SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO--When Bobcat Goldthwait searches for new material, he sometimes needs to look no further than the latest surreal episode in his own life.
Thursday, he was in a grocery store in Sioux City, Iowa, when a clerk accused him of shoplifting a pack of Rolaids. Words were exchanged, the police were called in, and Goldthwait was released after a search proved that he wasn’t harboring any antacids after all.
So what did he find when he took the stage Friday night at the Coach House? A roll of Rolaids, of course, thoughtfully provided by a fan. “I’m the Rolaids bandit,” Goldthwait told the crowd. “I’m on a jag from the law.”
He launched his set with a hilarious re-creation of the Rolaids incident, even reading a news account from the Sioux City Journal. “When the clerk said she wanted to search my pockets,” he said, “I told her I would rather have dinner and drinks first.”
Goldthwait flirted with a mainstream breakthrough by playing a deranged cop in some of the “Police Academy” movies, but he sees those a source of self-deprecation now. Since then, he has continued a successful stand-up career; success in movie and television has been spottier. The highlight came a couple of years ago with “Shakes the Clown,” a brave but little-seen movie that so upset some of our men and women in greasepaint that Goldthwait found himself on national TV, debating a clown in full makeup.
Goldthwait’s manic delivery--his voice strangled, each sentence punctuated by a rasping intake of breath--is a trademark that sometimes threatens to veer into self-parody. But, hey, as he told the crowd Friday, it’s really the way he talks, and in any case, it somehow fits his material, a fragmented but often searingly funny view of pop culture.
It’s hard to think of anyone who attacks celebrity figures with more reckless glee. He told of stunning a crowd to silence with a joke about Michael Jordan when Goldthwait opened for Nirvana in Chicago. “Oh, some punk rockers, getting upset when you make fun of a sports figure,” he said. “Anarchy with a charge card.”
His targets Friday ranged all over the map, from Sylvester Stallone to Axl Rose, from Michael Jackson to Bono. Even “Schindler’s List” provided some grist: Goldthwait ridiculed the notion that director Steven Spielberg somehow had taken a big career risk by making the film (“bold statement--Nazis are bad”).
“Steve’s very interested in my crack-addicted nun story, the sequel to ‘Shakes the Clown,’ ” Goldthwait added in a dig at his own commercial viability. (“I loved ‘Shakes,’ ” someone in the audience yelled. “Thank you, sir,” Goldthwait responded. “I haven’t forgotten that $7.”)
While on the subject of the Oscars, he even took a dig at little Anna Paquin, who won the best supporting actress award for her role in “The Piano.” “How long you figure before she’s knocking over convenience stores?” he asked. “Perhaps she can be the bag man on my next crime.”
As usual, Goldthwait gave equal time to poking fun at himself and his own persona, expressing consternation at several points that his manhood might have been mistaken for a roll of antacid tablets.
There also was plenty of commentary on his new look, a virtually clean-shaven head. “Yeah, it’s me. I got a haircut. Deal with it.” He later added that it had been getting harder and harder to look cool with long hair and a receding hairline. “Every year, it looked more and more like I was in Fleetwood Mac.” Now, he confessed, he looks like a cross between Rutger Hauer and Curly Howard.
He expressed concern for his two children, growing up with him for a father (“That’s your dad? I hate that guy”), and disappointment at their academic performance (“Every year, their grades keep going up. I had to tell them, ‘When I was your age, I was in a band.’ ”)
And he told what he swore is a true story, about attending a Parents-Teachers Assn. meeting at his children’s private school and being asked if he had any ideas for a fund-raiser. His reply didn’t go over too well:
“Why don’t we sell crack?”
To which he added, after a pause for effect: “Not to our kids, to the public school kids.”
Goldthwait’s sets don’t have anything approaching formal structure, even on a good night, and he was even more scattered than usual on Friday--which made for some uncomfortably dead spots, which the audience rushed to fill.
But anyone expecting a typical joke-joke-joke comedy set from Goldthwait is in the wrong crowd. What’s he’s selling is edgy attitude, a yelping protest against corporate-packaged and self-important celebrity, and at that, he succeeded as usual.