World’s Greatest Dad is a confusingly titled movie. It’s meant both ironically and seriously, which makes it doubly ironic or ironically squared, if my math is right. On the surface it’s an adult comedy about a high school teacher and his son. A little deeper, it’s a shamelessly irreverent critique of youth and celebrity. Juggling cheap humor and costly tragedy isn’t something very many directors can manage, but Bobcat Goldthwait succeeds where most don’t even try.
I sat down with Bobcat in the Four Seasons to talk about writing for adults, working with Robin Williams, and how teenagers are rarely realistic in movies.
Me: This tape recorder’s on by the way, in case you don’t want to say anything incriminating.
Bobcat: How are you gonna ruin my career? I think I did a good enough job myself.
It’s so funny being in this fancy hotel promoting an indie movie. We’re really keeping it real.
Me: The movie has been received really well by critics and it did well in the festivals.
Bobcat: Yeah. it’s been doing really well. It’s exceeded my expectations. It just keeps snowballing. And the critics really seem to really like it. It’s the best received thing I’ve ever been involved in. I’m not so much of a dope as to realize that’s not nice.
Me: It gets a lot of attention for the dark subject matter, but next to something like Bruno I’m not sure it’s actually very disturbing.
Bobcat: Yeah I don’t think so at all. On paper, if you heard what these movies [World’s Greatest Dad and Sleeping Dogs Lie] were about, you’d think that they were shock comedy movies. Slob comedy movies. But they’re not. They’re just adult comedies. These are things my adult friends and I talk about.
In Hollywood when they make a movie that’s R-rated, they’re not making it for adults. They’re trying to appeal to 13 year-old kids. I’m a middle-aged man. I think teenagers are idiots. I can’t write for teenagers. I don’t care about entertaining them. I think everything that’s made is to keep them amused. They can fuck off. If you’re really good at guitar hero, you’ll hate this movie.
Me: Usually, teenagers have to be really precocious or misunderstood. Like on TV series where high school students make off-hand references to 16th century poets, as if they were really buried in John Donne every evening. In this movie it’s not like that.
Bobcat: Yeah. I used to think that the villain in movies was the lack of imagination. But now I’m realizing the villain is people who have the inability to empathize with other people. I think that’s really personified in the youth culture more than anywhere else at this point. Everything is aimed at keeping the very juvenile parts of our minds stimulated 24/7 now. We’ve really become the People’s Republic of Spring Break. We’re all just supposed to be having the drunkest, funnest, 24-hour orgasm.
Me: Yeah I had this theory that since Jackass it’s been downhill because young boys have been told that if they do stupid things that they’ll get girls or be popular or whatever.
Bobcat: The ante is always being upped in our culture. I don’t think there are really ways to shock people. Especially the generations below me. How am I as a comedian going to be shocking when most 10 year-olds have seen 2 girls and 1 cup? When I was a kid we’d find someone’s dad’s Playboy and now you’re 10 years old and you know what fisting is. It’s kind of all gone out the window.
Me: Let’s switch gears. How much of a presence is Robin Williams? I know you guys have been friends for a while.
Bobcat: Yeah. He’s a great actor, but he didn’t bring the baggage. Robin has always been very sweet to me in that he’s always treated us as peers. He’s interested in what I’m doing and what my life is, as if our lives were the same. We finished the movie and I was playing in Austin and 80/90 people come to see me on Thursday night and he sells out 5,000. And he’s like, “Hey, how’s it going?” I go, “Don’t even go to your show tonight cause I’m gonna fucking crush you.”
I was really happy that Alexie and Daryl didn’t disappear because Robin is a strong presence. Not just when he’s being funny but just as an actor. He’s so focused. I was really happy when, like a day or two in, Daryl and him would kind of be in a father/son mode. Not just between when I’d say cut and action either. They would be firing barbs. It was really awesome. Daryl’s a smart kid cause he’s not interested in being a celebrity, he’s really interested in being an actor.
Me: Yeah, how did his casting go? I heard he initially auditioned for the part of the friend, the nice kid.
Bobcat: Yeah he lied right to my face. He said, “Yeah I’m here for Kyle.” And already I was like, “Uh…okay…” But then I thought, maybe this is the kid. Maybe he’s really a shitbird. I called people to make sure he was okay and they were like, “what are you talking about? Daryl’s a real sweet kid.”
Me: So that was all his thing? He just walked in…
Bobcat: That was the part he wanted. You know, I never saw the Spy Kids movies because I think that’d just be creepy. But he’s got more common sense than I did in my 20s. He knows he’s gotta go against people’s perceptions of him. So he lied and then he did his job. And then what I think is funny is, now we’re kind of close and I forget that he’s a kid. I was in the editing room and I called him up and said, “Daryl, what does chili dogging mean?” And he goes, “that’s when you crap on someone’s chest.” And I was like, “Oh. So what have you been up to?” and he says, “Well I just got my license.” And I’m like, “Yeah I’m gonna get off the phone cause this is weird that I’m talking to a 16 year-old boy about shitting on people’s chests.” But now he hangs out.
Me: Well the movie definitely does a good job of painting teenagers in a little more accurate light.
Bobcat: Here’s the thing. Teenagers, children and the mentally challenged are never allowed to be full-rounded people. And some of those people are actually assholes. They’re terrible. That’s just the reality of it. But you’re not allowed to depict that. They always have to be seen in some sort of angelic way. Or you can make them ultra-villains. You can make kids killers but they can’t be run-of-the-mill douchebags.
Me: I heard you say you thought it was funny that you made a movie where Robin Williams is naked and nobody seems to notice.
Bobcat: Yeah. Robin kind of didn’t want that out. He wanted people to find that out. But there’s so much other stuff in the movie. Like that almost just seems to make sense. If you didn’t see him nude, it’d take you out of it. You’d feel like you were watching a TV show or something.
Me: I did a lot of thinking about it because I had forgotten he was naked too – I haven’t seen the movie in a couple months. But it makes complete sense. You push a lot of boundaries but it’s done so consciously that it no longer feels extreme.
Bobcat: Thanks. Yeah. That’s the idea. It is that way. I’m really happy that if the movie works for people, it’s just the world that’s like well, yeah, okay, that’s just another thing. Even though we play it very straight, I do see these movies as little fables or something. And this one I see as a satire. Especially the last half of the movie, it becomes a satire.
Me: Yeah, I’m not sure a lot of people get that.
Bobcat: No I don’t think they do. But that’s okay.
I’ve noticed when I see the movie with older folks. I don’t think they understand Kyle, but I’m surprised that the movie still works for them. It’s weird because I’m middle-aged but I certainly knew rotten kids who had no imagination. And I can think of kids who met some sort of tragedy. Then, all of a sudden people reinvented them.
It happened at my 25th high school reunion a couple years ago. There was this guy who was a great guy and my friend Margaret goes, “let’s not forget that so-and-so was a fucking asshole” while they were making this speech about him. And I laughed really hard and thought, no wonder you were my friend in high school.
Later, they had a drawing and I won this set of golf clubs and my buddy was like, “Goldthwait your life HAS been a fucking lottery.” So there you go. Get a load of this. Sittin’ in the Four Seasons.