Bobcat Goldthwait On The Challenges Of Making His New Anthology Series, ‘Misfits & Monsters’

Curtis Bonds Baker/truTV

As a film director and stand-up comedian, Bobcat Goldthwait told me toward the end of our interview, his next project will be the “narrative version” of his documentary Call Me Lucky, which detailed the life of the late Barry Crimmins. In fact, it’s one of many projects that currently fill his plate — and a theme that quickly became apparent throughout our conversation. Goldthwait loves to work. He loves to be busy. And as it turns out, breaking out into the wider world of television with an anthology series is just the way to keep one’s plate filled.

Hence Bobcat Goldthwait’s Misfits & Monsters, a new anthology series on truTV premiering tonight at 10 pm ET. Best described as a mix of horror, comedy and science fiction — or a funnier, less depressing take on Charlie Brooker’s hugely popular Black Mirror — Goldthwait’s new show is something the 56-year-old creator has been dreaming up for the better part of the last decade. Now it’s here, and he really hopes audiences like it — even if, as the tried-and-true comic admits, each episode goes out of its way (by design) to alienate viewers before attempting to reel them back in.

This show feels like something you’ve been preparing to do for a very long time.

The idea of going out and doing an anthology show came to me about seven years ago. I went out and pitched it at a few studios and it went over like a bad fart, so it was definitely questionable if they were even going to validate my parking. Because people would say, “What would you like to do as a TV show?” And I’d be like, “I want to do an anthology show.” They’d ask, “What else would you like to do?” — but that was it. That’s what I wanted to do.

To be honest, I wasn’t really looking for a job in television. These stories are not even the stories that I originally went out with. I write a lot of screenplays and I write a lot all the time. There are like eleven more outlines for this show, and two more scripts. I just write a lot of stuff, and if doing a TV show meant an anthology series and that I could tell a lot of different stories, that’s great. What’s fulfilling for me is to ask, “Can I mix up these two genres? Can I pull it off?” There’s a time traveling one that is very much like a Jerry Lewis movie, but it’s set around JFK’s assassination. So I ask myself again, “Can I pull this off? Can I have Jerry Lewis be in Dealey Plaza? Can you still empathize and care about these characters?”

That is one hell of an ask, but from the creative side of things, it makes perfect sense to ask it.

That’s always the challenge. Even all the movies I’ve made, it’s always been, “Can you empathize with these protagonists that usually do very messed up things? At the end, are you still engaged with and concerned about them?” I don’t want to manipulate audiences by making that the case. Even in my stand-up, I go up there and say something off, then spend the rest of the time digging myself out of the hole. That’s usually how my movies start, like with Joel Murray’s character shooting a baby in God Bless America. It happens in a fantasy, but that’s still a big one to get an audience past.

Or, consider a rom-com with a tiny bit of bestiality? “Are you still going to care about our female lead?” That’s the challenge. That, and taking two different genres and smashing them together. That’s been around since Shakes the Clown, the movie where I was kind of making fun of something like The Lost Weekend and the pretentiousness of stand-up comedians. Then I made it into a clown noir film. I’ve always done this. Sometimes people are on board, and other times they’re very confused about why I’m doing this at all. They’re all different. One’s just a scary Bigfoot movie. That’s it. There’s no twist. I wanted to see if I could pull it off, because I always like it in a Tarantino movie where you’re at the edge of your seat and nothing’s going on. There’s just three characters and sometimes you don’t see one of them.

I’m always wondering if I can make the suspension believable. With Misfits & Monsters, each episode is basically me asking, “Can I do this?” That’s what keeps me engaged as a storyteller, and I just go, “Well, of course we can do this!” I’ve said the “Bubba the Bear” episode is basically Cape Fear and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Though I think it might actually be more of the darker side of Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract.”

Even so, I imagine it takes a lot more work than usual to combine so many genres or influences into this, given that it completely changes from episode to episode.

I have to have the creative team around me and everybody at the network involved to make it work. I appreciate them cutting me some slack, because it is like a new pilot each week. Visually or tonally, these things make perfect sense in my head, but I understand that other people can’t see that. That’s the hard part. It just boils down to trust. It’s weird. If it was a traditional series, by episode four or five you would go, “No, that character wouldn’t say that.” Or we would already have the interior of the house, or know what the shots should look like. But each time is different with an anthology series.

The “making of” segments after each episode are fun. Were those your idea, or did truTV suggest that?

It was truTV and myself who both came to that. It’s just that the initial broadcast would be longer than the ones that will be broadcast later, so instead of doing two different cuts of the show, like a longer and shorter one, it seemed easier to do a behind the scenes bit. Even though I do stand-up and promote myself weirdly, I’m kind of camera shy in a strange way. It’s not that I’m humble. It’s probably that I take the storytelling pretty seriously, so it would be hard for me to be in front of the camera and do each story like that.

Sure, but from the audience’s perspective, it’s fun for some to have that extra window into the process.

It’s so true. Like on “Bubba the Bear,” I really thought I was telling the story of Tom Kenny, my friend since I was six years old, who voices SpongeBob and a lot of other characters. At the end of the day, though, it was my daughter who pointed out to me that “Bubba the Bear” was about me trying to outlive this character. It’s kind of sad. It’s like the ’90s is trying to kill me. Maybe not physically, but financially and creatively.

You mentioned earlier how much you write, and how that fueled this series. Did you direct and write all of these, or was there a writer’s room to help you out?

I directed and wrote them all, and the friends of mine who were on board with producing titles would help me shape the stories. I would write all the scripts, and then it was great to have my friend Caitlin Dill around on the set pitching jokes and my friend Tony V., who plays Neptune in an episode about a mermaid. Bridget Everett plays the mermaid and Neptune is her slightly abusive ex.

Anyways, Tony would be around pitching jokes. It’s the way I do work every day, to be honest. It’s a very collaborative thing. Even with the scripts I write. Everyone would make sure we had all the story beats and the turns, and had figured out who these people, and what these worlds, were. People would help contribute with dialogue, and sometimes even pitch story ideas too. The entire story, because I wrote all of that, but specific ideas for scenes.

That makes sense, as Misfits & Monsters has a lot of comedians and sketch performers in it. People like Michael Ian Black. As a director, do you encourage improv on set?

I definitely encourage it, especially in Michael’s episode. That is the genre. It’s a found-footage mockumentary, and there are so many great improv comedians in that one. What’s funny is that that was the one where we had so much extra material, and a lot of it is really funny stuff, but it was also the fastest one to shoot. It was simply a matter of figuring out, “Okay, here’s what we’re doing” and then just letting these funny people rip. That was really fun to do. Outside of the concert footage and stuff like that, which was pretty ambitious for us, it went really fast.

Ever since I started making movies and television, I’ve always encouraged people to ad lib. Even folks who don’t ad lib. Once you put that out there, you notice that their performance loosens up. Often during the shoot for World’s Greatest Dad, Robin would want an extra take or two and of course I would let him go for it. Sometimes he wouldn’t ad lib or change anything, but that would be the one where he was the most present. That would be the one. It would transcend just the script.

You mentioned having outlines and scripts beyond the eight episodes you filmed for Misfits & Monsters. Would you want to do more of this, were you given the opportunity?

We’ll see what happens. If they want to, and my time allows me to, then sure. I’m finishing up a pilot I shot for a friend for Comedy Central, and then I’m editing Ron Funches’ stand-up special. We just shot that in Seattle. I’m still finishing special effects and things like that on this series, so we’re almost close to finishing, but the next thing I’m doing is a narrative version of the documentary I did, Call Me Lucky, about my friend Barry Crimmins’ life. I’m doing that as a feature film, which is funny because that was the original idea — to do it as a feature film about him. I’m writing it with Judd Apatow, and I’m directing while he’s producing.

Bobcat Goldthwait’s Misfits & Monsters‘ premieres tonight at 10pm ET on truTV.