Bobcat Goldthwait’s latest movie, Call Me Lucky, is about his friend, Barry Crimmins. Crimmins is both a seminal figure in comedy – a comic who managed comedy venues that became breeding grounds for other famous and influential comics (Lenny Clarke, Steven Wright, Kevin Meaney, Bobcat, etc.) – and a Capraesque hero, a childhood sexual abuse survivor who spoke openly about his own abuse and risked his health and sanity to warn lawmakers about online child porn and sexual predators in chat rooms.
The first part sounds universally watchable (a retrospective on the eighties comedy boom, how about that!); the second a subject most of us would just as soon avoid and stare at the floor. But the two are inextricably tied up in Crimmins’ persona, and Bobcat isn’t one to soft pedal the truth. He lays them out matter-of-factly in Call Me Lucky, introducing us to Crimmins the prickly satirist, and letting the abuse revelations do detail work. Most filmmakers would’ve led with the abuse part of Barry’s story, but Bobcat doesn’t have time for that. Abuse doesn’t explain Barry, but it is part of the story.
Doubtful anyone could tell it this well. Bobcat has a way of elevating bluntness to a sacred ideal, which allows him to go to the darkest of places without sensationalizing, and to memorialize comedy without the sanctimony that usually entails. As Bobcat says, “I think if people knew how little I care about stand-up comedy, they’d be greatly disappointed. As soon as you start taking comedy serious, I’m out.”
It’s become the hoariest of journalism clichés to say “While you may know him as the growly-voiced guy from One Crazy Summer, Bobcat Goldthwait is also an acclaimed indie filmmaker!” And yet, even after directing Shakes the Clown, God Bless America, World’s Greatest Dad, Sleeping Dogs Lie, Windy City Heat (the subject of cult worship among many of my friends), a bigfoot horror movie, and countless TV shows and comedy specials, it remains impossible not to mention Bobcat’s early rise to fame – the character, the guy who burned chairs, the public figure that was more schtick than person.
One of Bobcat’s most charming qualities is that he never tries to deny what he was in order to be taken more seriously, never pretends that the guy from The Fighter isn’t the same guy from The Funky Bunch. It may have even hurt his transition that he so stubbornly refuses to be full of sh*t. “I could cure AIDS and I still know that my obituary photo is going to be me in a police uniform or standing next to a talking horse.”
That same quality, not surprisingly, makes him a great interview. Back in January, I watched him perform in front of a small crowd in a Sundance bar, where he brought up the fact that in the past year, he’d gotten divorced, lost his best friend (Robin Williams), and broken up with his girlfriend on Christmas. And this, remember, was during a comedy show. “I’m a 52-year-old man and I live in a one-bedroom apartment,” he said, never afraid of things getting “too real.”
I figured Bobcat wouldn’t be offended if I brought up his rough 2014, and I was hoping he might even have a heartening update on the matter. Call me unlucky.
“Are things going better now,” I asked. Bobcat paused to think about it and answered “No,” then laughed. “I’m certainly hanging in there.”
That’s when I found out Bobcat had recently become friends with Rowdy Roddy Piper, who had passed away suddenly last week. Oops. Well, at least his movie is really f*cking good.