being Tonya Harding and getting mad if people recognized you as that chick who attacked the other skater. . . . I was in those movies; you know, it's not like I'm gonna go, 'How dare you! I'm an artiste now!'" For perspective, he adds, "if I ever meet Sandy Duncan, there's no way in hell I'm not gonna tell her how much I love The Million Dollar Duck."
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Besides, the association has had some unique perks. "There was a toy [of Zed], and when you pushed a button on its back, its pants would fall off," he says. "I have that displayed in my home."
Nowadays, Goldthwait likes to work as a director, for television with Jimmy Kimmel Live ("I like having an opportunity to be in something where it's not all about me") and in Hollywood, where he has tackled such hot-button issues as woman-on-dog sex (Sleeping Dogs Lie) and clown alcoholism via the infamous Shakes the Clown.Widely panned when it was released, the movie has gained some respect in the years since; Bad Santa arguably owes a lot to its existence. "I go on some radio shows, and the guys are like, 'Hey, what's the deal with Shakes the Clown, blah blah blah,' like it's a bad movie or something," he says, "and I'm like, yeah, it didn't make a lot of money, but did you ever think that maybe you're not the target audience? Did you ever think that 20 years ago, when I made that movie, I didn't go, 'Jeez, I really want to make a comedy about alcoholic clowns that appeals to very dumb disc jockeys that talk about sports and women's vaginas all morning'?
"I remember once walking through a mall in the middle of the country, in Omaha. This kid came up to me—he had piercings, and he had green hair. And he comes up to me, and he goes, 'I really like Shakes the Clown,' and he was all quiet and sweet, and I go, 'I made it for you.'"
Bobcat Goldthwait performs at the Brea Improv, 120 S. Brea Blvd., Brea, (714) 482-0700; www.improv.com. Thurs., Feb. 7, 8:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 & 10 p.m.; Sat., 7 & 9 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. $20. Thurs. & Sun., 18+; Fri.-Sat., 21+.