“Hello, Atlanta!” Bobcat Goldthwait greets his enthusiastic audience in a small comedy club at the start of “Joy Ride.” “A funny thing happened on the way to the show.” Actually, what happened was a near-fatal 2019 automobile accident that, contrary to contemporary news reports of the mishap, seriously injured Goldthwait and fellow comic Dana Gould while they were driving to a joint stand-up gig. But as this engagingly intimate documentary makes clear: They’re still standing. And doing stand-up.
Goldthwait and Gould prove to be engaging traveling companions offstage and amusing performers in the spotlight throughout “Joy Ride,” Goldthwait’s amiably no-frills account of their 2020 tour of comedy clubs in Los Angeles, Georgia and North Carolina.
The venues where they perform are a few steps short of world-renowned showcases, something Goldthwait indirectly acknowledges during a bit in which he dismisses “fans” who unfollowed him on Twitter after learning of his left-leaning political stance: “I used to play in arenas! Millions of people have unfollowed me!” On the other hand, the places aren’t ignominious dives, either. And besides, the clubs in Georgia and North Carolina evidently are close enough for the two comics to travel from one to another by car. This means they have lots of time to converse about highlights from their lives and relationships — including an initial animosity that evolved into bro-ship — all of which, not surprisingly, are fodder for their stand-up.
Of course, it is occasionally distracting to see them driving through so much snow and ice after learning early on about the accident that left Goldthwait with temporary memory loss and Gould with slow-healing broken ribs, but never mind: The accident and the inclement weather also are joke material, wherever they are.
During their gigs, they appear together on stage at separate microphones — socially distanced — sometimes conversing, sometimes flying solo, all the while taking an approach best described as self-deprecating gallows humor. Gould talks about his childhood in a dysfunctional Irish-American family with an emotionally distant father and a deeply religious mother devoted to Oral Roberts. (While a youngster, he claims, his mom would encourage him to shoplift — and then send the money they would save on groceries to Roberts.) Stressed for success throughout much of his early career, he eventually suffered a nervous breakdown before seeking something like reconciliation with his dad. And, yes, he jokes about that, too.
Goldthwait recalls his heyday during the ’80s and ’90s when, despite his profile-elevating appearances in the “Police Academy” movies, he felt driven to more or less sabotage his career with wild-man stunts (including smashing furniture, setting chairs ablaze and chasing hosts while discharging a fire extinguisher) while appearing with talk-show hosts as diverse as Arsenio Hall, Jay Leno and “Regis and Kathy Lee.” It’s not surprising when he acknowledges another envelope-pusher, the late Andy Kaufman, as an early influence, and even less of shock when he describes his friendship with the late Robin Williams, who starred in “World’s Greatest Dad” (2009), one of the generally well-received dark comedies helmed by Goldthwait since his transition to directing TV and movie projects.
There are a few archival clips scattered throughout the documentary, including outtakes from a TV commercial featuring a very young Gould and a barely sentient Bob Hope, and a snippet of Jerry Seinfeld’s harsh criticism of Goldthwait’s comic style. (Seinfeld, it should be noted, comes across as a bit of an ass.)
For the most part, though, “Joy Ride” — which clocks in at a satisfyingly compact 70 minutes — focuses on the here and now, with Gould riffing on everything from the sartorial style of the Ku Klux Klan to conspiracy-minded gun-hoarders, Goldthwait offering a surprisingly upbeat and inspirational payoff to a shaggy-dog story involving Special Olympics athletes, and both guys clearly enjoying themselves and each other’s company on the road and in the spotlight. Their delight is highly contagious.