Barry Crimmins, a Brilliant Satirist Who Changed Comedy, Has Died

Heartbreaking news today.  Barry Crimmins passed away at the age of 64. A tremendous comedian and political satirist, a true humanitarian and advocate, a fighter in every sense of the word, and a man who literally changed the face of comedy, Barry’s passing leaves gigantic empty space in comedy and humanity.

Barry created a vibrant and legendary community in Boston, where comedians could thrive creatively at an important little place called the Ding Ho that he founded, and he’s directly responsible for a long list of great careers including Bobcat Goldthwait, Steven Wright and Louis C.K.. He’s also a relentless human justice activist whose two stated goals in life were to dismantle the Catholic Church and overthrow the United States government, but you’ve never seen a guy more dedicated to giving others a hand. He survived a genuine horror as a child, and used that pain to fight for others in so many ways. After being sexually assaulted by his babysitter repeatedly, he went on to become a mentor, a protector, an activist and an inspiration to others.

Barry’s wife Helen, who he married just last August (Barry couldn’t wait to tell us about that) announced the news. Barry was with Helen and his long time close friend and collaborator Bobcat Goldthwait when he passed. Crimmins had recently announced that he had cancer. His wife, Helen also had been diagnosed with cancer when they married, and she’s still fighting.

Bobcat helped bring Barry’s unique story to the world with the dark, funny, and life-affirming documentary “Call Me Lucky,” and it’s a film everyone should see at least twice. I got to speak to Barry because of that documentary and got to know him through his many appearances and calls to Ron and Fez on SiriusXM and later to Bennington.  I eventually got to meet him when he began touring to prepare for a new hour special. He even wrote for us– an apology to David Letterman and Jay Leno that he thought was long overdue— and planned to do more but life got terribly busy for him after Louis C.K. decided to produce Barry’s hour.

MFF 2015

Louis wrote a beautiful letter to his fans detailing how important Crimmins was and is to comedy.

“Barry is a legend. A great mind, an author and activist and political satirist. He has been an important voice of passion and reason since the 1970s. He has stood before thousands of audiences of every size and type and told them the truth with wit and wisdom, with anger and compassion. Barry was a towering example to me when I started doing standup at age 18. He fostered the comedy scene that I cut my teeth on and later became my friend. More than all of that, I am his fan. I love his voice. He makes me laugh. He’s always right. There has NEVER been another comic like him. “

The hour special, “Whatever Threatens You” was filmed in Lawrence, Kansas, a place that meant as much to Barry as Boston, and it’s a killer hour, that was named Best Comedy Special of 2016 by our readers beating out some very stiff competition.

Just this past September, the Boston Comedy Festival honored Barry with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and introduced him by saying “we don’t have time for me to go through all the people he’s inspired.” Crimmins accepted his award with his trademark dark humor with, “I guess I’m supposed to die after this? Not gonna happen, kids!” When he spoke, to no surprise, he delivered inspiring words.

“Stand up for people in worse shape than you are,” he said. “At the end of the day, when you go home, you won’t have to look for a leader because you’ll be that leader.” He encouraged audience members to “be loving and decent and courageous and care about people.”

If you have not followed our coverage of Barry over the years, you’ll want to do a few things today and this week. Numbers one and two are to see Barry’s documentary, “Call Me Lucky” and his special “Whatever Threatens You.” Three and four are to listen to a phenomenal hour of radio, Unmasked with Barry Crimmins and Bobcat Goldthwait. And finally read Louis C.K.’s letter to his fans introducing them to Barry’s special. It’s as fitting a eulogy as any.

But the best measure of Barry can be found in his own words. After his Unmasked with Ron Bennington was recorded in 2015, we pulled these 5 pieces of wisdom to hold on to, and always remember to play to the ages and carry on the good fight.

1. Barry Crimmins on Why He’s Not a Hero 

“The big problem I have with all the hero stuff is, I’m being called a hero for behaving decently and noticing things that you know, ‘oh I’m sorry did I disturb you, let me close the door and walk away.’ There’s nothing I did that other people couldn’t do. Maybe they’re not going to run into the same combination of things I have, but I don’t wanna make it seem inaccessible to be a hero. And a hero is sort of like, ‘oh well, heroes will take care of that for us.’“

2. Barry Crimmins on Overcoming Being a Victim

“What I had to learn was to not take life personally, just live in it. I’m in the world, it’s not all around me. And I think that’s very important for people who have been through things like I’ve been through. If you set up these situations where if you set up this expectation for the whole world to come and apologize to you, you’re forgetting that everybody has had horrible things they’ve had to deal with, at one time or another. There’s various degrees or whatever, but if you set up this situation where everybody is supposed to think in terms of you all the time, then you’re just going to end up deciding you’re being persecuted and you’re going to wallow and you’re going to stay in that pit. Well, you know, it’s just not a good approach.

I already lost my childhood to this shit, so once I had a chance when I was older– I was like 38 before I really dealt with it– once I had a chance, goddammit, I wasn’t going to waste any more time. I wasn’t going to cut corners, but I was going to deal with what had happened to me, try to get as much healing as possible and it turned out the trick to healing for me was helping others, it really was. I got out of my own way and I was able to do some stuff.”

3. Barry Crimmins on Playing to the Ages

“Play to the ages, not the age. I have a couple books– they published Mark Twain’s notebooks and there’s all these notes in there, ‘well, I think I’m opposed to capital punishment,’ and Twain kind of formulating his thoughts, working it out. And I know what came of it and how far ahead of his time he was. And I decided play to the ages, not the age. In other words, when I write something, I think about what somebody 100 years from now- and hopefully things are a little more civilized, and they’ll go, ‘you know, this isn’t bad. You know how dumb people were in 2015? This works out. . .’ I’m not thinking I’m going to be revered by the world or whatever, it’s just some poor bastard like me 100 years from now will go ‘look at this guy.’ ‘Cause I find stuff like that all the time, these little moments in history.”

4. Barry Crimmins on Talking to the Audience

“I was never one of those harass the audience guys. Why do women go to the bathroom in pairs? ‘Cause they get harassed by drunk men. Write an act. You know, nice shirt…the guys got a shitty shirt ’cause he spent his last 5 bucks coming in to the show tonight. On the other hand, if you gave me shit back then it was on. But I got too noted for that, so after 3 or 4 years of really hammering hecklers, I just started Jesus-ing the fuck out of them just to make it as boring as possible.”

5. Barry Crimmins on Reacting to His Abuser

Bobcat Goldthwait- “One of the things that made me want to tell Barry’s story was we were having a discussion and he had discovered that the guy who had raped him as a kid had died in prison. And he said ‘that made me really sad’ and I said ‘because you didn’t get to confront him and you didn’t have closure?’ and he said ‘no, ’cause he died alone.’”

Barry Crimmins: “He had a bad life and then I later came to learn he grew up in foster homes and had been abused himself a lot and I feel really fortunate. I was trying to find where his grave was so I could go put flowers. Not to honor him… but to say ‘I didn’t become you.’ Guess who won. Guess what prevailed here. Decency. I am so lucky.”

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