My worst moment: Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait once wasn’t sure he’d make it off stage alive

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The latest film from comedian, actor and director Bobcat Goldthwait is a documentary called “Joy Ride,” which follows him and fellow comic Dana Gould on the road together, traveling from gig to gig. “Part of it was just the idea of filming it, because you do so many shows on the road and often those are the best shows and they’re never captured,” Goldthwait said. The other part was zeroing in on their relationship, which was initially contentious earlier in their careers.

That long-ago friction is an undercurrent throughout the movie. “I think at that point in my career, I was a bit of a loudmouth and a bully and I didn’t like Dana,” Goldthwait said. “I was startled and shocked to realize how afraid of me he was and I actually found some footage of me being very unpleasant toward him on stage.” Though it doesn’t make him look good, that footage is in the movie as well. “My instincts as a storyteller won out over my ego.”

Though it is not widely known, Goldthwait relocated to the Chicago area last January. “My girlfriend’s family lives in Naperville and I got tired of living in L.A. for the last 35 years, so I moved here. I live on a dead-end street in a wooded area, it’s pretty nice.”

As an actor, his credits include numerous “Police Academy” movies, the John Cusack ‘80s classic “One Crazy Summer,” and the Bill Murray Christmas favorite “Scrooged.” He’s also voiced roles on animated shows, from the “Lilo & Stitch” series to “Bob’s Burgers.”

Throughout the years, he’s continued to perform stand-up and when asked about a worst moment in his career, it was a memory from several years back that came to mind.

My worst moment …

“This was in 1987, I was in Atlanta and I was performing at a big outdoor venue. I really don’t like these venues, where rich people pay a lot of money to sit with their wine and cheese. Anyway, I’m up there and all these people in the crowd keep yelling ‘Free Bird’ the whole show. It’s a pretty tired, hacky thing for someone to yell. It’s such a played out joke.

To note, “Free Bird” is the name of a Lynyrd Skynyrd song that has been jokingly requested at concerts for decades, regardless of the band on stage. It is not, however, commonly yelled at comedy shows.

“They keep yelling ‘Free Bird,’ so I’m thinking as soon as my allotted time is up, I’m gonna unload on the next person who does it. I was ready to snap. And when the next person yelled ‘Free Bird,’ I said: ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd is dead, all right?’ (Two of the band members died in a 1977 plane crash, which also injured the remaining members and killed several others.)

“And then I look down, and there are these longhaired biker guys climbing up onto the stage. I look for security and there’s no security stopping them. And as they get closer to me, I see around their necks these laminated passes that say ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd Survivors Tour ‘87′ and they go, ‘Hey man, we’re Lynyrd Skynyrd, we’re not dead.’

“So it was the surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, who had been in the audience — that’s why people were yelling ‘Free Bird.’ So I go: ‘Ladies and gentleman, Lynyrd Skynyrd!’ (Laughs) This was back when I was doing my persona that people knew me for and this was the first time I used my real voice on stage. And then the guy hugged me and he was like, ‘We’re playing a gig, can you plug it?’ So I plugged their gig (laughs).

“After that, I didn’t even wait around to get paid, it was a borderline riot situation. I turned to my buddy Tony, who was working the show with me that night, and I said, ‘Tony, get the car.’ (Laughs) And I walked offstage, got in the car and we took off.

“But Tony and I had a good laugh about it. He always says I’m gonna get him killed one day.”

What was going through Goldthwait’s mind as this was happening?

“I really wasn’t regretting it as much as I was sincerely concerned about physically getting out of the building. And I’ve had that happen on more than one occasion. But yeah, that was my fault.

“My buddies Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who are filmmakers — they’ve done a ton of movies, like ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ — I’ll show them a cut of a movie of mine before it’s done and I remember one note they gave me after they saw ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ (from 2009 starring Robin Williams) was, ‘You know, you stick the knife in and then you turn it.’ And I go, ‘Uh-huh.’ And they go, ‘And then you turn it one more time. You might want to cut out some of the times when you turn it that extra time.’ (Laughs) And that happens on stage. Most of the time I can show some restraint. But what happens is, if I think people are ruining a show for other people, I’ll snap. Or that will happen even if I’m hangry.”

When a crowd is shouting things, is it better to ignore it or to engage?

“Sometimes you can play with them and deflect that. When it happens at a comedy club and they’re just talking, they’re ruining the show for the people around them; people can’t get on a plane and act right, so imagine what happens in a club where they’re serving drinks. But I’m not going to pretend that this is Thanksgiving and we’re trying to get along.”

The takeaway …

“The big takeaway is that sometimes it’s not about me. I thought they were busting my chops, but in reality they were just trying to get Lynyrd Skynyrd’s attention.

“So sometimes when I’m on stage, I might unload on a heckler and then later on I realize, Oh, they weren’t saying what I thought — they were actually saying a nice thing and I misinterpreted it.

“I’ve never been in the presence of the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd since then and I don’t listen to their music. No, that’s not in my wheelhouse. But for some reason I do have a soft spot for 38 Special.”

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