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Interview: Bobcat Goldthwait

Bobcat unleashes another not-so-funny comedy
By BETSY SHERMAN  |  September 1, 2009


Review: World's Greatest Dad. By Betsy Sherman.
Bobcat Goldthwait and I are linked in infamy — I once described his directorial debut, Shakes the Clown, as "the Citizen Kane of alcoholic-clown movies." They quoted my line on the poster, and the blurb, like the movie, has been both praised and reviled. A Syracuse native, Goldthwait began his career as a stand-up comic based in Boston in the early 1980s before parlaying his wild-haired-screamer persona into a zillion comic-relief roles on screens big and small. He has spent this decade behind the camera as a TV director (Chappelle's Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live) and as the writer/director of darkly comic independent features. World's Greatest Dad, starring old friend Robin Williams, follows his 2006 Sleeping Dogs Lie in drawing forth from the fertile manure of deviant practices some tender blossoms of understanding. That's Bobcat — the Jean Renoir of sicko humor.

Sleeping Dogs Lie is about what happens after a woman confesses to her finacé that she once blew her dog. World's Greatest Dad is about a writer who profits from his son's accidental death from auto-erotic asphyxiation by recasting it as a suicide and forging an angst-filled teen journal. Yet they're both sensitive character studies! How are audiences reacting to these hybrid movies?
When I'm writing the screenplays, I don't sit there and go, "This ought to really freak people out." But they do seem to polarize people, for good or bad. I might be a couple more movies away from people understanding what I'm doing. Not many people may know of my films, but I think they may have more legs than, like, a Kate Hudson movie. They're hard to promote, though, because people think they're gonna be broad comedies. Between Robin [Williams] and myself, people have preconceived notions. I see World's Greatest Dad as Robin's first indie comedy. Someone said it's the equivalent of when Bill Murray goes and does a Wes Anderson movie.

Single father Lance tries so hard to connect with his 15-year-old son, and Kyle is so crushingly dismissive of him. Did the dialogue between them change much from the way it was scripted?
There was a fair amount of improvising. It's funny — Robin gets defensive and says, "No, there wasn't ad-libbing." At first, I'd feed Daryl [Sabara, who plays Kyle] lines, because I had to prime the pump to help him feel comfortable saying rotten things to Robin Williams. But once it got going, Daryl was ad-libbing, and he would really be that shitty, rotten kid. I had to call him up while I was editing and ask, "What does 'chili dog' mean?"

You were friends with Kurt Cobain. Was the part of the movie where the whole high school becomes obsessed with Kyle's supposed journal a reference to Cobain?
Kurt might have been in there, subconsciously. I also just had a brother pass away, and my father. I mean, that's what happens when you're middle-aged, but it is strange when you go to all these funerals. When tragedy hits, offering a hand is people's initial response, but I think the second response is, "How can I make this about me? Can I make Katrina about me, even though I live in Los Angeles?" You know, Krist [Novoselic] from Nirvana is in the movie. He plays the newsstand guy who, when Robin's crying, gives him a hug. He asked me what the movie was about. I said, "Well, you know, this guy dies, and everybody reinvents it and makes it about them instead of who the person really was. I don't know if you can relate to that."

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Related: Review: World's Greatest Dad, Slideshow: Mogwai live at the Wilbur Theatre, A real blast, More more >
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