It wasn't exactly the Road to Damascus. But an L.A. freeway was a great place for Bobcat Goldthwait to have a revelation.
"I went, 'Bobcat? How did I become Bobcat?' " he says, his familiar voice cracking and searching for an octave it no longer hits. "My fiancee looks at me, and I just keep saying, 'How did this happen? I'm 41 years old!' "
Yes, he's really 41. As to how Robert became "Bobcat," that goes back to his teen years, when he and his childhood friend, the future SpongeBob Tom Kenny, were "Bobcat and Tomcat."
"Not the kind of name a grown man should have. Tom isn't Tomcat anymore. What's wrong with me?"
The comic wild-man who once set fire to Jay Leno's couch, was fired from Hollywood Squares, known to be an occasional dropper-of-trou in his stand-up act, is a guy supposedly mellowing as he hits middle age. Bobcat doesn't look as drugged-out and deranged as he once did. OK, he looks like he just got out of rehab. But on stage, he's still working without a net.
"Even when it's not clear where he's going, he's rarely uninteresting," the New York Post said in a recent review.
The demonic cherub of yore is a little less demonic. And a lot less cherubic.
"Man, I just lost weight. People keep thinking, 'Oh, he cleaned up. He's off heroin or coke or whatever.' You know, I wish I was cleaning up, or something colorful. That would be more exciting for me, for you, for the audience. But boy, you lose some weight and the rumor mill gets started."
It's a leaner but not meaner Bobcat now touring comedy clubs. He isn't the cracked-voice nervous wreck he used to be. That octave-bending schtick was "a creation, just something I made up early in my career, a parody of stand-up."
Like one of his heroes, Andy Kaufman, Goldthwait thought it would be funny to do stand-up as a guy who plainly was too nervous, too fried on drugs, to be doing stand-up. He'd start a "Didya ever notice" bit with twitches and blinks and a voice that couldn't hold pitch with a fork.
"Dja-ever - dja-ever - dja-ever - dja-ever notice" would lead into riffs on the absurd moments in an absurd world.
"A lady came up to me in the airport the other day, and said, 'Please don't be offended, but you look just like Bobcat Goldthwait.' Offended?"
No, he's not offended that he looks like Bobcat Goldthwait. He was never that mad that everybody thought he was on drugs, either.
"Steve Martin came up to me at this event once, and was going on and on about me cleaning up, my drug problem, and everything," Goldthwait says, laughing. "I thought, 'Wow! Steve Martin thinks I'm on drugs! He knows I'm on drugs.' But that was just an act."
That's why when Ted Demme was looking for somebody funny to play a drug "expert" in Blow, he thought of the Bobcat.
"Oh, that just happened."
Not that the guy can't act. He's been on CSI. He's done a lot of movies, starting with those awful Police Academy films and continuing through The Grind, a skateboarding film this summer.
"I have, like, the Andy Dick role in that, the weird older guy off to one side."
He has even directed. Goldthwait takes pains to demonstrate that people aren't scared to hire him because of the way he comes off. No, he's not a druggie. But setting fire to a sofa would give any movie or TV producer pause.
"Anything I do weird, I do in front of the camera," Goldthwait says. "Most people who are creepy like that have dark secrets off stage. I just put all my neuroses on stage. Aside from that, I'm a pretty boring guy."
So he lost weight "because I got tired of my thighs rubbing together." He put more of himself into voice work on TV cartoons and films (he was in Disney's Hercules).
And he hits the road.
"I watched that Jerry Seinfeld movie about stand-up (Comedian). I don't know, man. Sitting around with a bunch of guys, slaving over a new 'clapper' joke? For God's sake. People are gonna think all comics are crazy, because here's a guy with $450 million, bummed out because he can't get laughs at an Improv. Crazy!
"'Dude, if it bums you out, don't go on stage. You've got $450 million. You can pay these people to clap."
Goldthwait doesn't sweat the work the way Seinfeld does. Maybe that's why Seinfeld has $450 million and Bobcat has to play clubs.
"My act is undisciplined," he says. "It's autobiographical. The reason comics do that is if you talk about your own personal experiences, the odds of going on after somebody who does the same topics go way down."
That's the curse of a stand-up.
"Because, because there's only four topics in stand-up today, and The Crocodile Hunter is one of them."
The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.