- Bobcat Goldthwait, the professor of black comedy. (publicity photo)
Bobcat Goldthwait and "the Grover voice," as he calls it, are inseparable — that alternately guttural and shrill delivery for which he became famous, in the 1980s, as a stand-up comic and actor (notably Zed in the Police Academy movies). It is not his natural voice, though he employed it so consistently for two decades that you'd be forgiven for thinking so. But it did serve an artistic purpose beyond setting him apart from every other comic: On stage, especially in his early years, he often played the role of the nervous or mentally unbalanced comedian. His act developed to include social and political commentary of a sort, but by then it was too late to perform in his natural voice, even he'd wanted to. The audience demanded Grover.
Goldthwait, who's performing in Arlington on Friday and Saturday night, heeded public expectations for some time. You might even say he milked it, and for a while there — from the mid-'90s to the mid-'00s — it seemed he would forever be "that guy with the voice," performing for as long as people could stand to listen to him. But then he reinvented himself as a movie director. He'd made a film in 1991, Shakes the Clown, a cult favorite that a Boston Globe critic famously called the "Citizen Cane of Alcoholic clown movies," but didn't find regular work until the new millennium, when he began directing for TV: The Man Show, Chappelle's Show, and then, in 2004, a a permanent gig directing Jimmy Kimmel Live! A year later, Goldthwait announced he was quitting stand-up comedy.
"It wasn't like the world really cared," he says. "Oh no, Bobcat Goldthwait is going to stop doing stand-up! It wasn't like Elvis joining the Army."
Goldthwait directed the Kimmel show until 2007, and during that time wrote and directed an indie film, Sleeping Dogs Lie, a romantic comedy that premiered at Sundance in 2006. It's about a woman who confesses to her fiancé that she screwed a dog in college. Goldthwait returned to Sundance two years later with Goldthwait Home Movies, a perfect parody of DVD commentaries. (If you click on one link in this article, make it that one.) And in 2009 he released World's Greatest Dad, in which Robin Williams plays a teacher who, to become a famous writer, capitalizes on the accidental — and, it must be said, hilarious — death of his son. It makes most "black" comedies look very gray, and rightly was considered among the most underrated films of the year.
Welcome to Goldthwait's second act.
"I keep trying and I keep hoping to make more movies, and that's where I'm at at this point," he says. "I jokingly say it, but it's really true: It's what keeps me off the reality shows."
Goldthwait has written four scripts since World's Greatest Dad. For his next project, he says, "I'm sure I'll probably take one of my less expensive scripts and go out and shoot it." Perhaps, he says, he'll shoot the one in which a man becomes so enraged by an episode of My Super Sweet 16 that he hunts down and kills the girl. The film is, naturally, a comedy.
But he's also got a bigger project in mind: Schoolboys in Disgrace, a musical based on The Kinks' album from 1976. "I always wanted to make this when I was a little boy," he says. "I always loved The Kinks." Ray Davies is on board, so it stands a good chance of being made. If that happens, Goldthwait hopes to run into a certain indie director with a fondness for the English band. "In your face, Wes Anderson," he says, laughing. "I got to do a whole film about them."
Wait, but what about Goldthwait's stand-up act? He did retire, but then he unretired, performing here and there. Now, this weekend, he's doing three shows at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse. Just don't expect to hear Grover.
"I'm 48," he says. "To see a 50-year-old guy doing it ... I would just be doing an impression of myself."