Bobcat Goldthwait certainly knows how to put on a show. In the 1980s, he made waves as a stand-up comic with a nails-on-chalkboard squeaky voice and a penchant for putting on sets that were so profoundly bizarre that audiences had no choice but to laugh. Onstage, he'd clean fish while laughing hysterically, or he'd read Dear John letters aloud. In 1994, he famously set a chair on fire in front of host Jay Leno during an appearance on The Tonight Show, earning himself a misdemeanor charge and a reputation as a bit of a loose cannon. Throughout the Nineties, he played a string of deeply strange and darkly comic characters on TV and film: an investment banker taking tips from a talking horse in 1998's Hot to Trot, the eponymous alcoholic clown in 1992's Shakes the Clown, a foulmouthed stuffed rabbit on the TV series Unhappily Ever After. But, Goldthwait admitted, "I was never really myself. I had this weird persona, and somewhere in there I actually became a real comedian."
Indeed, Goldthwait, appearing at Tommy T's Comedy Steakhouse (5104 Hopyard Road, Pleasanton) Thursday through Sunday, September 9-11, appears to have, in the past several years, matured considerably as a performer. He's started writing and directing films — most recently, World's Greatest Dad, a black comedy starring Robin Williams that received considerable critical acclaim at Sundance. Next up, he's directing a musical based on The Kinks album Schoolboys in Disgrace; while filming isn't set to begin for another several months, the movie has already been the subject of much music-geek speculation. But even as Goldthwait comes to be taken more seriously by himself and others, he will always have a taste for the offbeat, unhinged, and absurd — World's Greatest Dad centers around a washed-up writer attempting to fake his own son's suicide, and it bills itself as a comedy. The difference is that now his work is less bizarre-for-the-sake-of-bizarre and more quietly contained. His stand-up set has lost some of its frenetic energy, his squeaky voice has mellowed; suffice it to say, you're now much more likely to see deadpan self-deprecation onstage than fish guts.
And although Goldthwait claims to do stand-up because it "keeps him off reality TV," he's selling himself short: it's really a return to his roots, in more ways than one. He did, after all, get his start doing stand-up, and as a former San Franciscan, he's known club proprietor Tommy himself for some twenty years. Performing live also has another benefit: "I think some people think I'm dead," Goldthwait deadpanned. "So having people actually see me perform really clears up those rumors." Fri. 7:30 p.m.; Sat. 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.; Sun. 7 and 9:30 p.m.; $10-$30. 925-227-2800 or TommyTs.com