Bobcat Goldthwait is back, though really, he hasn’t gone anywhere. Instead, he’s shifted his focus to being behind the camera as the director of TV comedy shows like “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “The Dave Chapelle Show.” It’s been nearly 14 years since he first started making movies with his drunken clown classic Shakes the Clown, and this week, his third film, the indie romantic comedy Sleeping Dogs Lie is out in select cities.
The Sundance hit shows what happens when a long-time couple Amy and John, played by veteran TV actors Melinda Page Hamilton and Bryce Johnson, decide to open up and reveal their deepest secrets to each other before getting married. Unfortunately, Amy’s secret is so disturbing that John freaks out, as does her family, all of whom ostracize her. Sure, it doesn’t sound like the kind of insanity you might expect from “Shakes the Clown” but the opening scene alone sets the tone for this odd romantic comedy, as it shows exactly what Amy did. Put it this way, it involves her dog. Goldthwait wrote and directed the film on a shoestring budget, but as he told CS Indie, he doesn’t think that opening sequence necessarily needs to be kept a secret.
(Disclaimer: Some of this interview, like the movie, involves adult content.)
CS Indie: Did the idea for this movie start with that opening scene? Bobcat Goldthwait: Well, my dog’s super hot. No, the idea did hit me, and then it was kind of like bad news after that. It was like okay the experiment was to see if I could write a movie that started like that and have the audience still be invested in the characters in the end.
CS: It seems like you might not want to start a movie with a scene like that, but rather sneak it in later. Goldthwait: Yeah, but then I think as an audience, I would be really mad if you’re trucking along watching a movie that seems like a Kate Hudson vehicle, and all of a sudden [SPOILERS!!!!] she blows a dog. I’d be like, “Jesus!”
CS: Do you try to keep that part of the plot a secret or does that have to be known before you go and see the movie? Goldthwait: No, when we were at Sundance and at some other festivalsI was just at the San Sebastian Festival in Spainit was kind of kept as a secret, and I liked that, but there’s no way, due to the super highway information web (laughs) that it’s going to be kept a secret.
CS: I didn’t know about it or expect it until I saw the movie. Goldthwait: Really? Well, that was always kind of like my stand-up, just kind of come out and then try to dig myself out of a hole.
CS: Do you think that people might be more interested or less interested in seeing if they knew–even though it doesn’t really show anythingthat that’s how the movie starts? Goldthwait: I don’t know, because if you want to watch bestiality, there’s a lot more graphic bestiality on the web. It’s kind of weird, because “Secretary”people were interested in seeing that, and it was a relationship comedy with S&M, but the reality of it is, if you really want to watch or participate in graphic S&M, you’re free, too. I don’t know. I’m not really exploring bestiality, I’m trying to explore honesty. I’m not a big fan of honesty. As the character says, “I think it’s overrated.”
CS: As far as casting the movie, did you use a lot of people you already knew or did you go through a whole casting process? Goldthwait: It’s funny. For a lot of the roles, like the Mom and Melinda and the two boyfriends, they all auditioned, but Jeff Pierson who plays the Dad, he’s one of the few people I actually wrote that role with him in mind hoping that he would do it. But the others, like the comedians, those are the circles I travel in, so someone like Brian Posehn was just a phone call. I was doing an interview earlier and I was told that Brian Posehn said this was the lowest budget thing he’s ever worked on! That’s really how we shot it. It was just shot in two weeks with friends coming over and working on it.
CS: When you decided to do this, you obviously wrote the script first, but did you try shopping it around before doing it low budget? Goldthwait: I shopped it around just briefly. I’d hear notes back like “Could she just give the dog a hand job?” so after I showed it to some people, it was one of the few things I showed to people that they actually liked. I mean I’d written it thinking that I would make it really, really small, but a year went by, and I hadn’t really pursued it, and Sarah de sa Rego, who is the wardrobe woman and did some of the producing, she said, “This is a really good script. Why don’t we go make it?” And I was like, “Well, I don’t have any money,” and she said that we’d just start and people would help, and that’s really how it got going. We just picked a date and started and then it all kind of fell into place.
CS: It’s strange that “that scene” might be the dealbreaker, because the rest of the movie doesn’t seem that far away from other romantic comedies. Goldthwait: That was one of the few changes. In the screenplay, I actually had it written a hair more graphic with no intention on filming it. I had written that she actually puts her head down in between the dog’s legs, but I really didn’t have any intention on filming that. I just put it in there, because I wanted to scare anyone that was going to have problems with the movie.
CS: You may have had a harder time getting an actress with that but you never know. Goldthwait: The thing is, it’s kind of funny. By making the movie the way we did, really small and down ‘n’ dirty, it kind of opened me up to getting people I’m really happy with the cast. I think they did a great job. If you’re not playing that game, and it actually does exist in the indie world, “Well if you get such ‘n’ such to do your movie, we’ll give you this much money,” and then you’re stuck with choices that you didn’t think were necessarily 100% the best person for the job. That was the cool thing about doing this zero budget production, was that I got to pick the actors that came in and read the best.
CS: Melinda is great. I know she’s been doing bigger things like “Desperate Housewives” lately, but this movie is a great calling card for her. Goldthwait: She actually got “Desperate Housewives” after doing our movie, so I felt pretty good. But in the past, I’ve always been a pretty good picker, like the first short I did which was years ago, had David Spade in it and Kathy Griffin. It was before he did SNL and before she broke, and then in “Shakes the Clown,” there’s Adam Sandler. I don’t know if I’m a good writer or a good director, but I’m actually pretty good at picking people.
CS: Last year, R-Rated comedies became big again, so do you think in that world, this could be more of a mainstream type thing? Goldthwait: I don’t know if it’s a mainstream movie. We’ll see if people like it or not, but my feelings are if you’re an adult and you want to see a comedy, you just don’t go to the movies. You just stay home and watch “The Office” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” I don’t even have a problem with character-driven comedies, ’cause God knows, that’s how I made my living in the ’80s. For some reason, American movies don’t really cater to adults in regards to comedies. They’ll make like a period piece or dramas, but they don’t really make comedies for adults in America.
CS: Going back a bit, how did you decide to become a filmmaker in the first place after having a career as a comedian and actor? Goldthwait: It was mostly out of frustration I had in the process of being in movies. I just kind of fell behind the camera and made my fine alcoholic clown opus “Shakes the Clown” and then started working for Jimmy Kimmel and directed his TV shows like “The Man Show” and “Crank Yankers,” then I worked “Dave Chappelle’s Show” for a while and then made a movie for Jimmy. I directed Jimmy’s TV show for about a year and a half. It was just really the natural progression of things. I know people don’t usually believe you when you say that, but I don’t really find that much enjoyment out of acting or stand-up comedy. People who like you, if they hear you say that, they almost feel like you’re not grateful, but I started doing stand-up when I was 15, and I’m 44. I knew it was all over for me when one night I was on stage and this woman wouldn’t shut up in the front row. She wasn’t even heckling, she was just talking to her friend the whole time. And I finally said, “You’re bored, lady? I know how these f*cking jokes end!” And that was probably the red flag that it was over for me.
CS: Is that why you didn’t cast yourself in the movie at all, even as a cameo? Goldthwait: Well, I am a cameo as Roy Orbison’s bare ass
CS: No, I didn’t need to know that. (laughs) Goldthwait: That’s my Hitchcockian cameo, but there’s a couple reasons. One, I don’t like to act and two, I think it will take you out of the movie if suddenly, the dude from Police Academy showed up.
CS: You’ve been making a decent career for yourself as a director and being taken seriously as such, so are you trying to get away from that image of being a nutty character actor? Goldthwait: No, I don’t take myself serious. If someone asks me, “If there was another ‘Police Academy,’ would you do it?,” the answer is “probably” because when I would watch the Brady Bunch reunion and Marcia wouldn’t show up, I’d go, “Wow, what an *sshole!” so I probably would do something like that. I just found myself saying “yes” to things that I wouldn’t watch, and now my goal is to try to make things I would watch.
CS: But right now, you must be taking the directing thing more seriously and looking for those types of jobs, right? Goldthwait: I would be really happy if I could keep making small movies, and at the same time, I really have no problem going back to work full-time for a comedian like Jimmy or the way I worked for Dave, because facilitating comics is a blast. Networks and directors usually think comedians are out-of-control or that their ideas are insane or crazy, and I like being the middle guy in helping these guys get their ideas across.
CS: What’s involved with directing a show like “Jimmy Kimmel Live” besides being in the control room? Goldthwait: There’s the actual control room stuff, which is kind of crazy, but the real thing I think brought to the show when I was working on it was like if something funny happened, I could keep shooting it. I had no problem interrupting Jimmy if something generally funny was happening, and that only came from my years on stage, of performing comedy, knowing that this will probably get a laugh and I should cut to it. I think other people they’re a little gunshy of pulling the trigger on something like that.
CS: Especially when doing a live show, right? Goldthwait: Well, we would tape live and we would have a short window to do any fixes, but the times we were actually live live were the most fun, that really didn’t bother me, I actually think that’s kind of fun. I stopped doing the show a few months ago, but I can almost watch a talk show or a live show and not be calling cameras. I would sit in the living room, half asleep, watching “Saturday Night Live” with my daughter and I’d go “ready, three, three!” I really did start calling shots.
CS: It must be worse when you’re doing that and the cameras aren’t changing so you start getting mad at your TV. Goldthwait: No, that’s what it was like! She said, “Dad, go to bed!” I’m almost comfortable watching it and all the different cameras now.
CS: What are you doing next? Goldthwait: I’m promoting this, and I have a couple ideas that I’d like to write and I’m sure I’ll go do that. It would be nice to do one with a three-week schedule instead of a two-week schedule.
CS: Do you think you’ll continue on this scale or do you plan on writing something and shopping it and going from there? Goldthwait: I would prefer if I could to just keep making small movies, so they would come out the way I had in mind, then I really don’t have a problem going back to work on television, too, ’cause working for someone else is fun, too. I’m really fine with it not being the Bobcat Goldthwait Show.
CS: Would you really go back to doing a “Police Academy” or would you consider going back to stand-up now that you’ve taken some time off from it? Goldthwait: If you see me doing stand-up, that would mean I’m broke.
CS: Or you could do a game show Goldthwait: Oh, don’t think I haven’t been called three times in the past couple months to do pilots for game shows, ’cause they’re dragging out all of us ’80s comedians and having us host a network game show.
CS: I was wondering about that, because Howie Mandel is kind of in your comedy class. Goldthwait: Our graduating class of annoying persona comedians. I have been given that call three times now and I’ve said “no” which is funny, because certainly, they’d probably pay like crazy, but I dunno, man, I’ve just done way too many things for money. It’s time to be a little bit less of a whore.
As the interview came to a close, Bobcat offered an alternative solution to game shows, which has to be censored for our more delicate readers, though I’m sure we’ll be interviewing him if it ever does come to that. In the meantime, Bobcat Goldthwait’s Sleeping Dogs Lie opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, October 20.