Hearing Bobcat Goldthwait's voice on the phone may have come as a surprise to me, if I hadn't heard from a friend that his real voice is not the same as the voice he made famous in the '80s — a voice he refers to as "Grover on crack." Comedians create personas, which are generally magnifications of their true personality, but for Goldthwait it was different.
"The character originally was that I'd go on stage and kind of parody standup, and then I became a parody. People only knew me as that character." In the past several years, Goldthwait is proving that his breadth of talent reaches far beyond that parody.
Goldthwait is now performing comedy in his own voice and he couldn't be happier. "My whole life changed about five-six years ago. I just stopped doing stuff to pay the bills and said 'You know what, if I'm gonna have to live a much different lifestyle I'm willing to do that, so that I can just make my living making small movies, and going out on the road doing stand-up. That's cool with me."
If you haven't heard much from Goldthwait lately, it isn't for a lack of productivity or creativity. Goldthwait has kept himself behind the camera, instead of in front, and he's having a very successful second career of it. Last year, he wrote and directed the black comedy World's Greatest Dad with Robin Williams — a big hit at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. He was also responsible for Sleeping Dogs Lie (Sundance 2006) and Windy City Heat (named best comedy film at the 2009 Montreal Just for Laughs Festival). "I'm having the career that most people have at the beginning of their career. When people first get famous they have more options, and now I have more options."
Goldthwait is making a conscious break from the career he initially created for himself, referring to some of his past movies as "turds." "I can't stress enough to people, 'Hey man, you can take the checks, but you gotta realize you're gonna be talking about this for the rest of your life.' If you're gonna sell out, be ready to be answering questions about Police Academy 25 years later.' (he laughs) … The amount of energy I've spent talking about Police Academy, versus the amount of money I've made — it doesn't weigh out."
As far as being in the limelight, he's just not interested. "Trust me, every single reality show I've gotten a call from. Be it celebrity Big Brother, celebrity Fear Factor, or celebrity Where's My Pants, or whatever — and I choose to just not do stuff, I don't care about just being known … If I am, I hope it's on my terms."
Still, whether he wants to be known or not, Comedy Central named him one of the top-100 greatest comedians of all time. Like all great comedians, his comedy has evolved. What you see this week in Asheville, will be a lot different that what you saw on TV in the '80s and '90s. "My material over the years got more and more personal so the voice really didn't fit. Sure there are always going to be a few folks in the back yelling, 'Police Academy! But, f—k those people. I have to do what makes me happy."
If there are any fans stuck in the 1980s this weekend, rest assured that Goldthwait will be the last person in the room rattled by a heckle. He's been a professional comedian since the age of 15, and as a friend of Kurt Cobain he spent a year opening for Nirvana (which may sound like a sweet gig, until you realize that Nirvana fans only want to see Nirvana). "Other comics complain about hecklers, but it's like, come on, they're just words. I've had M80s going off around me on stage … I've been hit by a teenager."
Goldthwait is seeing stand-up comedy with a fresh perspective. "I did get burned out on it, and now I have a new attack on it. I find myself writing again, and I really thought it was the road I didn't like, but I think it was actually the persona I didn't like." Comedians become famous for an image they've created, and audiences show up expecting that image. To think that Goldthwait has been able to successfully break from that image is nothing if not impressive.
"I do know there's a good portion of people coming out to see me with this expectation, and I do address this expectation … but to just go up there, and be this thing that I was in my early 20s … It's kind of like the guy who was a lot of fun in college, and then when he's pushing 50 he's just an asshole. I've never used that analogy before, but it's kind of exactly why, you know, I have to change."
[Joe Zimmerman is an Asheville-based standup comedian. Contact him through zimmermancomedy.com.]
who: Bobcat Goldthwait
where: Funny Business Comedy Club
when: Friday and Saturday, March 26 and 27 (8 and 10:30 p.m. $20. www.ashevillecomedy.com)