- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Bobcat Goldthwait empathizes with Bob Denver, the man forever known as Gilligan.

After all, Mr. Goldthwait made his name as the frenzied, sweaty comic featured in several “Police Academy” films and a rash of TV appearances.

Some fans won’t let go of that side of him, particularly if they have had one too many beers during the comic’s stand-up routine.

“It’s something I perpetuated,” he admits.

Mr. Goldthwait understands the price of his peculiar fame. He may be just another working-class comic, but he’s one with a pop-culture past that still opens doors.

He brings his current crop of routines to the D.C. Improv tonight for the first of four shows through Sunday.

His stand-up, circa 2004, is “a combination of what I remember and what I’m thinking about at the time,” Mr. Goldthwait says during a recent phone interview, his voice unfettered by past vocal tics.

Years ago, politics played a larger role in his monologues. The current times — and some common sense — changed all that.

Besides, he says, audiences weren’t waiting breathlessly for his take on the latest election.

“I don’t think people think of me as [a] political comedian,” he reminds us. “I’m the guy from ‘Police Academy’.”

He says the current political climate made cutting politics from his act even easier.

“If I mention the president before I get to the punch line, they yell up, ‘Don’t make fun of the president,’” Mr. Goldthwait says, noting that he ridiculed Presidents Reagan and Clinton in past years without reprisal.

“I’ve never been in this kind of climate. … People are really frightened,” laments the funnyman, who blames “conservatainment” news sources for breeding “intolerant” crowds.

Mr. Goldthwait, though, never set out to perform stand-up comedy.

“At the early point, I’d just go up [onstage] and read a ‘Dear John’ letter and cry. That would be my act,” he recalls. “I initially was trying to make fun of stand-up comedians; then I got booked as a comedian on [“The Late Show With David] Letterman. Suddenly, I had to go out and come up with an act. … I became this thing I was trying to mock.”

Still, he hardly seems bitter that his career isn’t as headline-worthy as in years past.

“The ‘80s were my halcyon days,” he says. “The past years, I’ve been able to make a living doing this.”

Stand-up, it seems — as opposed to movies — has been very, very good to the Syracuse, N.Y. native.

To say his film oeuvre includes forgettable choices is a charitable way to phrase it. Mr. Goldthwait is the first to critique his work.

He emerged about the same time as the late screamaholic comic Sam Kinison, and the two were unfairly lumped together despite distinct comic identities.

Mr. Kinison’s rage was fatalistic and mean, while Mr. Goldthwait’s cries were couched in observant humor and antagonistic ramblings.

He used his stand-up fame to land spots in three “Police Academy” features and also grab his own starring vehicle (1988’s “Hot to Trot,” in which he squared off with a talking horse) and a litany of smaller roles.

Mr. Goldthwait never stopped working, per se, but viewers have had to look — or, more pointedly, listen — carefully for him. He voiced an edgy bunny on the WB’s “Unhappily Ever After” and provided voice-over work for a series of animated projects.

One pleasant hangover from his career high comes from an unlikely source. The 1992 feature “Shakes the Clown,” his directorial debut and a film dubbed gleefully “the ‘Citizen Kane’ of alcoholic-clown movies,” earned the admiration of Jimmy Kimmel.

The appreciation led Mr. Goldthwait to Comedy Central, where Mr. Kimmel co-hosted “The Man Show” with Adam Carolla.

The connection paid off in more ways than one. Mr. Goldthwait directed plenty of “Man Show” episodes for Mr. Kimmel, and he works behind the camera for Dave Chappelle’s furiously popular show on the cable network.

The transition from performer to director was anything but arduous, Mr. Goldthwait explains.

“It’s kind of the same skills,” he says. “You’re onstage, and you’re trying to figure out where you’re going next.”

The interview’s only bitterness comes couched in Mr. Goldthwait’s musing about last year’s celebrated black comedy spoofing Santa Claus.

“It’s funny to see those people [who hated ‘Shakes the Clown’] give ‘Bad Santa’ a glowing review,” he says.

On the other hand, he gets some satisfaction that a film he directed for Comedy Central last year, “Windy City Heat,” already is developing a cult following.

“It’s just like [the reaction to] ‘Shakes,’ but it’s coming faster. People say, ‘I’ve seen it eight times,’” Mr. Goldthwait says of the movie, which is more of an extended practical joke than a scripted film.

But the comedian never set out for mass approval and says, at this point, he won’t change his stripes.

“I’m surprised when something I do clicks with pop culture,” he says.

WHAT: Bobcat Goldthwait

WHERE: D.C. Improv, 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW

WHEN: Tonight at 8:30, tomorrow and Saturday at 8 and 10:30 p.m., and Sunday at 8 p.m.

TICKETS: $20

INFORMATION: 202/296-7008. WEB SITE: www.dcimprov.com

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