Bobcat Goldthwait

Robert Francis 'Bobcat' Goldthwait was born in New York on 26 May 1962. He decided on a career as a comedian at an early age and was performing professionally while still in high school. He and classmate Tom Kenny performed in a comedy duo, billing themselves as "Bobcat and Tomcat". To residents of the UK Goldthwait is most commonly known for his eccentric performance as the deranged Officer Zed in the Police Academy movie franchise. In 1992, he wrote, directed, and starred in the movie Shakes the Clown. He's currently the director of ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live show. Darren Rea spoke with Goldthwait as his latest film, Sleeping Dogs, was released on DVD...

Darren Rea: Where did the basic idea for Sleeping Dogs come from?

Bobcat Goldthwait: At this point, unfortunately, you're not catching me fresh. After doing so many interviews, the stock answer there is: My dog is hot.

DR: [Laughs] Yeah, you mention that on the DVD extras.

BG: I'm running out of material. Really, the idea was... It was weird trying to come up with something that people couldn't get past in a relationship. The idea hit me and I actually tried to change the idea and then I just stayed with the original idea.

I'd heard people discussing that topic, actually. They were talking about this girl at school who had allegedly done this. And it struck my how they were all acting as judge and jury on this person that they didn't really know. And I saw how the conversation spun out of control with these four people and it really hit me. And I saw the reaction it caused - it kinda ruined the dinner. [Laughs] And so I thought to myself: "That's an idea for a film".

DR: Do you worry that because of the way the movie is marketed that a lot of people won't even go to see the film because they'll think it's a really bad taste comedy?

BG: Yeah, I think that if you're watching it, thinking that it's going to be a very broad comedy, you'd be disappointed. You know, the funny thing to me is that people are like: "You know, it's a one joke movie". And I'm like: "You think that's a joke? I think that's pretty terrible".

I wish when I did stand-up it was that easy - just walk on stage, blow a dog...

DR: You'd rather blow a dog on stage than perform stand-up? [laughs]

BG: Definitely. I did stand-up for, like 20-some years. And I never really enjoyed it. I did have a persona that I kinda performed, but even when it went really well I never really enjoyed it. Towards the end it went really crazy - I did a bunch of dates opening for Nirvana. I was so over it, it was like: "What would be the weirdest place you could do it? What would be the worst place to do it."

My stand-up would be just me performing as somebody who really shouldn't be on stage, and they get up on stage and read a Dear John letter and just cry for 20 minutes, and that would be my act. [Laughs] It wasn't really traditional kinda stuff and then I started getting booked as a comedian on Letterman, and all that. And it was really funny because I was trying to make fun of stand-up comedy when I started, and I actually became the very think I was trying to make fun of.

I was talking to a friend, who was kinda at that spot, and I said: "Don't do what I did. Don't ever start writing material. Just keep doing what you are doing, because you will kinda freak out people."

DR: If you'd made the movie, say, 10 years ago Amy's guilty secret would have probably been that she'd had a lesbian fling at college. But if you were to make this movie 10 years from now what do you think the revelation would have to be in order to shock the audience?

BG: [Laughs] Yes, I know. Am I a minor benchmark on the decline of the industry. Yes, I'm hoping to God that we're never comfortable with bestiality. I hope that it's not a lifestyle you can check off on an application some day.

Although, my daughter goes to college where they recognise people who identify themselves. They don't have to identify if they are are male or female, and one of the kid's identifies himself as a tiger. That school costs $40,000 a year.

DR: You mention, on the audio commentary of Sleeping Dogs, that if anyone actually listened to you, and then meet you they should tell you... I listened to it [laughs]...

BG: [Laughs] Thank you. That's so shocking [laughs]. You're sat in this little room and you're talking to yourself. I know I do that sometimes, but I only do it when it's like Goodfellas, or Boogie Nights. I can't imagine, with my movie, people wanting to listen to that.

I went in cold. I'd been touring with it at festivals, so I was used to talking about it, but it does bother me when I'm listening to a director's commentary and there are huge, long gaps. I think I did the opposite and talked to much [laughs]. We only stopped twice - to go to the bathroom and because I was having a bit of a coughing seizure in the middle of it - but that was it.

DR: You mention in the audio commentary that the basic plot was nicked from Chasing Amy. How much truth is there in that statement?

BG: [Laughs] It influenced the writing and making, but it was only afterwards that I realised it was definitely an influence. There were other influences too. Neil LaBute's movies and possibly the movie Chuck & Buck by Mike Wight - I think it was his first screenplay. That was another very low budget movie shot on tape.

I did just watch the remake of The Wicker Man [LaBute]. Have you seen that? Oh my God! No one told me. It's now one of my favourite movies. Nicholas Cage in a bear suit [laughs] running around, punching women. I can't believe more people aren't excited about that movie.

DR: You wrote and directed Sleeping Dogs and then had to hand it over to someone else to market. Is that an aspect that is worrying - that the fate of your movie is in the hands of someone else?

BG: You know what, it's so funny. It sounds like I'm sucking up, but I think that Tartan in the UK did the best job of marketing it. They pitched it as both a romantic comedy, but at the same time they let people know that it was shocking. If you pitch it solely as a comedy people are going to be disappointed and if you pitch it as a think-piece they are going to be really disappointed [laughs]. I thought that Tartan did a good job of mixing both aspects.

DR: There are a lot of very sad, moving scenes. How difficult was it for you to write and direct those parts?

BG: That for me was like changing out of shorts and putting on adult pants [laughs].

The other two movies I've made were really odd, but this was the first time I was trying to get an audience to believe that these characters were real and, without sounding pretentious, go on the journey - as a cliché film making thing [laughs].

So this was the first time I'd tried to do an actual linear movie.

It was funny, because we'd be filming these scenes that were really heavy, and [character's name deleted to avoid spoiling the film for those who haven't seen it] is dead, and everything. And I'm behind the monitor laughing and clapping, because I felt it was working. And that was the experiment for me.

DR: You're also well known for directing while wearing outlandish clothes...

BG: It's usually just not to take myself serious, you know? If you're yelling at people, and you're wearing a fez, or a skirt, or a sombrero - you're a douche bag [laughs]. So I do it in an effort not to take myself too serious when I'm working.

It's funny, when I first started directing I would get down on time and work hard. And my ex-girlfriend would say: "You know, you should kind of work on having fun too". [Laughs] "For a comedian, you're really pretty goddamn serious". So, that's really what it's about.

I'm working on a friend's show right now, and I'm sitting here with a very sporty cowboy hat on [laughs].

DR: You are one of the very few people to have been invited back to appear on more than one episode of Space Ghost: Coast to Coast. How did you manage that?

BG: When the show first got started people didn't know what the show was, and I actually did. I was really excited and would give them stuff - and I knew the characters and everything. So I think that's probably why they had me back.

It's pretty cool, because the guys who write the show would be there at the interview, when I did it. So they were getting ideas at the interview that they could twist and use.

The interviews weren't that long. I was probably just there for an hour, or something.

DR: Most UK viewers will know you for your role in the Police Academy movies. On balance would you say those movies helped or hindered your career?

BG: I think it does make it hard for people when you go: "It's a movie about a woman who blows a dog. No, wait. It's sweet though, and [laughs] it's from the guy from Police Academy... and by the way, all the actors are unknown".

I know that that's a lot to get by, but like when I'm directing I'm not about to change my name to Bob Godthwait or something, because I don't want to be some sort of twot that takes themselves seriously. So I'm still called "Bobcat" in the credits. That's what my oldest friends still call me.

I've had that name since being a teenager. I was working with a comedian that decided his name was Bearcat one day, so myself and the other comedians stared calling ourselves Tomcat and Bobcat. But now I'm 45 and they're Barry and Tom and I'm Bobcat, so it bit me in the ass.

It's funny, because the Tom I'm talking about is Tom Kenny he's the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants and we grew up together since we were six years old.

DR: A lot of the scenes in Sleeping Dogs were filmed in a porno studio. Was that a dream come true for you?

BG: [Laughs] No. I was just walking around going: "Don't touch the walls. Don't touch the walls."

This place was not only a porn stage it was also where, on the weekends, they have these swinging parties.

It was weird. They had rooms dedicated to every kind of fantasy. There were a couple I wasn't aware of. I don't know how down I am with the casket [laughs] Who'd want it in a casket? [laughs]. But, yes, it was a very interesting place.

DR: Of all the aspects of entertainment that you've experienced - acting, writing, stand-up and directing - which would you say you enjoy the most?

BG: It would be definitely what I'm doing now. It really is my favourite job. It's not even just directing stuff I write. When I'm directing for my friends it's an awesome job. I've been back at Jimmy Kimmel Live for a couple of weeks now, helping to direct some bits and stuff. It's just fun to be back and see everybody.

DR: Were you tempted to take on an acting role in Sleeping Dogs? I know you have a very brief cameo...

BG: [Laughs] Yes, my ass is on screen as Roy Orbison's. But no, because I don't want to act any more and I think it would really take people out of the movie.

DR: What's the one thing that you're most proud of so far?

BG: [Laughs] Probably that I haven't had a timely death yet.

Em... You know, pretty much all of my acting career, and the majority of my stand-up, really makes me cringe. But, the movies that I've directed, sometimes I hate them, but most of the time I'm not so embarrassed by them - I actually like the movie that I make. Even though they are not blockbusters, and people don't know what they are...

It's funny. I was talking to Spike Jonze [director Being John Malkovich] and he was talking about this new movie he's making and finally I cut him off and I said: "I don't think you understand. My movies make hundreds of dollars."

I'm happy that the movies I've made are kinda all different, and it's very weird. This movie, I'm very proud of - just because I know it works for some people.

It's weird. I just shot a video the other day just solely to be posted on Youtube and when I got done with that I felt proud of that - this is after 25 years, or more, of show business. So, I truly do like to be behind the camera more.

DR: Would you rather continue to make projects that you put your heart and soul into, or if someone offered you a fortune to direct a Hollywood blockbuster would you sell out?

BG: You know, it's kinda weird because I've already sold out so much that nobody is going to cut me any slack for not. It's kinda like after you've already starred in Ass Blasters 2 no one cuts you any slack for doing the rest of the Ass Blasters series - just having a porn body of work.

I do know that at this point in my career I'm just trying to make stuff that I would actually watch. That's about it. Sometimes, I think my friends think I'm crazy when I don't pursue making big studio pictures, and all that. But I've already done that, and I wasn't very happy.

DR: When fans meet you do you think they're disappointed that you don't sound how they expect you to? I've read several postings on the Internet where people genuinely believe you sound like your stand-up act.

BG: [Laughs] Yeah, I think so. But I hope I charm them in other ways [laughs].

DR: If you weren't working in the entertainment industry what would you like to be doing?

BG: I'd probably end up working as a crew member for a rock band - that's probably the only thing I'm really qualified for.

DR: What's the one think you'd like to be remembered for?

BG: Erm... I would say... Police Academy 3... Because 2 is shit! [laughs].

Erm... I would like to be remembered for - this sounds corny. I just hope that my kid continues to be an okay person. I scratch my head quite often, but she's not an asshole.

Growing up in Los Angeles, I think I deserve a lot of praise for pulling that one off. That's pretty crazy seeing that she went to school with the Olsen twins. They were a grade ahead of her.

DR: What are you working on at the moment?

BG: After Sleeping Dogs Lie, I wrote four more screenplays. One of which Robin Williams has attached himself to. So now I'm just hoping that we get the money that we are supposed to get [laughs]. And hopefully we'll start filming in October [2007]. The tone on this one will again be perceived as dark but it is, I hope, a comedy - much like Sleeping Dogs Lie.

I think it's much more subversive and almost more difficult to make movies, or write scripts, that actually have some oddly positive themes. I think it's easier to be a nihilist. So, it's another fucked up dark movie with an upbeat ending.

DR: Thank you for your time.

With thanks to Paul Smith at Tartan Video

Sleeping Dogs is available to buy and rent on DVD from Tartan Video from 23 July 2007.

Click here to buy Sleeping Dogs on DVD for £11.99 (RRP: £15.99)

This interview was conducted on 20 July 2007

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