The King of Maniacal Comedy, Bob (the Bobcat) Goldthwait Is About to Grab Fame by the Tail

UPDATED 06/09/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/09/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

One knocks. One waits. The mind reels in anticipation of what may answer, of what might leap out from behind the door of this rented house in Venice, Calif. If comedian Bob "The Bobcat" Goldthwait is anything like the maniac who presides over Don't Watch This Show—his debut TV special now running on Cinemax—one can expect to be assaulted by a Mr. Potato Head look-alike wearing a streak of black makeup from his forehead to his chin. And one can expect a voice that sounds like a car shifting gears without the clutch, a voice screaming such demented proclamations as "Scott Baio is the Antichrist!"

Instead a sleepy-eyed young man opens the door, holding a tiny kitten in one hand and an even tinier feeding bottle of milk in the other. "I'm Bob," he says in a gentle, barely audible tone. Pretty tame stuff for a guy who's not above taking showers onstage or assuring an audience that the main difference between a hamster and a gerbil is "a hamster has more dark meat." Of course Goldthwait has yet to have his daily intake of caffeine, which he consumes via copious quantities of Tab. "Without caffeine," he allows, "I'm a pretty lethargic guy."

With caffeine, or with whatever nervous energy that courses through his brain, Goldthwait, 24, has developed a comic style best described as borderline psychosis. There is nothing borderline about his popularity however. Following Police Academy 2 and 3, One Crazy Summer will be released in August; he's just been cast for his fourth film, Whoopi Goldberg's Burglar.

"He's the most meteoric, most brilliant comedian to come along since Steve Martin," exults Joan Rivers, who, in one of her last functions as a Carson sub, did "a lot of lobbying" to get Goldthwait on The Tonight Show. The Bobcat appeared in a silver-spangled ringmaster's costume and poignantly announced that his pet dog had died. In its place he introduced "my father, Tom," who obediently jumped through hoops in return for candy rewards.

It wasn't really Tom Goldthwait, who's a Syracuse, N.Y. sheet metal worker. But Tom is "a funny guy," says Bob's mother, "and if he'd been in L.A. at the time, he would have done it." Kathleen Goldthwait, a retired Sears employee, feels that Tom's sense of humor rubbed off early on the youngest of their five children. "Bob's always been a comedian," she says. "When he was just a little fella he could talk in that froggy voice."

"All my life I've been making dopey faces and getting laughs," the Bobcat concurs. "I never liked being mellow."

He was a troubled kid (the nickname comes from childhood) who went through his teen years as a heavy drinker. "I don't drink or do drugs anymore," says Goldthwait, "because I didn't do either of them very well." Several stories printed about his past are false; he was not, for example, confined in a mental institution. "I think that story came from the fact that I was incarcerated for my drinking habits as a youth," he explains. "It was always just for ridiculous things, like breaking into the County War Memorial to make popcorn."

He was 16 when he began to let out his antic urges onstage. After playing Syracuse clubs, Goldthwait emigrated to Boston and San Francisco, enthralling audiences by crushing a fake rat with a case of Tab, for instance, then putting the rodent under a microscope and saying, "Yep, cancer."

"I don't know why I'm so miffed onstage," he says, using a tame adjective to describe his volatile style. "I just hope people will find something endearing. If I wasn't vulnerable up there, people would hate me."

But they don't hate him, and his subsequent success means that he can start recouping the sacrifices he's made. "Hard-core comics give up everything for that time onstage," Goldthwait says, "friends, family and money. I'm in the process of getting those things together." On the material side he's just bought a fire-engine-red Jeep Wagoneer, complete with a Burbank Police Booster's sticker on the windshield. On the emotional side, he's been seeing a production assistant for two years. "I'm extremely in love," says Goldthwait "I never thought I'd be this much in love "

There are other signs that the Bobcat is domesticating. The trout lure he once used as an earring has been replaced by a plain gold hoop. "Pretty boring," he concedes, noting that even accountants wear earrings these days.

But not all of Goldthwait's quirks have vanished. He's currently studying paranormal phenomena, claiming that "if just one of the National Enquirer stories is true, I want to know about it. I want to meet the girls who cry rocks." Pursuing the arcane, he's reading a tome titled Mysteries of the Unexplained—How Ordinary Men and Women Have Experienced the Strange, the Uncanny and the Incredible. Sounds like just what his fans have been going through all along.

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