Heart of Goldthwait: World's Greatest Dad kicks SF back-in-the-day comedy regular Bobcat Goldthwait's directorial career into high gear.

Bob Goldthwait, Fate and 'World's Greatest Dad'

Dennis Harvey August 23, 2009

Bobcat Goldthwait: For some, the name conjures wonderful memories of Police Academy movies and watching him do stand-up in that same squealing Officer Zed voice. For others, it rouses horrible memories of…the same thing. A young talent who’d appeared on David Letterman by age 20, Goldthwait blew up huge in the mid 1980s. By decade’s end, his pop culture moment had expired with a vengeance. The general thinking was he could only do one thing—and everybody had gotten tired of that thing.

Bobcat got less visible, but he didn’t exactly go away. He did TV guest spots, cartoon voice work, and more standup when bills needed to be paid. But what he really wanted was to direct. The first feature he wrote and directed, the 1991 comedy Shakes the Clown, was dismissed by critics as mere bad taste—foolishly, because it’s hilarious bad taste—and ignored by most audiences.

He directed a lot of broadcast episodes (notably for Chapelle’s Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live!) and a 2003 Comedy Central mockumentary (Windy City Heat) before self-funding shoestring, digitally shot second theatrical feature Sleeping Dogs Lie, a deadpan comedy about one otherwise average woman’s awfully dirty little secret. Not too many saw that, either.

But black comedy World’s Greatest Dad just might kick his big-screen directorial career into high gear. It stars Robin Williams as a very nice man, a divorced high school English teacher with a 130-pound problem: Only child Kyle (Daryl Sabara) is a teenage monster, so unbelievably foul-mouthed and foul-minded even the staunchest opponent of corporal punishment would pray for a slapping machine within five minutes.

When fate abruptly intervenes in this discordant parent-child relationship, Williams’ character finds himself at the center of a bizarre fraud that Goldthwait’s clever script uses to satirize celebrity death cults, inspirational literature and more.

Dad got an enthusiastic welcome at Sundance this year; it opens Friday at local theaters. We can’t vouch for his parental greatness, but Goldthwait is indeed known as one of the world’s nicest guys (at least in show biz), so it was a pleasure for SF360 to sit down with him in advance of the film’s opening.

SF360: We actually met when you were here doing press for Shakes the Clown.

Bobcat Goldthwait: A long time ago! When I was in San Francisco then, the Seattle press screenings went so badly they actually told me not to get on the plane. They said ‘Don’t bother coming.’ I’m not bitter—I made this movie in Seattle. Maybe it’s my self-loathing: ‘Oh yeah? You don’t like me? Well here I am again!’

SF360: A friend who did standup with you in Boston in the early 1980s said your stuff was really imaginative, and that the ‘character’ voice was just one small part of it.

Goldthwait: It was always very experimental. I’d get onstage, read a ‘Dear John’ letter and just cry. Or I’d clean fish for 15 minutes.

SF360: How did this script germinate?

Goldthwait: I wrote it around the same time as Sleeping Dogs Lie. Five or six years ago I stopped thinking ‘Oh, I can get this movie made’ or ‘This will reinvent me,’ and started writing just to connect with other people.

I shot Dogs in two weeks with unknown actors and a crew I got from Craigslist. That it went to Sundance and got bought and was on television really exceeded my expectations.

I really thought I would make Dad on the same scale. Then everything changed—‘Robin’s in the movie, I can shoot on 35mm!’ Once it became a ‘Robin Williams comedy,’ though, some companies interested [in financing] wanted to change things in the script. There’s a big difference between ‘Do you want to make a movie?’ and ‘Do you want to make it on your terms?’ I would have been OK with not making this movie rather than making it with people who were upset when a boy eats a pot brownie and shit like that.

SF360: Looks like in the end you managed to get financing without compromise.

Goldthwait: Yes. But I’m going to keep making these small-time, personal movies. In this day and age, if I can’t find funding, all I have to find is other folks. We already have a DV camera—we’re ready to go.

SF360: How did Williams get involved?

Goldthwait: I’ve known Robin since I was 19. We did standup here in SF back in the day a lot. He’s been one of my best friends most of my adult life. In fact aside from the kid actors, most people in this movie are on my speed dial. A lot are comedians I’ve known forever.

SF360: Your career kinda upends the competitive stereotype, in that it suggests comedians are a tightknit group who get along and collaborate all the time.

Goldthwait: That’s the environment I work in. Robin calls it ‘The Bob Wood Players,’ comparing me to Ed Wood. Yeah, I like working with a lot of the same people. Tom Kenny said I have a very juvenile approach to making movies, in that when you’re a kid you say ‘I’m going to make a movie and all you guys are going to be in it!’ The only difference being that Robin happens to be one of the best and most famous actors in the world.

SF360: Do you actually know people with kids as horrible as Kyle?

Goldthwait: No….It sprang more from the idea that I would rather have a kid who’s, say, a drug addict than one without an imagination. I could battle and deal with drug addiction. But really, what could be worse than some useless lump who just tears everything down and has no empathy for others?

SF360: The movie found an interesting angle to deal with out-of-control celebrity culture and sense of entitlement.

Goldthwait: The thing I’m writing now is all about that: People’s lack of shame and sense of entitlement now. The entitlement thing has only increased with the web—everybody thinks their opinion on any subject is valid. And when all you have to do to be a celebrity is just stand in line, it really changes everything.

SF360: You’re a good example of someone dismissed at a certain point because you were perceived as a one-trick pony. Is it still hard to get people to see you differently?

Goldthwait: Yeah, well, I understand. If I heard what these movies were about, and that Bobcat Goldthwait directed them, I would probably have something snarky to say and be leery about checking them out. It’s a big hurdle to get over, because I think there are a lot of folks that maybe this movie would speak to. ‘No, no, you might actually like it!’—that’s the frustrating part. But hey, I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.

The other day I did an interview with a kid in Philly. I’m going on and on about ‘People have these preconceived notions about me…’ until she cuts me off and says ‘I don’t mean to offend you Mr. Goldthwait, but I’m 19 and never heard of you before I saw this movie.’ I thought, ‘Good!’

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