Bobcat Goldthwait was a true comedy movie star in the 1980s. His loud and aggressive film persona was extremely popular and it all started when Goldthwait first used the brash character during his stand-up act. Films like the Police Academy series, One Crazy Summer and Burglar relied heavily on the popularity and talent of Bobcat’s creation.
In recent years Bobcat’s main involvement with film has been behind the camera. Projects like World’s Greatest Dad, God Bless America and the recent documentary Call Me Lucky have allowed him to shed the wild man character he played so many times in the 80s. Bobcat has proven to be an extremely talented writer and director— and that is something nobody would have anticipated when he was a part of the slapstick Police Academy franchise.
His recent documentary, Call Me Lucky, focuses on the life of comedian Barry Crimmins. Bobcat is a longtime friend of Barry and the film is a loving tribute to the turbulent life of one of the legendary stand up comic.
I talked to Bobcat Goldthwait about his career in comedy, his past film projects and Call Me Lucky.
Your career has changed and grown a lot over the years. Do you ever look back and reflect on how far you have come?
Hopefully you are always changing or things would be boring. I don’t think the stuff I am doing now is much different than my early stand-up. But, I do think the stuff I am doing now is much different than the horrible movies I made in my twenties.
Was your goal always to move away from being a performer and to become a filmmaker?
I didn’t know I wanted to be a director. I didn’t have a master plan or anything. But I am the happiest I have ever been writing and directing my own stuff. It took me a long time to figure out what would make me happy. I love being behind the camera. I love working with comedians.
Call Me Lucky deals with a lot of serious aspects of Barry Crimmins life—especially the repeated sexual assaults he had to face as a child. What motivated you to take on such a difficult project?
What motivated me to make this movie was how much I love Barry. I thought it was a great story. I want to make all different kinds of movies. This was a personal one because it’s about someone I really care about.
Did your strong personal feelings for Barry complicate things at all when it came to making the film? Was there extra pressure to make sure you got things completely right because of your relationship with him?
I didn’t want to do the film as a documentary originally. I wanted it to be a scripted movie with an actor playing Barry because I didn’t want Barry to relive those events. Robin Williams was a good friend of mine and he knew Barry’s story and he encouraged me to do it as a documentary. Robin also gave me the start up money for the film, he didn’t finance the whole movie, but he gave me enough to get started.
It’s kind of a cliché to say every comedian is depressed or every comic has a dark side. But, do you think comedy offers people the opportunity to sort of delve into their past and express themselves in a way that can be cathartic?
I am drawn to the kind of comedy that tackles big subjects. I am interested in the kind of comedy that shines a light on hypocrisy. That is what I have always been drawn to. The human condition is pretty dark and depressing—I don’t think comedians cornered the market on that. Different comics approach comedy for different reasons. Some do it to get famous…some do it to make sense of the world…and some do it to fill a hole inside of them. The comics that are trying to make sense of the world are the ones I am drawn to.
I don’t know if Barry was drawn to comedy as part of his recovery. I think he was drawn to comedy because as a young man he saw that there is injustice in the world and that there are bullies. Maybe he was drawn to comedy because it gave him a voice. When you are a kid and you are raped…I am sure you feel like you don’t have a voice.
You have been pretty open about not really enjoying your past work—despite that work making you famous. What was it about films like the Police Academy series that left you so dissatisfied?
I didn’t find any of it very fulfilling. It all flies in the face of American values to have fame and not enjoy it. I was never a guy that got off on being famous because I was in Police Academy—not at all.
Did the character you had created haunt you the most or was it the quality of the films that you were making that had the biggest negative effect on you?
I liked the character when I created it because it was something that would shock audiences but when I started making movies I watered down what the character was. Hollywood is willing to give people as many chances as they want to pursue—but the public only knows me as a character that I jettisoned years ago. I’m not bitter about that but if I knew I was going to be talking about Police Academy 30 years later I would have tried a lot harder.