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The Appeal of Storyteller Stand-Up
After the fame, a much tamer Bobcat Goldthwait still knows how to engage an audience.
I’ve described before how I was sort of a late adapter to stand-up comedy, and how I credit two of today’s best comics — Sebastian Maniscalco and Nate Bargatze — for finally jump-starting my appreciation for it. I’ve seen both men live multiple times, and have attended lots of other stand-up shows in recent years (when the COVID-19 era would allow it). In fact, my wife and I went to two just last weekend.
On Saturday night, it was Daniel Tosh. The comedian made a name for himself on his long-running Comedy Central series, Tosh.0. The show featured Tosh, each week, airing and comically commenting on outlandish (and often grotesque) Internet videos. He’d also sometimes interview the “stars” of those videos, as well as perform skits further satirizing them.
My wife was a big fan of the show, and even had an odd fixation on Tosh himself a while back. It wasn’t as concerning as the Twilight phase she went through a few years earlier, but I think even she would concede that it was still… a bit weird. Anyway, since I like to “give my baby what she wants” (as I joke with her at times), and I saw that Tosh was coming to Denver (he doesn’t tour a whole lot), we picked up tickets the moment they went on sale.
One could fairly describe Tosh’s gimmick as politically-incorrect, line-crossing “shock” humor, and he’s certainly become quite successful with it. Saturday night’s show was at the state-of-the-art Bellco Theatre in downtown Denver, which seats about 5,000 people. And if it didn’t sell out, it came pretty darned close.
But of the two shows we attended that weekend, the one I enjoyed more came a night earlier at a small Fort Collins comedy club with barely more than a hundred seats. The tickets were a quarter of the price of Tosh’s, though the comedian headliner, back in his heyday, packed venues much larger than the Bellco. Along with stand-up, he was also a film star — a bona fide pop-culture icon.
I’m talking about Bobcat Goldthwait.
Lots of people my age hold a special place in their heart for Mr. Goldthwait for his hilarious work as “Zed” (alongside Tim Kazurinsky aka “Sweetchuck”) in the Police Academy movies.
On stage and in guest appearances in the 80s and early 90s, Goldthwait’s trademark crazy man persona (which many people didn’t realize was a persona) was even more over-the-top. He trashed the late-night sets of Conan O’Brien and Arsenio Hall, literally set Jay Leno’s guest-chair on fire (for which he became a convicted arsonist and had to film public-service announcements), and rappelled nude from a catwalk at a Nirvana concert on New Year’s Eve (where he was the opener).
It was a wild ride while it lasted.
Those days are long behind Goldthwait, the comedian having traded them in for much tamer directorial duties over the last couple decades, from late-night talk shows to critically-acclaimed independent films. He has reinvented himself as a behind-the-scenes talent. Yet, in 2019, he returned to stand-up touring, on a limited basis, with friend and fellow comedian, Dana Gould.
I caught their act in Denver in June of that year. It was at a small venue, and there was a good number of empty seats in the back. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the show, right up until the two took the stage. In fact, I half expected Goldthwait to still be performing in character, like he’d done in everything I’d ever see him in.
Instead, much to my surprise, it was a calm, thoughtful, humble, and introspective Bobcat who, along with Gould, reflected on stories from the past (through both the good times and the bad). They were fascinating to listen to, and even included details on the friendships Goldthwait had with people like Robin Williams and Kurt Cobain, as well as how he got on certain people’s bad side (like Jerry Seinfeld).
It felt like an aging rock-star’s storytellers performance, where inspirations and life lessons were confidentially shared with an attentive, intimate audience.
Sure, there were plenty of jokes too… on current happenings and people in the news. But the appeal was primarily in the stories — the funny ones, the endearing ones, and those about personal growth (like the revelation that Goldthwait was at his happiest when he stopped trying to be a celebrity).
I thoroughly enjoyed the event.
In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I talked my hesitant wife into going to last Friday night’s performance in Fort Collins (the first of four sold-out shows).
Goldthwait, now 60 and still seemingly content, didn’t disappoint. While some of the stories were unsurprisingly ones I’d heard back in 2019, he had a number of new tales to share, including about his family, and also the injuries he suffered in a car accident while touring with Gould.
It was a great show, and the audience very much enjoyed connecting with the comedian. (The only bummer was not being able to take pictures this time, but that was no biggie).
I don’t know if Goldthwait, at this point in his life, needs to do these types of gigs for financial reasons, or if he genuinely enjoys them. The answer may be both. Regardless, I’m glad — perhaps selfishly — that he’s made this choice.
If you like absorbing personal stories from people who’ve led extraordinary lives, and you see that Goldthwait is coming to your town, I highly recommend checking him out. Also, you should watch Joy Ride, the documentary he and Gould released last year that highlights some of their tour.
It’s good stuff.
Have a favorite stand-up comedian whose work you can’t get enough of? How about a favorite storyteller? Tell me in an email or in the comment section below.
A Little Story About a Big Sean Coleman Fan
Speaking of storytelling, I told a true story, in abbreviated form, on Twitter the other day. It received a fair amount of response, so I figured I’d tell it again, with a bit more detail, in today’s newsletter…
The weekend before last, my wife and I went to the local used bookstore. I’m friendly with the owners, and one of them mentioned, when we walked in the door, that they’d recently received a donation of some of my older books.
Since I’ve signed and personalized a lot of copies for people locally over the years, I was curious if I had done so with these particular ones. So, I opened each of them up and found, in my handwriting, a name I wasn’t expecting. It belonged to a nice old man named Walt — a huge Sean Coleman Thriller fan I’d first met a few years back. I worried that the revelation meant he’d passed away. A quick Google search on my phone confirmed that he, in fact, had… back in March.
Walt was quite a character. Our first, very memorable exchange was over the phone. He called out of the blue one day, and the conversation began pretty much like this:
Walt: Hi, is this John Daly?
Me: Yes it is.
Walt: John Daly the writer?
Me: Uh, yes.
Walt: John Daly the author from Greeley, Colorado?!
Me: Uh... yeah?
Walt: Great! Can you send me a photo of yourself?
Walt soon explained that he had picked up one of my books at a local coffee shop, and was so fascinated to learn that we lived in the same town that he wanted a signed "celebrity" photo of me, to add to his extensive collection of signed photos of “famous” people.
I’ve never considered myself famous (by any stretch of the imagination), but I suppose it was flattering. We talked for quite some time. It was a little awkward, and he shared a lot about his personal life (including that he was divorced and lived alone). He seemed lonely, but was very friendly. And since I had a ton of leftover photos from a recent author shoot, I went ahead and sent him a signed one.
After that, he called every few months to check on the status of the next novel, often at inopportune times that required me to call him back later. But I always did, and we’d talk for quite a while. My wife teased me about my “super fan”, and we joked about him potentially turning into a stalker. But Walt was harmless, and I always felt like our conversations had brightened his day. To him, I was a “big deal” author whose brain he got to pick.
We even met for coffee once, and I found out that day that Walt had done a lot of volunteer work for the local police department after he'd gone on disability years ago (I think for his back, though he had some leg issues to). It kind of explained his interest in crime stories.
When the next book came out, I brought a copy over to his home. He rented the small basement of a house in East Greeley. It was crammed with books, hobby items, file cabinets, and lots of writing pads. It was clear he liked to keep his mind busy. He had a laid-back old dog that sat in a chair the entire time I was there.
Walt was beyond grateful that I had come to him with the novel, because he didn’t have a driver’s license (I think because of his disability), and he didn’t have Internet access to order books on Amazon. He continued to keep in touch after that, and more than a couple of times left lengthy voicemails for me that were meant for other people. 😄
It became a tradition for me to drop him off a copy of my latest book shortly after it was released, and we spoke late last year, a couple of months before Restitution came out. He told me that he’d been moved to an assisted living facility following the amputation of part of his leg. We talked for a long time, and he gave me a new phone number, but by the time the book came out, the number belonged to someone else. I wasn't sure how to get ahold of him after that. He'd probably been moved to more intensive care, before passing away a few weeks later.
I'll miss Walt, along with his enthusiasm. And because he was so invested in my writing, it seems only right to name a character after him in the next Sean Coleman Thriller, of which I’m currently writing.
R.I.P. my friend.
Obligatory Dragon Shot
Have you picked up your copy of RESTITUTION?
Interested in a signed copy? You can order one (or five) here.
Already read and enjoyed it? I’d love if you could leave a review for the book on Amazon.
Iconic composer John Williams has been well represented in this section of the Daly Grind newsletter, but up until now, it’s all be in the form of Spielberg-film soundtracks. Today, I’m shifting over to George Lucas for what is arguably Williams’ most recognizable work (okay, maybe after Jaws): the original soundtrack for 1977’s Star Wars.
This double LP was recorded in eight sessions, and was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. It actually became the best-selling symphonic album of all time.
On a silly side-note, the “disco version” of the film’s main theme, which I remember doing jumping-jacks and skipping rope to in elementary-school gym class, became a number-one hit single in October of that year. To be honest, I always kind of resented that version because I felt it was somehow disrespectful of the original score (which is great). 😄
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Also, if you’re not caught up on my Sean Coleman Thrillers, you can pick the entire series up at a great price on Amazon. And if you’re interested in signed, personalized copies of my books, you can order them directly from my website.
Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!