Here’s an exclusive club you wouldn’t want to be a member of: The Rotten Tomatoes 0% Club. It’s an organization that boasts such illustrious talent as Antonio Banderas, Michael Caine and Halle Berry, all of whom earned their way in by headlining movies that received unanimous critical derision on the internet’s most popular movie review aggregator.
Bobcat Goldthwait has been a card-carrying member of the 0% Club for 35 years and counting thanks to his star turn in Hot to Trot — and he’d be the first to tell you that the talking-horse flick, which opened in theaters on Aug. 26, 1988, lives down to its reputation as one of the worst comedies ever made.
“I was really left out to die making that movie,” the comedian, actor and filmmaker admitted to Yahoo Entertainment on the movie’s 30th anniversary in 2018. “It was such a frustrating process, and it put me in comedy jail.” Besides that stint in comedy jail, Hot to Trot also awarded Goldthwait a 1988 Razzie nomination for Worst Actor — one of four nods the movie received, including Worst Picture. Worse still, the film’s pitiful $6 million gross ended his post-Police Academy career as a leading man before it even began.
Of course, some comedies are simply ahead of their time. It took more than two decades for Goldthwait’s notorious 1991 bomb Shakes the Clown — which he wrote, directed and starred in — to be recognized as the darkly hilarious provocation that it is. But the years haven’t been similarly kind to Hot to Trot, which remains an unsuccessful and unfunny mixture of sports comedy and Reagan-era corporate satire.
The movie casts Goldthwait as overgrown adolescent Fred Chaney, whose cruel stepfather (Dabney Coleman) is all too eager to force Fred out of the family stock-brokerage business. Left to his own devices, Fred doesn’t have much business savvy, so it’s a good thing that his dearly departed mother willed him a supersmart horse named Don that understands both the stock market and how to talk about it in the voice of the dearly departed John Candy. Imagine The Secret of My Success meets Seabiscuit meets Strays… only, you know, not good.
According to Goldthwait, making the movie wasn’t a good experience either, particularly when he saw the way his equine co-star was treated. One of his worst memories involves crew members hitting the horse’s mouth with a stick to make it move his lips move as if he were speaking. “It was horrible,” Goldthwait admits. “Honest to God, I wouldn’t do this movie now because of how I feel about animals. That poor horse — it knew that when I was around, it would have to do stuff that it wouldn’t normally do. They were like, ‘Come on, Don.’ And Don is just clenching [his mouth] every time he sees me.'”
Goldthwait also quickly discovered another peril that comes with acting opposite a horse: unexpected bathroom breaks. “The horse’s tail would go up before he had to take a dump,” he remembers. “There was a horse wrangler named Corky who would catch it with a shovel and it would never hit the floor.”
Goldthwait recalls one day when Corky missed his cue in spectacular fashion. “We were doing this serious scene, and I saw the tail go up. I look at Corky and he’s sitting on an apple box and doesn’t move. The horse had diarrhea and it just blasted the wall. It blasted me. Everything from the neck down. It was like a Jackson Pollock of feces on the wall. The first AD [assistant director] was like, ‘Uh, that’s a wrap for today, ladies and gentleman.’ Not even like, ‘Let’s clean the wall and move to the other set.’ The film was just shut down because the horse had diarrhea.”
But Goldthwait doesn’t blame the horse for giving him the Jackson Pollock treatment. “Let’s not throw the horse under the bus,” he says, laughing. “You can blame me and the director — let’s leave the poor animal out of it.”
Fortunately, Hot to Trot has a happy ending onscreen and off. The movie’s failure convinced Goldthwait that he needed to re-focus his talents behind the camera instead. “That movie probably launched my directing career, because it was like, ‘Wow, I am powerless as an actor,'” he says. “It made me go out and make my own short film immediately afterwards.”
That short film begat Shakes the Clown, which later begat Goldthwait’s run of cult favorites like 2006’s Stay, 2009‘s World’s Greatest Dad, and 2011’s God Bless America, all of which are much more creatively successful in their comedies ambitions.
“Even back when I was making Hot to Trot, I was writing movies or ideas for movies and just wasn’t getting the encouragement,” Goldthwait says of his late-career turn towards directing. “I had managers who thought they were too weird. When I wrote Stay, my manager at the time read it and called an emergency meeting where he said, ‘This is a well-written script, but I’m not sending it out because I’m afraid what people are going to think of your mental health!’ It’s funny now, but I fired the guy. I said, ‘You know what? Maybe I am crazy, but this is the kind of story I want to tell.'”
Hot to Trot is available for rent or purchase on Amazon.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Aug. 23, 2018. It has been updated for the 35th anniversary.