Better Off Dead
Or Why Quitting the Movie Industry Was My Path to Salvation
Photo By Mike Carano
Most people think I’m dead. At first I found this insulting. I mean, I know I look like fuck pie, but I’m only in my 40s. Eventually I realized that my problem was because of two things: 1) People are confusing me with Sam Kinison (the other obese, long-haired, screaming comedian from the 80s), and 2) people assume that if I WERE still alive I would obviously be on Dancing with the Stars or I Was a Celebrity—Watch Me Eat Crocodile Balls or whatever.
I know that you’re not supposed to talk ill of the dead, but I give as much of a fuck about Sam’s friends and fans as he gave a shit about Rock Hudson’s or Liberace’s. So allow me to clear up any confusion on the first issue.
Sam died in 1992 in a car crash driving to a gig in his Trans Am. I currently drive a sweet 2009 Ford Escape. Sam was the screaming misogynist xenophobe comedian. I was the screaming pinko comedian who acted like a crazy street person. Sam liked to pick on outsiders and misfits, while I always related to them. Sam prayed to Jesus and Hollywood, and I already knew that those things are as real as that giant hand-puppet-y shark on the Jaws ride.
As far as the Dancing with the People You Kind of Remember from That Thing That Time question—I don’t have to do that. I have already sold out. As a young man, I sold out big. I was at a point at the beginning of my career that most people don’t reach until the end. I was making Police Academy 2 the same year my high school classmates were graduating from college. Youth is not necessarily an excuse for dumb career decisions, but I’m just trying to put it in some kind of perspective for you. Think about the shit decisions you made at 21. Now imagine that a giant check was involved, and think about how much worse everything would have been. Now you’re with me, Sweetchuck.
I have been a game-show host, a talking puppet, and a Happy Meal toy. My acting has been dubbed into more languages than I can name. I cashed huge studio checks and got flown around the world. And I was miserable the entire time. Seriously—being the man’s dancing monkey was fucking horrible. I’m not bitter about it now (no, really), because it’s behind me. I love my life now. But it took me almost 30 years to get here.
Most people in showbiz are either bitter that they aren’t huge stars or unhappy that they are. From the Starbucks barista to Oscar winners, almost everyone thinks that they’re getting a raw deal. Here’s my advice to them and to all of you: Quit.
Quitting is how my life changed. After years of going to auditions and pitching and writing scripts for shit commercial hits, I came to a realization. I realized that I would never watch any of the fucking things I was doing. So I quit. I always joke that I retired from acting at the same time they stopped hiring me, but it’s true. To pay the rent I relied on doing a stand-up character I no longer related to at venues in the heartland, where it’s still the 80s.
Fortunately for me (as even the heartland has had an assload of the screaming comic), I also got work from Jimmy Kimmel as a director. Jimmy believed in me when most people were using my name as a punch line. His confidence that I could direct made me realize I had other options. Maybe it was because I was finally working in an environment where people encouraged me to have fun while being creative, but I did something I hadn’t done since my teens. I wrote things simply to write.
I wrote a very noncommercial screenplay about honesty, unconditional love, and bestiality. My manager at the time read it and told me that he was not going to send it out because he was afraid of what people would think about my mental health. (I fired that asshole a week later.) I liked it. But it sat in my desk for a year until my friend Sarah read it and said, “This is good. We should make it.” And with two weeks off, 20 grand, and a crew hired from Craigslist, we did.
We did it really just for the sake of doing it. It was almost like a dare to see if we could. Then it got into Sundance. For me, that was a big deal. I’ve made two more movies since then and have written five other scripts lots of people think are crazy (but anyone on my payroll knows not to say too bluntly).
My movies are far from mainstream, and I like it that way. I have no interest in making R-rated studio comedies with the sole purpose of entertaining teenagers. I hate teenagers. I think most of them are fucking idiots. Christ, I hated teenagers when I WAS a teenager. Besides, I will be 50 this year, so how the hell would I know what teenagers like? I make movies that me and my friends like, with actors I like working with, and on shoestring budgets far outside the system. I have found producers who support me and who also are, unimaginably, not even a little bit douche-y. As for Sarah, we are now married.
My point is this—if you want to be happy in showbiz (or any creative field), listen to that voice inside you. Even if it says “Fuck it” sometimes. Work with your friends. Avoid chasing fame or money. Just do what you want to do, when and how you want to do it. And if it’s not making you happy, quit. Quit hard, and quit often. Eventually you’ll end up somewhere that you never want to leave.
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