Barry Crimmins, profiled in filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait’s must-see very funny/very serious new documentary, “Call me Lucky,” states his life goals, “I’d like to overthrow the government of the United States and close the Catholic Church.” The legendary comedian is an alchemist, turning pain and outrage into comedy (hilarious and often appropriately uncomfortable stuff) and activism–fighting against war, inequality, political hypocrisy and the sexual abuse of children.
Born in Kingston, NY, Crimmins grew up farther upstate in Skaneateles, which he calls a “beautiful lake surrounded by fascists.” Goldthwait, for whom Crimmins is both a close friend and mentor, met Crimmins when he and high school pal Tom Kenny (“SpongeBob SquarePants”) were aspirational, awe-struck teenagers, sneaking away from parents in Syracuse to spend time in Crimmins’ comedy club in Skaneateles.
Leaving Skaneateles for Boston, Crimmins, imposing physically, with wild, dark curls and a droopy mustache, became a favorite fixture at a local club, Constant Comedy at Ding Ho Chinese Restaurant. From the stage, he wielded his weapon (topical, political personal humor and unsparing honesty), attracting the admiration of his contemporaries, younger comics and audiences.
Called the “social and liberal conscience” of Boston comedy since its beginning, in 1993 he wrote an essay for the Phoenix, “A Survivor’s Story,” a brutally honest accounting of his repeated rape in the basement of his childhood home by a babysitter’s older male friend, and his rescue by his older sister Mary Jo. (In 1995 Crimmins testified in front of the United States Judiciary Committee to force AOL to take responsibility for and eliminate the flourishing child pornography network using its service.)
Crimmins returns to that basement, accompanied by a somewhat uneasy Goldthwait and his camera, to strip the ordinary space (shelves full of stuff, a fake Christmas tree on the floor) of any residual power it still had over him. “I’m a witness not only to what happens to kids but what you can go on to do and become…I’m here, I made it. Call me lucky.”
Appraising his life and work, Crimmins says, “If you can judge a person by the enemies they make, mine are NAMBLA and politicians. I can live with that.” Crimmins can also be judged by the large circle of friends he’s created–some of contemporary comedy’s best (including Mark Maron, Margaret Cho, Steven Wright, Goldthwait and Kenny, of course), his sisters, upstate neighbors, other survivors,–who say “everything about him is honest and true,” “truth teller,” “judgmental sage,” and what Thoreau would have been like “if he’d had a computer.”
“My drug of choice is friends,” says Crimmins. By the end of the film, you’ll want to be someone lucky enough to spend time with this brilliant and ferociously funny man.
“Call me Lucky” will open Friday, August 7 at the IFC Center, and in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Santa Ana, CA, and Austin, and will expand in coming weeks.