Documentary Review: Bobcat and Dana Gould, a couple of stand-ups on a “Joy Ride”

The edgiest stuff in “Joy Ride,” the comic and filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait‘s new doc about the mid-election year, front-end-of-the pandemic stand-up tour that old friends Bobcat and “Simpsons” writer and stand-up Dana Gould undertook, might be Bobcat remembering his feud with Jerry Seinfeld.

He owns how he started it, generously samples the chat show appearances where Goldthwait baited THE StandUp of His Generation, and plays Seinfeld’s entire out-of-character flip-out response on his streaming show “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

On stage, Goldthwait pokes the bear again, bragging about going on the write and direct movies while “Jerry makes videos in old cars with a GoPro,” while Goldthwait-the-filmmaker cuts to shots of him and Gould riffing in a rental car in between venues, filmed by a…GoPro?

And then The Old Bobcat lands the punchline.

“Jerry Seinfeld FINALLY has an opinion…and it’s about ME.”

The new wrinkle in this otherwise standard-issue stand-up doc is the pairing of these two on the stage, their reminiscences about being “discovered” by Bob Hope (Gould) and mocking how uncomfortable that was, their near death experiences — including a car crash that sent them both to the hospital on this very tour — and making the anecdotes of their separate but dysfunctional childhoods, phobias, manias and career trajectories (not exactly meteoric, as Seinfeld would be quick to point out) hilarious.

Comparing this to Dave Chapelle’s far more controversial and ofwidely seen Netflix specials, especially the latest, one can safely say that Dave lands bigger laughs. But Dana and oh-my-God-even nutjob-persona Bobcat both lean into warmth and nostalgia and carry themselves like humbled, generous-hearted and sensitive-but-not-shy-about-“going there” comics almost as daring as Chapelle.

There’s no “punching down,” as the many objects of scorn are powerful, numerous and somehow worthy of social sanction — hypocritical Christian conservatives, “Police Academy” Trump voter fans, and thin-skinned/easily-offended audience members (just like Dave) — and not an outspoken but still-persecuted minority group.

The title is something of a pun. These two click together, share the stage time well (Goldthwait has had bigger fame, and far more well-documented meltdowns, stumbles, etc.) and land jokes about stuff that should not be funny, yet can be.

Gould poking into Goldthwait’s Robin Williams eulogy/riff on the Lewy Body Disease that might have led to his suicide? Let’s just say it involves Louis C.K. and the onanistic reason he got “canceled.”

Goldthwait remembering his accidentally confronting a famous LA TV used car pitchman who sold him a lemon and showed up for one of his shows, and sheepishly recalling how that whole roundelay came back to give Ernie Boch Jr. the punchline — hilarious — and a huge, embarrassing laugh (accidental sexting) at Bobcat’s expense.

“Still...still can’t look out at the audience when I tell that story,” Goldthwait blushes.

Hitting snowy tour dates in Asheville, NC and Atlanta, cracking jokes at all the Confederate flags they pass by, bringing that up on the stage and noting how they might discover, as “Police Academy” veteran Goldthwait did, that their “fan groups” might overlap with America’s Redneckouisie, has more truth-to-power potential than going after “the alphabets.”

Gould on gun-hoarding “liberty” “defending” right wingers’ delusions of actually “defending” liberty, or starting another Civil War — “You have to always be prepared for something that has NO chance of ever happening!”

Goldthwait shows clips of the night he trashed the set of Arsenio Hall’s show, went mental on “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee,” recalling how he was just booked for such shows as a (pre-viral video era) stunt, and that he “couldn’t take being famous for being famous.” He topped himself the night he lit “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” set on fire. Yeah, he got arrested, had to do PSAs, and “the fire marshal” made him redo-those TV spots.

In LA, even the fire marshal will “give you notes.”

One of the most encouraging things about this film is the self-awareness of its subjects. From their frank and funny discussions of their “difficult” families — Bobcat’s dad took a stab at being a disastrous stage magician, Gould showed his conservative, highly-strung and on-edge father “Clint Eastwood’s ‘Gran Torino,’ which is like showing ‘King Kong’ to a gorilla” — to their recognition of their failings and failures and of this being “a discordant time in our culture,” they bring a little joy into their “Joy Ride,” and share it with us.

Neither will ever be Seinfeld or Chapelle “culture-shifting” successful. This is kind of the anti-Chapelle stand-up doc, in a lot of ways. There’s a humility and generosity of spirit in their work here — testy as it sometimes is — that plays like a breath of fresh air in an era of “cancel culture” and those hellbent on testing it.

And by the way, Bobcat? Thanks for the video store visit where you note how “everyone” misspells your counter-intuitive last name. Too late to use as an excuse to every editor who ever chewed me out for that, but thanks anyway.

And Jerry Seinfeld? Bobcat is funny, an entertaining and self-effacing performer at this stage of his career. But let’s just say you’re both funny and successful and leave it at that.

Rating: unrated, lots of profanity, adult subject matter

Cast: Bobcat Goldthwait, Dana Gould

Credits: Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. A Gravitas Adventures release.

Running time: 1:10

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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