Joy Ride is the perfect watch for those of us who enjoy comedy but are maybe a little disillusioned with “the stand-up special” as an artform. Is a full hour of filmed stand-up really the gold standard of comedic talent?
“I don’t care how brilliant the comedian is, there’s a fatigue that sets in at about 40, 45 minutes,” says Bobcat Goldthwait, a comedian who frequently performs for longer than that.
In Joy Ride, Goldthwait, comedian-turned-novelty-80s-actor-turned-filmmaker, and his friend, comedian and Simpsons writer Dana Gould, take the stage together, cracking jokes, telling stories, and riffing. This is intercut with footage of them on the road, and mixed with period footage from their early lives, early careers, and things they reference in the act. It all adds up to an enjoyable and breezy watch, at just over 70 minutes.
Partly it’s a live podcast, partly it’s a throwback to comedy duos that used to be so popular, and partly it’s the documentary answer to The Trip, if Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon didn’t eat fine food or do Michael Caine impressions. If instead maybe they just drove through bad weather and got into car crashes in between discussions about Robin Williams meeting Koko the Gorilla and hating Jerry Seinfeld.
Oh yes, we do get into that feud. Turns out, Bobcat Goldthwait’s was the bleeped name in an episode of Seinfeld’s Netflix show, Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, with guest Bridgett Everett. Goldthwait had directed Everett in Love You More and Misfits & Monsters, and Everett’s mere mention of him in front of Seinfeld prompted Seinfeld to muse , “He used to rail against comedians because they weren’t as wild and dangerous as he was. ‘Cause he sucked! He wasn’t funny. And that’s why he didn’t get anywhere. That’s why he had to do that stupid f—ing voice. ‘Cause you have no f—ing act!”
Goldthwait had indeed ragged on Seinfeld in the nineties, so Seinfeld’s rant didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. “I was very vicious, let’s not kid ourselves,” Goldthwait now says of his earlier Seinfeld bashing. “But I thought it was over, because I was friendly with one of his managers. Maybe I should’ve reached out or something.”
But as long as we’re back on the subject… “You know that show where millionaires dissect comedy until it’s not funny anymore?” Goldthwait asks of Comedians In Cars. “It’s like, ‘hey, you know what the average Joe can relate to? You in a half million dollar car.’ That just tears my cock off. Go f*ck yourself.”
Goldthwait reasons that he had mostly stopped celebrity bashing in his act, because he didn’t like the way it made him feel (not to mention Sylvester Stallone threatening to eat his heart). Evolving into more of a storyteller in the years since, he nonetheless says that there are good reasons for Seinfeld to drop the beef.
“As soon as he [brought me up], people were trying to figure out who he’s talking about. And then they Google my name and Jerry Seinfeld, and it just goes to clips of me talking about him banging teenage girls and being a Scientologist enthusiast.”
As Nathan Rabin has pointed out, where you side on the Seinfeld/Goldthwait feud sort of comes down to whether you believe that a comedian’s “goal” is to be rich and successful, or to connect with people. For what it’s worth, I think there’s some truth to what Seinfeld was saying. I do enjoy Goldthwait more as a storyteller than I did as an avant-garde stand-up comic. Yet I’m firmly Team Goldthwait in the matter, because when he talks, onstage and off, he has an almost uncanny ability to make you feel like you’re just listening to a friend tell a story. It rarely feels like you’re experiencing “a performance” (even though, of course, you are). He’s an engaging personality in a way that you can’t grade purely on laffs volume.
This is the second time I’ve interviewed Goldthwait (the first when he was promoting Call Me Lucky, his documentary about his friend Barry Crimmins, who I also interviewed before his death in 2018), and it always just feels like we’re friends shooting the shit, despite never having met the man outside of the context of promotional interviews. I tend to think that’s simply Goldthwait’s gift. It’s the same feeling you get from watching Dana Gould and Bobcat ruminate and reminisce with each other onstage in Joy Ride. In some ways it seems to be the feeling Seinfeld himself was trying to create in Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. And yeah, maybe it is easier to relate without all the fancy cars.
Joy Ride hits select theaters and OnDemand platforms October 29th. I spoke to Bobcat and Dana via Zoom this past week.
I see you’ve got that picture of Barry behind you.
BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: Yeah, I’m doing a narrative version of Call Me Lucky with Judd Apatow. Been working on it awhile. It’s very hard because I want it to be a good movie, and I want it to be honest, and I also don’t want to be haunted by a drunk ghost. That’s the reality of it.
Is it going to be with him testifying in Congress and stuff like that?
BOBCAT: Yeah, there’s that, but what’s probably made it harder is I’ve been trying to tackle a bigger slice of him. But I do agree, I think biopics that are a specific chunk of time are more interesting than cradle-to-the-grave biopics.
[Dana Gould shows up to the Zoom]
DANA: Hey, sorry about that.
All right. So what made you guys want to do this tour as a duo?
BOBCAT: Well, we just liked the idea of doing rock clubs together, and we wanted to see how it worked. If it would work. What happened was is we would come out, and we would goof around, and see who was going to headline that evening by flipping a coin, but we both quickly learned that people were enjoying the part of Dana and I dicking around on stage together more than our actual stand-up. I’m really happy when there’s some genuine ad-libs that are going on, but I couldn’t have done this any earlier in my career because I could not have handled someone else getting all the focus at any point on stage. I would’ve been in full on Jerry Lewis overdrive.
Aside from the clash of egos not allowing one of you guys to go first, did it take some pressure off not having to remember a set?
BOBCAT: Yeah. It’s so funny, too. Like, now Dana will remember something I said and he’ll try to tee it up for me, and I just look at him like a stroke victim, and I don’t know what he’s talking about.
DANA: “Know what, Bob? These baseball players sure have funny names.”
BOBCAT: “Yeah. Actually, I haven’t noticed. I don’t follow baseball…”
DANA: It is true, I agree with Bob that this wouldn’t have worked 10 years ago, but we’re both at a place in our careers and in our maturity where laughter, there’s not a finite amount. If you get some, it doesn’t mean there’s less for me. We can really just enjoy it. You know, the term “word jazz” gets thrown around a lot…
Comedy duos, it seemed like there used to be a lot of them, but now, I can’t think of any that aren’t twin siblings. Do you think there’s a reason that the comedy duo has–
DANA: (laughing) That’s really true! It’s funny you say that, because Jason Sklar lives literally five houses down the street.
BOBCAT: Are you sure it’s Jason?
DANA: Yes, and I wasn’t for a long time.
BOBCAT: I worked with the Lucas brothers, and I would make a note on which one had the red piping in his hat that day, and I never called him by the wrong name. Then the last time I saw him I did, and I wanted to die.
Do you think the duo is going to come back?
BOBCAT: Well, you know I have a huge soft spot for that kind of stuff, like Martin and Lewis, and Hope and Crosby. I think the closest we’ve had, it’s been years, but The Mighty Boosh. That was really that traditional thing where it’s two guys that love each other, one guy’s clueless and fun, and drives the other guy nuts. I was always looking for that. Briefly, David Bowie and myself talked about doing an act. Even a couple years later, I would’ve done it. But when he wanted to do it, he was like, “Okay. I started looking into the small venues,” and by that he meant like 2,000 seat halls. They would’ve killed me.
DANA: I always get the call after Bowie passes. “Tin Machine? No. No, I can just fill in.”
It seems like with this, you get to do the things you like about stand-up without necessarily having to do traditional stand-up. What is your relationship to the medium? Were there ever times where you disliked it or wondered if it was worth it?
DANA: Oh yes. The goal of the tour was the other 23 hours. It was, I hate traveling alone, living alone. Especially when Bob and I were adults. We have romantic partners, children. I’m very socialized. And being alone for all that time is a drag. I was like, “Hey, we can be alone together. This is great.” The stage act grew out of that necessity, I think.
BOBCAT: Yeah and also just to get out of comedy clubs. Because these are rock venues, so these people came to see us. They weren’t there because it was a date night or it was a Groupon or whatever. And the two of us together, the draw’s a little better. The two of us together, we’re this little unit. The shows would start running to two to two and a half hours, and we would leave it all out there.
I don’t know that I would necessarily want to watch two hours of a straight comedy special, or that I would want to watch a whole thing about just a road trip, but because you mixed all these things, with the historical footage and the stage footage– yeah, I liked it a lot.
BOBCAT: I don’t care how brilliant the comedian is, there’s a fatigue that sets in at about 40 minutes, 45 minutes, no matter how great the act is. I think because there’s a bit of a narrative, and that hopefully we allude to that. But I was going to say no comedian, but you know what’s funny? I saw Andy Kaufman when I was a teenager, and there was no fatigue because he kept peeling the onion back. He came out speaking jibberish, and then he’s doing the Elvis, and then he’s doing a version of himself, and then he’s wrestling. There was no fatigue, you’re going “Oh, he just cried playing bongos. Oh, now we’re wrestling women. Wait, now we’re all putting our arms around each other and singing… Oh, Howdy Doody’s here.” It was mental.
So Bobcat, why didn’t you like Dana at first? And when did it change?
BOBCAT: You are what you hate, or as Mel Brook says, “You are what you mock.” To really get down to it, I grew up with Tom Kenny [comedian and voice of Spongebob], who I’ve known since I was six years old. I think he’s the funniest person I’ve ever met. And Dana was influenced by Tommy, so–
DANA: Yeah. In a big way, Bob lived in Boston with our two friends, Tom Kenny and Dan Spencer. And then Bob moved to San Francisco and I moved to Boston and became friends with Dan and Tom. Absolutely at that age, 18, 19 years old, I absorbed some of Tom’s personality. Shamelessly, by the way. I wouldn’t have liked me either if I was Bob.
BOBCAT: My bullshit thing was, in my head, I felt like I was defending Tom Kenny somehow, but the reality is Tom Kenny didn’t have a problem. The real subconscious reason I believe was that I didn’t like the part of me that was derivative of Tom. And so I attacked Dana. The other thing is is I’ve never been a person that’s “on” offstage. I’ve always been punch the clock funny. I like watching my friends be funny, and I like laughing with my friends, but when people are always on, I just have a problem with it. And Dana was very needy then, and Dana would be on.
Was it also that you’d moved away, and [Dana] had replaced you in the friend group somehow?
DANA: What’s so funny about that is I thought that’s what it always was. Now I’m like, “Oh, it was something else?”
Oh yeah, actually it was just your personality.
DANA: And also, not to belabor a well-made point, I grew up in a very, very small town, and I literally didn’t really meet people that I didn’t know already until I left my hometown and went to college. That was right around the time that Bob met me. I was 18, 19, but emotionally, I was probably 13 or 14, just by dint of my upbringing. I’ve said this so many times, but I meet people that knew me before I was 30, and I’m just like, “I’m really, really sorry.” And it wasn’t long after that but we were at a show at Largo, and I think that there was a sense of like, “Oh, he’s changed. I’m going to talk to him.”
BOBCAT: Dana changed, but my thing was do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy? I had a Rolodex of resentments towards everybody. “Oh, this guy. Well, he did this and that, and that’s why I don’t like him.” But at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself do I want to be right and isolated and bitter, or do I want to have loved ones and friends?
You guys talked about teeing each other up for bits during the show. I was trying to figure out, is Bobcat hating Jerry Seinfeld a bit that Dana was trying to tee you up for, or is that just a thing that he likes to goad you into talking about?
BOBCAT: So that clip of him on that show where millionaires dissect comedy until it’s not funny anymore [Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee], and are shocked when marginalized people are offended by something that they say? It’s like, “hey, you know what the average Joe can relate to? You in a half a million dollar car.” That just tears my cock off. Go fuck yourself.
DANA: Give him a minute, he’ll warm up.
BOBCAT: But truly, I can honestly say this and I know no one’s going to believe it, but I really don’t hate Jerry Seinfeld. It’s worse than that: I don’t care about Jerry Seinfeld. When I watched him say that stuff, it was like the RCA dog looking into the speaker with my head cocked sideways. See, 20, 25 years ago, I would say a lot of vicious things about the guy, and… I mean, I was very vicious, let’s not kid ourselves. But I thought it was over, because I was friendly with one of his managers who’s a real mensch.
And now, comedians in coffee shops spilling tea, featuring @JerrySeinfeld and @bridgeteverett. pic.twitter.com/gmrBVHtgXc
— Netflix Is A Joke (@NetflixIsAJoke) July 17, 2019
Maybe I should’ve reached out or something, but then, he did that thing, and then he’s saying in an interview later that that was his favorite part of the season. And he’s like, “You tell him I said that.” In the past I felt like I had to stop celebrity bashing in my act because I didn’t like how it made me feel. That’s really how I became more of a storyteller. But the funny thing is, it’s like I’m this retired gunslinger. Seinfeld shows up in town, and he’s like, “Goldthwait!” And I’m like, “I’m out of this game, man.” “Goldthwait, I want to talk to you! I’m going to embarrass my friend Bridgett until you come out!” And I go, “Okay.” I take the .45s down, and I’m like, “Man, you really don’t want to do this.”
The reason he shouldn’t do it is that as soon as he did that, people were trying to figure out who he’s talking about and then they Google my name and Jerry Seinfeld, and it just goes to clips of me talking about him banging teenage girls and being a Scientologist enthusiast.
You talked about not wanting to talk about celebrities anymore. Is that a hard thing to manage? Because when you talk about them in an act, you’re relating to the audience and it’s just you and them, and that’s one thing. But then when that clip is available everywhere always and that person that you’re talking about can see it, it becomes another thing.
BOBCAT: I learned right away that whatever I said got back to people. The first HBO special I had, I was in my manager’s office, I kept getting calls from Sylvester Stallone saying he was going to kill me. Actually, he said he was going to rip my heart out. But I remember my daughter had been born, and they’re finishing the edit on the HBO special, and I’m on a payphone going back and forth seeing my daughter because she was in the hospital for awhile, and they wanted to know if I wanted to cut this stuff out about Stallone. I talked to Robin [Williams] about it, and Robin’s going, “Oh no, B. I do jokes about Stallone all the time. I do him doing Shakespeare. It’s fine.” Like yeah, but it’s the difference between doing Stallone doing Shakespeare and calling him a draft dodger. But Robin and I would sit there with legal pads, and we would come up with ideas, and he would go, “Oh, that’s too dark. That’s for your pile. I can’t say that. People will hate me.”
Dana, are there any celebrities or comedians that you would like to take this opportunity to start a beef with?
DANA: Oh yeah, that’d be great. Jerry Lewis. No. It’s like what Bob said, I don’t care. I know I have a lot of friends, and I’m not talking about Bob here, that are very much monitoring the “comedy civil war,” of the bro comics versus the whatever. I have three kids, and a whole other career as a writer, and I wish I had the time to keep up with Joe Rogan. I honestly could not care less.
BOBCAT: But when you’re bashing other comedians, I should say what you’re really saying is, “They’re famous, they’re making more money than me, and I’m awesome and I should be.” That’s the subtext there. But as far as Jerry, I can try to figure out what originally got me. I think it was just because he was so condescending when I moved to LA. I would like to think that I’m pointing out his hypocrisy, or the fact that he’s just so mainstream or whatever, but the reality is, the guy was just a dick to me when I met him. That was it. I think I just put him in that Rolodex I was talking about earlier.
DANA: It’s funny, a lot of these things, they go back to the smallest personal thing. It’s the small humiliations.
Well, they told me I had 30, and I don’t want to screw up the rest of your guys’ schedule.
DANA: Oh, yeah. We have other things. You’re right. Let me look at what the other thing is. Hang on one second… Oh, yeah. Shit, I’m late. I’m late. I do have to go. I’m sorry.
I appreciate it.
DANA: I’m doing an unrelated interview with Beaver Hunt magazine.
Well that’s a much more important publication.
BOBCAT: Who books that?
I’ll ask you [Bobcat] one last thing, which is, if I remember correctly, you got through this entire movie without discussing cancel culture once. How you were able to manage that?
BOBCAT: Well, I’ll speak about me. I’ve always said what I wanted to say on stage, and people got pissed off, and I either addressed it, apologized for it, or doubled down. That’s the job. Cancel culture reminds me of back in the day when every city had their version of a shock jock who basically were very derivative of Stern, and all of them were always at odds with the FCC or at odds with another radio show that was very similar to theirs. And the more they attacked that, the more their fan base grew and defended them. Nobody’s freedom of speech is in jeopardy, I just think now marginalized groups have a tiny bit of a voice. I think there’s people who aren’t used to anyone saying, “Hey, I don’t feel really cool about that.” Like I said, I’m not obsessed with Jerry Seinfeld, but someone had asked me this question, and he thought I was talking about him, but I guess it applies. He makes some gay joke, and then when people were upset by it, that was so foreign and shocking to him. Say what you want. And if people get upset, you should send them a thank you note because it helps promote your thing.
Do you think part of it is that our brains are not built to handle the level of feedback that is now possible?
BOBCAT: Yeah, I think that’s crazy. Ego surfing is so dangerous. Falling down some rabbit hole when I’m reading somebody’s opinion on me that wouldn’t pay money to come see me. Social media is set up in a way that lies and anger get amplified, fighting gets amplified. It’s like that thing the other day about Facebook, it’s like, “Wait, so this platform that was started by some Ivy League bros to rate women’s tits and faces didn’t have the betterment of mankind behind it?” Oh, what a shock. It started from a shitty place and it went downhill from there.
‘Joy Ride’ hits select theaters and OnDemand platforms October 29th. Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.