Bobcat Goldthwait

Screechy stand-up shows doggedness in hilarious directorial debut, Sleeping Dogs Lie


SLEEPING DOGS LIE written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, with Melinda Page Hamilton and Bryce Johnson. 89 minutes. An Odeon Films release. Opens Friday (November 3). For venues and times, see Movies, page 84. Rating: NNNNN


Bobcat Goldthwait doesn’t want to hear about the time you gave a horse a hand job. Or how soft a goat’s lips feel against your nipples.

Yes, he’s made a movie, a romantic comedy called Sleeping Dogs Lie, about a woman who gives her dog a blow job. “It’s the best dog blow job movie ever made,” he says, “although I hear the new Lassie is pretty hot.”

But just because he’s exactly the kind of twisted fuck you’d expect to make such a film, he’s not inviting you to tell him messed-up shit about your own sex life – the lustful looks (or anything else) you’ve shared with Fluffy or Buster or Rex on those lonely nights when Lavalife comes up empty and the phone doesn’t ring.

“I was at Sundance, and this old woman came up to me after the screening,” he says. “She starts telling me about the time she put peanut butter on her vagina so her dog could lick it off.”

That mental image brings up a lot of questions – Isn’t that an urban myth? Who would do that? Was it crunchy or smooth? – and a little bit of half-digested lunch.

“That’s absolutely a true story,” Goldthwait says with a mix of glee and disgust. “People feel this need to confess the horrendous shit they’ve done, which so isn’t the point of the movie. Sure, it’s got bestiality in it, but it isn’t a movie about bestiality. The point is, there are some things you just don’t share with anybody – ever. Especially me, cuz you know I’m gonna talk about it in interviews.”

We’re sitting in a hotel room that has no bed. In a few hours, Sleeping Dogs Lie will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. “I like watching it with crowds because they get uncomfortable and it makes me feel really good,” Goldthwait says.

Making people uncomfortable has been the 44-year-old shock-comic-turned-filmmaker’s raison d’être since he started doing stand-up in high school. It also might explain his attire – a straw cowboy hat he rescued from the trash and a white jacket with a pink-and-piss-coloured pattern that belongs in the trash. The combination says, “Look at me!” Or maybe, “Spare some change?”

Thing is, we haven’t looked at Bobcat Goldthwait for a long time. Hell, we’re still trying to get the sound of his voice, a cat-in-a-blender screech of the demonically possessed, out of our heads. For the record, he only does that voice “for retarded kids,” he says, his real voice low and scratchy, like a worn out AC/DC album.

Best known for yelling his way through three Police Academy movies – “You mean Police Lobotomy,” he corrects me – Goldthwait has emerged as the unlikeliest auteur since an unknown, untrained videodork named Tarantino reinvented the crime film.

“It’s insane,” Goldthwait admits. “People really seem to like the movie. Even Hollywood people.”

Following Sleeping Dogs Lie’s warm welcome at Sundance, Goldthwait was invited to take part in the Outlaw Cinema panel alongside Dennis Hopper, Gregg Araki and Abel Ferrara at this year’s CineVegas Film Festival. To their general annoyance, he spent most of the discussion shooting off imaginary pistols and yelling, “Yee-haw! I’m an outlaw!”

“There’s a lot of pretentiousness in filmmaking. Too many rich kids who went to film school and got everything handed to them, and I hate ’em,” he says. “But Hopper was cool.”

Like Hopper, Goldthwait has survived the early self-destructive behaviour that almost ended his career.

He was one of the hottest, weirdest comics of the 80s. His influences ranged from Carlin and Kaufman to Python and punk – “Johnny Rotten has more to do with me than Johnny Carson,” he says – and his angry improvisational style earned comparisons to Lenny Bruce and the Looney Tunes. If laughter is the best medicine, Goldthwait’s act, a sort of spontaneous mental breakdown based on moments of cruelty, ridicule and humiliation, was more like abdominal surgery without anaesthesia.

Nevertheless, it landed him on Letterman when he was 20. That led to movies – Burglar with Whoopi Goldberg, Scrooged with Bill Murray – and HBO specials and comedy albums with titles like I Don’t Mean To Insult You, But You Look Like Bobcat Goldthwait.

Riding high, he leveraged his popularity to write, direct and star in the alcoholic-clown comedy Shakes The Clown, the Bad Santa of its day. A box-office flop in 1992, it has since acquired a cult following: Martin Scorsese’s a fan, and REM wrote a song, Binky The Doormat, inspired by one of the film’s cokehead characters.

In 1993 he opened for Nirvana on their final tour. A year later, Kurt Cobain blew his brains out and Goldthwait shot himself in the foot. During an appearance on Jay Leno, his career went up in flames along with the couch cushion he ignited mid-interview. Leno was pissed, arson charges were threatened, and Goldthwait’s life became a string of guest roles – Married With Children, Herman’s Head, Hollywood Squares – with the occasional Blow to soften the blow.

“I have such a body of work that makes me cringe, a lot of really not good stuff that I did just for the money,” he says. “I wish there was a time machine and the 44-year-old Bob could talk to the 22-year-old Bob. He’d say, ‘Do not do Hot To Trot. ‘”

Goldthwait rarely performs stand-up any more. “Just when the rent’s due,” he says. Instead, he’s found steady work directing TV, like Chappelle’s Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live. “Directing is definitely what I’m happiest doing,” he says.

A couple of years ago, he came up with the idea for Sleeping Dogs Lie and banged out the script in just three days. “It seemed like the worst idea to write a movie about,” he says. “But it was also a great way to explore the idea of people hurting each other under the guise of being honest.”

Despite its pedigree, the film isn’t a gross-out comedy. It’s actually a sensitively written relationship movie about a normal, attractive young woman who, in the interest of full disclosure, decides to tell her fiancé her darkest secret.

Surprisingly, the female characters – from the aforementioned canine cocksucker to her strict Christian mother, who’s hiding a few secrets of her own – are the most fully realized.

“What can I say? I’m in touch with my feminine side,” Goldthwait says. “I think women can get over the past more easily than men. Women are jealous of who you may go out with men are jealous of who you have gone out with.”

While the script came together quickly, no one was rushing to fork over money to make it. “One guy liked the story but suggested that she just jerk the dog off, as though that makes it any better,” says Goldthwait.

So Goldthwait “borrowed” furniture and equipment from the Kimmel show, hired half his crew from Craigslist and shot it in 16 days “for the price of a luxury car,” he says.

And he’s already planning his next movie.

“For years I’ve been threatening to make Teen Jesus, kind of a Dawson’s Creek thing about Jesus’ angst-ridden teen years,” he says. “But now I’ve got this other idea for a musical about anal fisting.”

barretth@nowtoronto.com

SLEEPING DOGS LIE (Bobcat Goldthwait) Rating: NNNN

It’s no spoiler to reveal that this movie is about a woman who goes down on her dog. It happens in the opening scene, when lonely Amy (a delightful Melinda Page Hamilton) gives in to a perverse impulse to pleasure her pooch.

Yuck factor aside, what follows is a surprisingly sweet and insightful relationship comedy about why some secrets should remain secret, as Amy learns when she confesses her doggie dalliance to her fiancé (and accidentally to her uptight God-fearing parents). That it was made by comic-turned-filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait, whose previous film was about an alcoholic clown and his crackhead cohorts, is even more surprising.

He’s crafted a perversely appealing mix of romance, humour and bestiality that will have you laughing hard and nodding knowingly even as it leaves the occasional bad taste in your mouth. It’s what Annie Hall would have been if John Waters had directed it. Or if Woody Allen’s Alvy Singer had given one of the lobsters a hand job.

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