Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
May 7, 2012
Bobcat Goldthwait’s kidding when he says he won’t reveal where he lives, suggesting his new movie “God Bless America” will “have a lot of people showing up to kill me.”
But behind all jokes, as they say, lies truth.
The 49-year old writer-director (who confirms he lives in Los Angeles) will have many people up in arms with his film, which opens May 11. In it, Frank (Wilmette native Joel Murray of “The Artist” and “Mad Men”) decides against suicide in favor of going out to kill people he believes are responsible for making society rude and stupid. That includes the teenage subject of a “My Super Sweet 16”-esque TV show, people who talk during movies, and others who aren’t doing physical harm to anyone but almost everyone would agree are obnoxious irritants.
At the Peninsula Hotel, the veteran comedian perhaps best known, to his apparent chagrin, for his work in “Police Academy” sequels talked about being inspired by elephant farts, appreciating the Black Eyed Peas and if he’s the equivalent of “an old guy” screaming, “Get off my lawn!”
Note: The filmmaker’s voice isn’t anywhere close to the squeaky character he developed in his earlier days (and recently retired), which you can see by watching video of this interview above.
Why did you want to make “God Bless America”? Was there one pop culture item that sent you over the edge?
It was a bunch of incidents. It was my own television viewing habits. There’s a scene in the movie where Frank is watching TV—I don’t think people understand that Frank is watching TV just because the baby next door is screaming. That he just keeps the television on. He’s looking for a distraction. There’s a scene where there’s a commercial for a ringtone and it’s a pig farting. But in real life there’s a real commercial and it’s an elephant that farts. I didn’t change anything. It’s the same style of animation. So I’m sitting there with my wife and this pig—I mean, an elephant comes out; sorry, I don’t want to upset any of the pig population. This elephant comes out, blows a fart at me. I took it personal; I really did. It was just like [makes farting noise] and it was like, “This is the funniest ringtone ever! Text “F-A-R-T!” And I looked at my wife, and neither of us was very amused, and I just looked at her and I was like, “Let’s just get some guns and start …” So I wrote this screenplay as a gift to her. Of course I’m not advocating violence. Sometimes when I’m ego-surfing and I read comments about the movie [online], it’s like, “You’re just killing someone because they text in a movie? Why don’t you kill rapists?” Frank should have just done a, “Hey, any of you kids, are you rapers? All right, I’m going to shoot the rapers.”
You previously made the comment that in movies you get to make the world that you want versus the way that the world is. How does that apply to this? Because you say you’re not advocating violence, so what aspect of this is—
[Laughs.] The world I want? That’s a good question. I wonder what it is with me on this one. I think sometimes people will accuse me of being an old guy [being] almost, “Get off my lawn! You kids with your texting and your Interwebs!” with this movie. Maybe some of that is true. Maybe as much as I may be denying it to myself, maybe that’s the world where I have a little more of a voice. Although it sounds very trite, I wish people were nice.
If you could snap your fingers and get rid of one of the offenders you feel like are increasing stupidity, what would it be?
MTV. Everybody has a right to watch this crap. But I just think encouraging girls to get pregnant is really irresponsible. [Laughs.] “Jersey Shore.” “My Super Sweet 16.” If MTV went away, I don’t think suddenly we would evolve [laughs] giant, enormous brains. I don’t think it’s holding us back. But I also think, I know it’s not aimed at me, at all, but I think that’s probably off-hand one of the bigger offenders.
What else were you watching before writing the movie?
Well, you know sometimes people will say these references are dated. And it is dated because I did make a decision a few years ago saying, “I’m out, man.” Occasionally I’ll have a slip and I might watch “RuPaul’s Drag Race” or something. But for the most part I am out on the reality shows. If I’m reading anything on the Internet and it clicks to TMZ, I intentionally [deprive them of] even my one little tiny hit, you know what I mean? That’s how I make a difference.
By not giving them one page view?
Yeah. When Will.I.Am punched Perez Hilton, I immediately purchased a bunch of their music. [Laughs.] What’s really funny every once in a while I’ll have my iPod on shuffle and a Black Eyed Peas song will come on and I’ll go, “What the [bleep] is this?” Just because it was my way of saying we can do better.
Which is pretty ironic, since a lot of people would say they’re one example of how dumbed-down culture has become.
All they’re about, as far as I know, I don’t even know ‘em that well, but it just seems to be about silly distraction and having fun and all that.
Their first album was an intelligent, socially conscious rap record.
Oh, was it? Oh, really? See, I’m not aware of that.
Before Fergie joined.
Oh, is that what happened? She ruined the band, man? Are you saying she’s the Yoko of the Black Eyed Peas?
Something changed. I don’t know who’s responsible.
Hey, man, I don’t want to get into a beef. I can say this about the Black Eyed Peas. And I knew we were going to spend a lot of time talking about them today. No. I once was on a flight with them. Delightful. I must have had enough miles ‘cause I was upgraded first class, or someone else was paying for it. They were unbelievable. They were helping the stewardess bus. I saw that a band was on with me and I was like, “Aww, cheese and crackers, this is going to be difficult.” And they ended up being delightful.
How much do you feel like the rudeness in pop culture is changing society for the worse and damaging common courtesy?
I think it’s a symptom. This might not necessarily be the worst period in American history, ‘cause I can only go with what I know of the last 45 years that I was aware. But it feels like it is. I don’t know if that’s just because myself is becoming a guy who’s turning 50 or I do believe—people talk about entitlement, but it’s not entitlement. Because entitlement would imply you think you deserve this. The way people act is that they’re just completely unaware that their actions are affecting other people. When I do stand-up I just had to go, “They’re going to record you, and they feel it’s their obligation.” Now why does that bother me they record? It doesn’t bother me, but you kinda want people to be watching the show, hopefully engaging and laughing. And you look out and it’s just all these people with zombie faces being cameramen. It’s distracting. I see how many cameras, I see how much they’re recording. They’re not there because, “Oh, I’m the biggest Bobcat Goldthwait fan.” They’re like, “Oh, please pull a Michael Richards. Please snap. I want to have the most hits.” [Laughs.] And you know what? Much like Frank I’m guilty of everything too. I was sitting next to this knucklehead, whose conversation, he was a lunkhead, and instead of me going, “Hey, man, there’s families in this restaurant, just act right,” I took out my camera because I was like, “People aren’t going to believe this idiot.” I’ve only done that once.
You said something about how we’re all part of the problem, including Frank. In the past you mentioned being intolerant of everybody who is intolerant. It seems like it’s difficult to rise above anything without being part of it.
Obviously, I don’t want people to act on this movie and start killing people. As I say, it’s a violent movie about kindness. I’m not saying to people don’t watch reality shows. I’m not saying don’t record things even. I’m just saying personally I can do better. And I did make a decision a few years ago to stop watching certain shows. I don’t have any answers with this movie. It’s just really me taking the temperature in a comedic way hopefully of who are we and where are we going.
You’ve obviously someone who’s brave about what you put on screen. Was there a sense of making sure you went far enough to make an impact? In the movie you touch on how hard it is to be edgy anymore. If anything, the most surprising thing you could have done would be to make a straightforward, calm movie about a bunny who gets lost.
Yeah. And I’ve written that movie. I really have. I wrote a G-rated movie recently and my wife read the script and she looks at me and she’s like, “You wrote a family picture”—like she was upset and weirded out. I was like, “I didn’t mean to.”
Why was she so upset?
It just was weird. Because I don’t tell her what these movies are. I just write ’em and I hand ’em to her. From there we take it, if she gets excited. This really was a Christmas present to her. I don’t think liking the same things is what makes a strong couple. It’s really hating the same people that makes a strong couple. And some of the jags that Roxy and Frank go on are influenced by things that she says and my daughter too.
How much do you feel like people expect something out of you because of your previous persona?
A lot. When I go to the clubs, for the majority of the comedy clubs that I play, the only places that book me are any places where it’s still the ’80s. So that’s what they’re expecting. And then I come out and I don’t do that.
How can you tell they’re still ’80s?
Oh, it’s just the acid washed jeans. I find it really funny if someone would imply that I’m an elitist by this movie. Trust me, I entertain Joe Six-Pack 30 weekends a year. I don’t really think that I’m an elitist.
You mentioned “Network” being an influence on this movie. When you were inspired to do “God Bless America,” would you say you were mad as hell and weren’t going to take it anymore?
Yeah, but I’m not really mad at the people that get killed in this movie as much as our appetite for the garbage that is being sold to us.
Won’t some people watch this and take pleasure in seeing some of these people shot?
Yes, and I think you should because it’s done as a satire. It’s very cartoony. I hope it works for people where eventually you’re cheering for these things and you’re also questioning why you are.
On Chicago: “Chicago for me is my friend Tim Kazurinsky. He still lives here so whenever I’m in Chicago I always spend time with him. That was one of the pleasant things about doing ‘Police Academy’ is our friendship.”
On his stand-up these days: “Uh, a rehash of my earlier stand-up. [Laughs.] No, I would say my stand-up is … it was just recently that I really realized, it was kind of funny, I was filming when it hit—I had to go out on the road, I was going to have to go make some money and I was wondering why I hated it so much. And it was really in the course of it that I realized I hated the persona. I hated doing it. When I first started doing the character it really came from a sincere place. But as a guy who’s pushing 50 to do an act that you came up with in your early 20s, it was crap. So I kind of jettisoned that character. Now I go up and I tell stories and hopefully I’m funny for people that come to see me.”
A guilty pleasure movie: “I love crap. I have too many. I have an Ed Wood tattoo. Anything. There’s a certain period of Disney movie: ‘Million Dollar Duck,’ ‘Now You See Em Now You Don’t,’ ‘The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.’ These movies, for some reason I’m really a big sucker for those. Like how Tarantino has his version of ‘Grindhouse.’ That’s my soft spot. I know someday I’ll make a movie called ‘The Invisible Dog.’ It’ll be super-ghetto effects. You’ll see like a butcher shop and you’ll see a string of hot dogs running down the street on fishing poles.”
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