Bobcat Goldthwait first met Tony V. the very first night Tony tried comedy. Goldthwait was new in town, and had done comedy in Syracuse before moving out to Boston, and the two hit it off. That was in 1982, and the two have been friends ever since. Goldthwait cast Tony in his new film, World’s Greatest Dad starring Robin Williams, which opens at the Kendall Square Cinema this weekend. And Goldthwait will also be in town to give Tony a spin over the coals for Friday’s Roast of Tony V. as part of the Boston Comedy Festival. A bit further down the line, you can catch him at the Comedy Connection Wilbur Theatre December 12.
I caught up with him be phone last week to talk about World’s Greatest Dad, Tony V, stand-up comedy, and his previous work as a writer and director.
Where is the movie playing now?
It opens in Boston I think, in Cambridge this weekend or next weekend. It’s slowly coming out. We’ll see how it goes. It’s funny, I say it’s an R-rated movie where I didn’t aim for teenagers, but I do think a young audience, hopefully, will enjoy this movie. Trying to reach out to them is hard. When I say a young audience, I mean young adults.
Was there a particular audience you had in mind when you were writing it and putting it together?
No, not at all. When I’m making stuff, I’m not really thinking about any of that kind of stuff. It’s just really the kind of thing that comes out of me. In the last five or six years I’ve tried to stop second-guessing what I should be doing or what people would like and just started making stuff to make it.
What was the inspiration World’s Greatest Dad?
You know, it’s about a middle-aged dude finally learning to grow up and say no to unhealthy relationships. And I think if I had written a movie that was just about a series of failed female relationships it would have been kind of misogynistic. You can have a lot of people in your life who don’t treat you right and not necessarily just be the opposite sex that does it.
It has something in common with Sleeping Dogs Lie wherein there’s the one event that seems to be somewhat atrocious that might take a bit for people to get past.
Is that something that you’re conscious of, putting an event like that in there as a breaking point when you’re writing a script?
No, it’s just he way it comes out. But you know, I think it’s funny. Most of these events are something that could happen on an episode of House. The only difference is, like, in a movie, people can watch a movie and people get shot through the whole movie. This is like, somewhat got shot and then you explored, how did that affect his family and his wife and the people around him, you know what I mean? That’s the only difference. Because these events I don’t think are all that startling, it’s just that I kind of play them as realistic instead of as just a footnote.
How has the reaction been?
No, you know, there were a couple of people who hadn’t seen the movie who were complaining, but that’s pretty typical. Which is pretty funny, because they were actually doing what the movie parodied, they were trying to make something that had nothing to do with them all about them.
In America, every product is supposed to be aimed at everybody, and I don’t think people can wrap their brain around this idea of, I’m not trying to play every mall in America. I mean, I certainly hope I reach an audience. Everybody’s got to make everything about themselves.
Which is what playing every mall in America would be, as well.
It’s strange that in a society where we increasingly have boutique marketing aimed seemingly directly at each individual, everything is so segmented, but everything’s supposed to be for a general audience. But we’ve carved you all into all of these little bits already.
I think it’s funny, too, now, because of the Web, everybody weighs in with their opinion. I read a review for Twilight. I would never weigh in on Twilight. I would never write a review or post a comment. It’s not made for me. A bunch of ‘tween Jesus vampires? I know to stay away from that.
The other thing that the two films seem to have in common, to me, they both seem to have a lot to do with forgiveness and civility. Two things that seem to be somewhat lost or overlooked.
Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know what that’s such a big issue with me, but I would agree with that. That seems to show up in all the things I write, you know. It gets boring if you’re my girlfriend and you keep reading screenplays with that same theme in them. You know, who are we now, man? Where’s common sense and kindness and all these things, they’ve gone by the wayside.
Do you look at that as elements of a story or do you see it as a general societal problem?
Oh, no, I do… that, to me, is the biggest problem with the world right now.
The civility is the other problem, why we just can’t seem to leave people alone.
And also all these things that we do to justify our crappy behavior. It’s not just me pointing my finger at the world, it’s also my own crappy behavior I constantly examine, too.
Is there any of your own crappy behavior that made it into this film?
[laughs] Yeah, I think so. I think this idea of this guy kind of perceiving himself as a victim and then at the same time not taking any of the courageous steps you have to do to change that.
I saw Lakeview Terrace, what made the movie sort of unbearable was, I could see the original idea was a worthy one, but the starting point was so solvable and unrealistic that the characters wouldn’t have done it. Because it started there, the rest of the movie…
It didn’t ring true.
Right. But in both Sleeping Dogs Lie and World’s Greatest Dad, all those events did ring true, even if they seemed like they’d be more unusual. That was kind of clumsy, but….
No, that’s what I hope. I treat the events very straight and realistic and then I approach, too, the way the characters act as mostly realistic. In this movie, it’s a little bit more of a satire and there’s a lot of kooky, flaky one-dimensional characters that start showing up, but I still think of these things more as little tiny stories, like little fables or something. I do treat the events and the characters as realistic as possible. But in my mind, I don’t think of them as real stories, I don’t treat them as real stories at the end of the day.
Did you write Tony V’s part specifically for him?
No, I just wrote the part. But the reason I cast Tony in there is, people hire Tony because of his girth, and if you saw him, you’d think of him as this palooka. So he tends to get hired to play palookas. And the reality is, Tony actually did work with kids and stuff, and that is who he is. But I did think it was kind of funny to even have Tony be kind of corrupt in the movie.
I know his past as a social worker, and I didn’t know if you’d thought of the character with him in mind.
When I thought of it, I thought, I know that in the Hollywood system you wouldn’t have him. But it was funny, we were talking about how he should let his hair grow out and he should be this guy whose still clinging to 60s and 70s ideology and stuff.
A lot of people in this movie seem to be people who are in your circle of friends – Robin Williams and Tony V. and Tom Kenny. How important is it to have people like that in your films?
Robin says working with me is a combination of working with John Cassavetes meets Ed Wood. Everybody;s offended. And it they’re not, they’re like people that become friends and I work with. I like the comfort level of knowing people’s strengths and I mean, I’m middle-aged. Life’s too short. I don’t want to show up in a work environment that’s tense. Tom Kenny says I have a very juvenile approach to all of it. He says I act like a kids that’s like, “Someday I’m gonna make a movie and all my friends are gonna be in it! You’re gonna be in it, and you’re gonna be in it…” And I do think that’s true. He was laughing the other day, he said, “The only difference is, you actually do go back and hire all [of them].”
The newest script I’m writing, I have a cast of a lot… it’ll be the biggest cast I’ve written. So I’m hoping to bring back everybody from Sleeping Dogs and this movie and Shakes. Everybody will work.
What’s the new project?
I’m trying to finish up a spree killer movie right now. But I also, I don’t know if it’ll get going, but I got Ray Davies’ thumbs up to make a movie around the Kinks album Schoolboys in Disgrace.
What was the first one? You faded in and out a bit.
A spree killer movie. Again, it’s about the same themes you were just talking about. The same themes that you brought up. But the idea is, I thought, what if an irrational man were disturbed by the lack of civility in our culture. That was the genesis of the new screenplay. People go, when I describe it to them, they say, well, is it a comedy. I don’t know. Honestly, when I write these movies I don’t really sit down and make them a comedy. I just assume that’ll probably come out. It’s more of a challenge to me to write movies that connect with people. That’s what I’m interested in.
I don’t know if you’d call World’s Greatest Dad a comedy. It’s definitely a funny movie, but every funny moment has this sort of weight attached to it, this sort of undertow.
I remember watching American Beauty. I really liked that movie, and I was cackling all through it. I’m sure that came off as Max Cady in the Cape Fear remake where he was laughing in the theater like a lunatic.
But all of these movies I do go back to, is that a comedy? I don’t know. Like Boogie Nights or any Wes Anderson movie, I don’t know where those movies live. I mean, I think mine are probably more uncomfortable, but I don’t know where these movies all live.
It reminded me a bit of Heathers as well.
I didn’t think of that until after I finished it, and then my girlfriend goes, “You know, it’s got a little Heathers to it.” And then I just ran right into the train and named the goth girl Heather. Like, yeah, I get it.
Did you come to Boston with Tom Kenny? Or did the two of you arrive around the same time?
I came first. I followed Barry Crimmins. Then Tommy came down and then he kind of moved there permanently around the same time I left. That’s another story I’ve been trying to get started, too, about some of the events in Barry Crimmins’ life. I hope I get that going someday, also.
I consider Barry a mentor and also like a family member. And when I get in touch with him sometimes, he’s still always going to be like a big brother to me. Sometimes he calls me on my shit.
I remember at the Ding Ho reunion show you talked about him calling you at three in the morning.
And telling me that I suck. The last time I saw him I picked him up at his house and drove to Western Mass to see Billy Bragg together, which was a lot of fun.
Are you doing stand-up again soon?
I went out on the road and I shot eight cities in ten days and I thought I was going to make a movie about how morning radio teams are douchebags and how club owners are thieves and how opening acts are always bitter. But we were filming it, and I was going, we’re getting none of that. Everybody was really nice. And I go, why do I still hate this? And I was like, oh, I hate this character. It was really clear to me, having the cameras just magnified it. I have to jettison this character if I’m ever going to enjoy doing stand-up, and I did in the middle of it.
And some of the shows went really well and some of the shows, you know, I’m in Des Moines with people going, “Do the voice!” But I had to stick to my guns because if I didn’t, I really should just retire completely if I hadn’t stuck to my guns. So I found myself kind of enjoying stand-up again and even writing stand-up again for the first time in probably seventeen years. I was very lazy, I would write onstage, but now I’m interested in it again.
I keep doing stand-up when I need to to support my filmmaking habit. I’m pretty lucky that I have that choice, you know?
Can you play where you want to or because you’ve been away from it for a while do you have to fight your way back?
No, it’s like, I took six years off. When I go back on the road, things have really changed. It used to be a big deal if you were on HBO or if you had some talk show appearances under your belt. But that doesn’t mean shit anymore. It’s all about how many hits your YouTube video has. So grandpa has to start posting material again on the Web. I’m so out of the loop.
Do people know you more as a filmmaker now than a comedian?
I don’t think folks know me as a filmmaker. I don’t know. It cracked me up the other day. I was getting interviewed and I was like, “You know, the persona people know me for, the character, and I’m trying to stretch, blah blah blah,” and this girl goes, “Hey, I’m nineteen. I don’t know who the fuck you are.” I was like, oh, yeah, that’s a good point. [laughs]
Are you looking forward to the Tony V roast?
Yes, I’m certainly looking forward to it. I changed my schedule around. There was no way I was going to miss that.
Is there anything in particular that you have on him that you’ll be revealing?
I’m sure there’s a lot, but I also see it as an opportunity to say all the things I would say at his funeral.