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Bobcat Goldthwait on Working Through His Personal Rage With God Bless America

Photo: Patrick McMullan
Bobcat Goldthwait. Photo: Patrick McMullan

Genre-defying director-comedian Bobcat Goldthwait’s new schlock-horror piece of social commentary, God Bless America, recently premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and got picked up for international distribution by Magnolia Pictures. We spoke with the Police Academy alum after screening his subversive and violent film — about a depressed man who starts killing society’s meanest and cruelest people — and got his thoughts on 9/11 bumper stickers, Twitter, and why he hates television news.

They screened a 9/11 tribute right before your film. How’d that go? Did you realize your film was scheduled to play on 9/11?
Yeah, I did. And I’m sitting there going, “Oh no.” But then some woman stood up and said it was very appropriate that I played my film [when I did] because people trivialize 9/11 by making stickers and making it about themselves. I mean, that was kind of what I was trying to parody, how everybody’s so narcissistic and self-absorbed now that no tragedy can go on without someone making it about them. Of course, I am all for honoring folks — people who really went through it, who were really there, people who lost loved ones — of course my heart goes out to them. But people who make a living off of selling stickers about 9/11, I have no respect for. I think they should be ridiculed.

In your movie, this disgusting numb-nut of a guy has a “9/11: Never Forget” sticker on his car. Do you think people could call the film hateful or anti-American?
It’s not anti-American, but it is anti-phony. I remember I’d be in the South right after 9/11 and there were salsa campaigns dedicated to “New Yawk Siddy!” And I’d be like, “You hate New York! What are you talking about?” If you believe in what the country stands for, then you shouldn’t be threatened by this movie. But if you’re somebody making money off of scaring people to death, you probably won’t like it.

The whole film is a pretty bitter rant, with a lot of real anger behind it. Was this like a spiritual purge, a catharsis for you?
Yes. Unfortunately, other people have to suffer through my therapy. It really is super-personal, that’s all. There’s no other objective. At this late in the game, I’m making movies to get things off my chest. A few years back I kind of made a decision to change my comedy so I wasn’t contributing to this nasty dog-piling that goes on now in our culture.

Your biggest target in the film is TV.
There are certain people who I’m clearly parodying on purpose. The Bill O’Reilly quotes are pretty much real Bill O’Reilly quotes slightly paraphrased. I get really tired of people blaming Hollywood and the media for the way things are. I consider myself part of Hollywood. So if Bill O’Reilly wants to continue to attack anyone who lives in Hollywood and works in show business and call us pinheads and all that, it’s like, you know what? You’re not nice. Be nice. You say I’m a pinhead because I got work in show business? There’s a lot of pinheads that are Everyday Joes, too.

TV’s so strange now because when I’m watching TV and there’s a guy on the news reading tweets, my head wants to explode. You know, I don’t want to hear what billsfan36 thinks about something that’s happening in the world. Or how many times are you watching TV and they’re telling you to go on the web. And you’re thinking, But I’m watching you on TV!

Where does all of this anger come from?
It really just boiled to this frustration with a lot of things that are just driving me nuts all the time. Someone at the screening just asked what I think the solution to all of it is. And I’m like, I don’t have any solution, but I do know that next time you’re in a conversation and someone wants to talk about Charlie Sheen, see if you can switch the topic. Because that’s not a conversation. That’s just restating things you’ve already heard. And it’s about something that absolutely doesn’t affect your life. It’s just this distraction.

Wouldn’t that negate all conversations about art and all commentary about media then? That it’s all a distraction?
I think the point of it is — that’s the weird thing about making movies. Movies are made for all these different reasons. Mine are made for super-personal reasons. I’m not trying to get a job directing Hot Tub Time Machine 2. I’ve already sold out so much as a young man, I’m trying to do right before I drop dead, regain a little bit of my soul. So that’s why I’m gonna be 50 next year and I still rent in the Valley.

With all the “kids these days!”–style comments about tweeting, were you nervous about coming off as an old fart?
I am a bit of an old fart.

Do you tweet?
No. Maybe someday I’ll have to. But I come from a generation where there was comics like Andy Kaufman and they’d have a block of material, and we’d go, “Wow, that was great!” I don’t know how Andy Kaufman would do in this comedy world now. Would he have to be writing tweets every day? If you’re a comedian and you want to have a following now, you have to become a reality star. You’re supposed to expose your entire damn life to them. I’ve turned down reality shows; I don’t want to expose my whole life.

What reality shows have you turned down?
Celebrity Fear Factor, one of those fat camp ones — that was one that almost got me. I was like, Well, I get some money, I lose a couple LBs. There is no shame anymore. It’s much more important to me to say something that is personal than to be a celebrity. And I already had that in my twenties and I was miserable. It’s just not normal to be the focus everywhere you go. It’s weird.

Sounds like you’re in a golden era: You know what good press feels like, what bad press feels like — you don’t care. You do whatever you want.
My lifestyle is much more stripped down. I still try to hustle to pay my bills. But I did make a decision, and this is really weird and I never told this to my wife because she does not like children, but I thought, Someday my daughter will procreate, and I really do want to go out swinging. I want my future grandkids to know I called the tea party a thinly veiled white hate group. I want them to know that I didn’t just sit there and watch this bullshit. It comes down to, Am I gonna be a man and be accountable, or am I gonna be popular?

Bobcat Goldthwait on Working Through His Personal Rage With God Bless America