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Bobcat Goldthwait on touring with Nirvana and what attracts him to the darkness

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Bobcat Goldthwait says that when he couldn't make people feel awkward with his stand-up comedy, he tried to do that with the movies he wrote and directed -- films like Shakes the Clown (where Goldthwait stars as a depressed and alcoholic clown who gets framed for murder) Sleeping Dogs Lie (a woman struggles with a secret about how she got just a bit too intimate once with her dog) and World's Greatest Dad (Robin Williams plays a poetry teacher who's son commits suicide from autoerotic asphyxiation). With his upcoming film, God Bless America, Goldthwait is still trying to make folks feel somewhat awkward.

Also on the burner is his musical Schoolboys in Disgrace, based on the Kinks album of the same name. Goldthwait will be at Comedy Works Downtown Friday and Saturday. We caught up with him to talk about the new films, his stand-up routine versus a few decades ago and touring with Nirvana.

Westword: What's going on today?

Bobcat Goldthwait: Oh, not much. I've been kind of recovering. I've just been finishing up an edit of this new movie I made, and I'm trying to get it submitted to some festivals in time.

Is that Schoolboys in Disgrace?

No. You know, that's still trucking along. That's a bigger budget than I'm used to. No, I wrote a movie about a middle-aged guy who's watching a show like My Super Sweet 16, and then he drives 400 miles and then he kills the girl on the show. Then one of her classmates is impressed by him so they team up and drive around killing people.

What's it called?

It's called God Bless America.

Is it pretty much done?

Yeah. There are a couple of more things to shoot. It's a road picture, so I'm actually going to do some traveling and get some more shots. But for the most part, it's finished.

It sounds like it staying similar in theme to some of your other films. the dark comedy kind of thing.

The other movies, people say they're dark, and I kind of feel that they weren't. I'm not trying to be coy when I say that. But this one's dark.

Is there any comedy in it all?

Yeah, I think of it as a comedy. But I think of all these movies as comedies. Again, I think of the last two movies as fables. They're not supposed be accurate portrayals of life or something. This one is kind of another fable.

What's the message you're trying to get across with it?

I think in this one, possibly it's more of a question I'm asking us the viewer, like, "Are you going to be part of the problem, or are you the problem?"

What is it about making sort of dark films and what sort of draws you to that subject matter?

It's kind of... these are just themes and the stories that I'm drawn to. I'm all for making other kinds of movies some day too, but these are the ones that I'm writing now.

You've said that when you couldn't make people feel awkward with your stand-up, you tried to do that with your movies, right, or something along those lines?

I would say so. Yeah. It's kind of funny. Once the persona that I was doing on stage... once you realize it wasn't this guy that was crazy, it no longer became interesting to me. You're sitting there going, "This guy's just doing an act."

I saw you last time came through down, and obviously your whole stand-up thing is quite different than what you were doing in the '80s. How would you say it's different now versus then?

Well, hopefully folks will like the show. It's more personal. It's more stories. And it's more my perspective. And I try to do a show and stuff. And I hope that folks who like me from the '80s still enjoy the show, but at this point to be almost 50 and then doing that act would be very embarrassing I think.

Going back to Schoolboys in Disgrace. How is that coming along?

We're getting more people involved, and Ray Davies has been very helpful. It's just a much larger movie than the scope of the movies I'm making. It's slower. It's still something we're all excited about and hope to get going soon. Would you say this is this biggest project you've worked on?

Yeah. Definitely.

I heard you had some pretty big names in it?

I don't know where it came from that Jack White was involved, but he's not. But I'm a fan of his and I think he's awesome. But none of the people in front of the camera have been attached. Yeah, that was in the rumor mill.

I was watching World's Greatest Dad again recently and noticed Nirvana's Krist Novoselic had a cameo.

Yeah, I met him when I was traveling with Nirvana. Krist, he's a funny guy. I said, "Hey, you want to do this thing in this movie?" and he's like, "Why?" I said, "Because you're funny," and he is funny. He's a sweet guy. I end up using all my friends. In fact in this movie, there are cameos from a lot of people from World's Greatest Dad and Sleeping Dogs Lie.

When you were touring with Nirvana, did that experience harden you somewhat?

No, I think that experience was kind of a breath of fresh air. After doing so many comedy clubs and comedy for so long, it was kind of fun to go off and go, "All right, I'm going to be doing comedy in the last place you should be doing stand-up." It was kind of fun.

How was it when you first started doing stand-up? From what I gather, a lot of comics would rather have brain surgery than go through the beginning of their stand-up career again.

I don't know. I think it was... as much as there was like a lot of struggle and a lot of bombing and you're not getting paid, it was also probably the most creative part or my stand-up career, when you're learning what works and trying new things all the time. So I kind of feel like where I am for a guy who's making movies, I feel like I'm at my open mic phase.

I was checking out your Hampshire College graduation speech and you were telling everyone to do what makes them happy. And it seems like for you now making films is what makes you happy. Would you agree with that?

Oh yeah. Definitely. It's really fulfilling doing it.

Would you say more so than doing stand-up?

Well, I still do stand-up and do enjoy that because there's the cliché of it -- it's pretty immediate, whereas a movie takes a long to get made and takes a long time before you get to watch it with an audience. So that's that big difference. At this point in my career, you look out in the audience and you can gauge on how it's going to go. But as a guy who makes movies, I don't know. So that it makes it more exciting.

These days, what kind of people are coming to see you? Middle-aged folks who have seen your movies from the '80s?

Yeah. It is a mixture of people who are there for nostalgia reasons. I'm starting to get some folks who show up because they're fans of these movies, so that's nice.

Going back to World's Greatest Dad, did you ever have any backlash from, say, parents who of kids who have committed suicide or anything like that?

Before the movie came out there was some of that. but the comedy is not fueled by that. That's not what's funny in the movie. I think if you watch it then you realize. But I think there are a lot of people who make their identity by being offended, so there's not much I can do about that. It will be interesting to me to see what the repercussions of this new one are. Names are named (laughs). You wonder when you're actually discussing killing a Kardashian what the reaction will be.

I'd kind of like to know more about it but I guess you're probably...

Yeah, keeping it under wraps.

One quick last question for you. Do you still drink TaB?

No. I'm off the hard stuff there. Yeah, no more TaB.

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