By Ed Symkus
Bobcat Goldthwait and Dana Gould almost died for their comedy; then they hit the road to get laughs about it.
Joy Ride is available on major cable VOD providers.
One of the best things about Bobcat Goldthwait’s newest documentary is that it’s difficult to pin down exactly what it’s about, or even if it should be considered a “proper” documentary. Unlike Call Me Lucky, Goldthwait’s 2015 film that focused on the activist comic Barry Crimmins (Arts Fuse review), Joy Ride has its cameras and attention set on two stand-up humorists: Goldthwait and his current stage partner Dana Gould.
The duo has known each other for close to 30 years, and while standup was a shared commonality when they were starting out, each has gone on to additional careers, while regularly finding time to return to the stage. Goldthwait has been a busy film and TV director (Shakes the Clown, Jimmy Kimmel Live!), and Gould spent a chunk of time as a staff writer on The Simpsons. They met when Boston native Gould was an up-and-comer on the local comedy scene, and Goldthwait, a New Yorker who was living illegally in an Emerson College dormitory, was seeing his career rocketing as a member of the old Ding Ho comedy club stand-up roster.
For whatever reason(s) — maybe it was clashing personalities — they navigated between being friends and not-quite enemies over time. In recent years they not only kissed and made up, but went out on the road together, trading back and forth as opener and feature act. Then they got the idea to hit the stage together, each with a microphone in hand, sharing shtick and stories with audiences, and playing off of — and interrupting and cracking up — each other in the process.
Joy Ride is about the friendship and professional relationship that’s developed between them. It’s also about the just-pre-pandemic February, 2020, tour they undertook, six months after they were in a terrible car accident together while on the way to a show (their driver hit another car; Goldthwait and Gould miraculously came out of the incident with only a hospital visit, a concussion, and some broken ribs between them).
Goldthwait has structured the film in a freewheeling manner. Their time spent in a moving car and chatter away, heading to different gigs in Georgia and North Carolina, a camera in the back seat, tracking them and their conversations. The set-up is reminiscent of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip franchise, except when the comics arrive at their destinations they don’t eat fancy meals and take in the sights. They go to work in nightclubs.
The clubs are where the film takes shape and elicits some high-powered, sometimes slightly foul-mouthed comedy, fueled by an air of manic energy. Goldthwait and Gould obviously love being up there, connecting with audiences whose laughs motivate the two guys to push things further and further. The topics in their take-no-prisoners approach include: their accident, veganism, hunting, dementia, suicide, the Ku Klux Klan, their parents, Oral Roberts, and bashings of Trump (who was still in the White House), Jerry Seinfeld, and Ernie Boch Jr.
Joy Ride switches between the funny and serious discussions in the car and the often-outrageous bits on the stages, a couple of which some prudish or overly sensitive folks might say cross the border into bad taste. But those naysayers would be in the minority. These guys are funny!
Interspersed between those settings, Goldthwait provides some old footage of Gould and himself from earlier days, when they were single performers and less … hmmm, what’s the word I want here? Right! Less mature. So, we get to see some ’90s highlights of Gould in an embarrassing moment with Bob Hope in a clip from Bob Hope’s Young Comedians and Goldthwait being physically aggressive on The Arsenio Hall Show, and of Gould in a crazy standup routine in 1994, then Goldthwait legendarily lighting a chair on fire to the consternation of Jay Leno during a Tonight Show appearance the same year.
Back and forth and back again, from the intimate confines of the car to the raucousness of the stages where, due to Goldthwait’s camera placement, we can see each performer reacting to the other’s performance.
The final result is a mash-up of outlandish but accessible humor, honesty mixed with philosophical contemplations, and some time spent with two guys doing what they do, and loving the ideas that this is how they get to make their living as well as the fact that they get to do it together.
Ed Symkus has been reviewing films and writing about the arts since 1975. A Boston native and Emerson College graduate, he co-wrote the book Wrestle Radio, USA: Grapplers Speak, went to Woodstock, collects novels by Harry Crews, Sax Rohmer, and John Wyndham, and has visited the Outer Hebrides, the Lofoten Islands, Anglesey, Mykonos, the Azores, Catalina, Kangaroo Island, and the Isle of Capri with his wife Lisa.
His favorite movie is And Now My Love. His least favorite is Liquid Sky, which he is convinced gave him the flu. He can be seen for five seconds in The Witches of Eastwick, staring right at the camera, just like the assistant director told him not to do.