Joe Gould is an elderly man that travels the streets of his local town and demands that people fund his research. He is supposedly writing a nine thousand word opus on the history of the world. He seems to suffer from mood swings as he goes from being a nice old man to an annoying drunk and has a horrible temper. One day he finds he has a benefactor that has set him up with a hotel room and wishes to assist him in his work. This man, named Joseph Mitchell, quickly begins to regret his association with Joe Gould as he begins to drop into Joseph's home life.