Call Me Lucky is in limited Theaters today, August 7.
Last week I had the privilege of talking with Barry Crimmins and Bobcat Goldthwait about their new documentary “Call Me Lucky.”
Trying to edit down an interview with Bobcat Goldthwait and Barry Crimmins is a near impossible task. They’re both exceptionally creative, insightful, and incredibly funny. I spent 20 very inspiring minutes talking with them, and also had access to an 80 minute interview they did with Ron Bennington for the Unmasked series as source material, and I’m not kidding when I tell you that I wanted to put every word down. Barry is a brilliant comedian who survived a genuine horror as a child. After being sexually assaulted by his babysitter repeatedly, he went on to become a mentor, a protector, an activist and an inspiration to others. He created a community in Boston where comedians could thrive creatively, and he’s directly responsible for a long list of great careers. He’s also a relentless human justice activist whose two stated goals in life are 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. And Bobcat is an incredible filmmaker with a great eye for all things interesting and funny (see our side piece on his filmography) . So you can see why Bobcat would want to make a movie about Barry.
Bobcat told me he started thinking about making this movie back in 1995, after Crimmins spoke before the Judiciary Committee on the Senate floor about shutting down pedophile chat rooms on AOL. “He had written this article in the Boston Phoenix,” Bobcat told me, “and I just thought it was a really funny article and I also thought it was a Capra-esque scene and of course I love Barry and he’s been a mentor to me. But as a guy who makes movies, or back then was trying to make movies, I just thought, well this is a tremendous story. So, years went by and I tried to develop a screenplay. I thought someone else would play Barry because I didn’t want Barry to re-live these events.” That screenplay never happened. Bobcat joked that it was because Vic Tayback passed away so they lost their lead, prompting Barry (and me) to bust out laughing.
Years later, in February of 2014, it was Robin Williams who convinced Bobcat that a screenplay wasn’t the right direction; he needed to make a documentary. Williams was a fan of Crimmins and was so interested in seeing the documentary made, that he personally put up the initial money to get the project moving. “It all came together really fast. I’d never made a documentary before, and when it hit Sundance people were going, oh it took us seven years, took us 3 years and they’d say, when did you start? I said February. And they weren’t high fiving me, they were going oooooh well good luck with that. So yeah.”
During an interview with Ron Bennington which premieres today on SiriusXM, Bobcat had explained his goals with the film. “My biggest concern making the movie was I wanted to make a movie that didn’t compromise telling a story that people were engaged in, but more importantly, I wanted to do my friend well. I wanted him to be proud of it so that was the challenge.”
Both Bobcat and Barry are drawn to comedy that involves truth, so getting truth into the film was another goal. “There’s a lot of kinds of comedy but there’s two kinds that I’m drawn to,” Bobcat told me. “And one is where someone is using the truth to point out hypocrisy, and then there’s someone using the truth where it’s very healing and you go yeah that happened to me or yeah I have empathy, I can understand now. Barry, when I was a young man, had always instilled in me that if you can say something in a funny way, you can smuggle content to people and that stuck with me ever since I was a kid.”
Bobcat and Crimmins Meeting Each Other in Skaneateles
Bobcat was only 15 years old when he met Barry for the first time after answering an ad Barry placed in the local paper looking for comedians to do a show in his home town of Skaneateles, New York. He and his buddy Tom Kenny (who later would become the voice of Spongebob) answered the ad, and began a strange friendship with Crimmins that would last a lifetime. Goldthwait remembered the first time he saw Crimmins on stage.
“… I remember the first time I saw Barry and the reaction. He’s on stage cause he would write a new act every week cause it was the same crowd, and it would be stuff from the pages of the newspaper. So he’s writing his act, smoking, and in my mind there’s smoke coming out of his ears even, there’s all this smoke all around him and he looks up, and he’s like ucccchhh fucking kiddie corp. And he put us on stage anyway…”
Barry remembered being impressed by Bob and Tom from the first time he met them. “They were so cute, they were hilarious,” he said. “They come in, and they really looked young and then they go out and they’re doing this biting humor. They’re funny little mother fuckers these guys. But then afterwards, we get to know each other and they kind of trust me and they’re being these cutting edge funny guys. But then the next minute they’re asking me for advice on how to get a prom date and it was so dear. The prom date thing was the bonding moment. And at the time I’m like homeless living next to the walk-in cooler at that place. No one knows, and I’m fighting rats.”
Bobcat remembers those times. “We were these snide snarky little pricks with all this energy and all this bile. We were very punk rock, but what were we mad about? We had 3 squares and Barry’s sleeping next to a furnace. And it was very funny because we had no life to write material about. So Tom Kenny’s up there talking about his therapist because he’s a big Woody Allen fan. He didn’t have a therapist. I’m up talking about my wife! I would go up reading a Dear John letter crying and then I’d be like my wife is so fat and they’d go how fat is she? and I’d go, I just told you I don’t even have a girlfriend! And then I’d just start crying again.”
Crimmins built an entire comedy scene in Boston and helped launch so many careers, but he told Ron Bennington that he ended up in Boston by a complete twist of fate and chance. He had been visiting his father in a VA hospital down in West Virginia, and was going to hitchhike his way to New York and “take that beating.” He got picked up by a trucker who was headed to Boston, and offered to drop him somewhere in Jersey because he wasn’t passing through New York City. But it was raining like hell, or as he described “coming down pitchforks and hammer handles” so he said ” fuck it. Boston’s in the American League. And that’s how I ended up in Boston. As Kevin Rooney would say, turn into the skid.”
Barry Crimmins at the Ding Ho
That skid changed a lot of lives. Barry showed up at Chinese restaurant called the Ding Ho, and started a comedy scene in Boston that launched a long list of great comics.
Comedy is not generally a friendly business, and Barry had experienced the often crushing difficulty getting started and he wanted to change that experience for other comedians. “What was important to me at the Ding Ho and then Stitches was…I had kicked around the country. I had tried to get on at places, I stood in those three hour, four hour lines to get four minutes at 1:30 in the morning and be treated like shit the whole way. And you’re just with a bunch of other poor desperate souls who were trying to get started in this business and, I realized, I needed stage time. And I needed stage time somewhere where I felt like I was somebody.” Barry wanted to be encouraging and make his club a place where the comedians and their families felt comfortable.
“If you came in there and you were a comic and you signed up for open mic night, you were treated well. You were treated nicely cause my theory was, I knew how hard it was to walk out on that stage and how daunting it is when you’re a young comic and so, I wanted to reduce any sort of tension that I could because there’s enough sewn into it. So I tried to create the kind of place that I would walk into and go, that place is great! And so when someone would come in– a comic comes in and brings his family to see him that night, we feed ’em and pay for the check.”
He told me that he didn’t even get paid at the Ding Ho. “No one knows that; and I insisted on zero percent off the top. And I used the money– instead of me being paid, everybody got drinks. I was actually paid quite well because I threw a party that lasted about three and a half years. But somebody’s family comes in- you give ’em drinks you feed ’em, you say thank you and then you tell them how great their kid is, and you literally watch this transformation.”
It paid off generating an incredible vibe that people still talk about. Barry shared an amazing story with me about a particular guest that had made him feel like he was on the right track with what he was doing. There was a famous rock club around the corner from the Ding Ho, The Inn-Square Mens Club. And when Barry needed to get away from the club he would go sit over there and hide and hear great music. One night he went in there and spotted a musician and early Rolling Stones member Ian Stewart. “Stewart was basically in the Rolling Stones at the beginning but he was too old looking. He didn’t fit the look right. But he played keyboards for them early on and he was around, and he became the sound guy. He recorded Exile on Main Street.” Stewart was in Boston, at Fort Apache studios recording an album with George Thorogood, and he was drinking at the Inn-Square one night when Barry stopped in. “I knew who he was so I invited him over to the Ding. He said, ‘I’ll come but just don’t tell ’em who I am mate.’ And so he was this old British guy that came in and whatever. And he told me then, he goes ‘I haven’t been anywhere that’s like this since in London in like ’65 when everything was breaking.’ So that was a pretty encouraging moment to me. Sadly Ian died about a year after that but what a shot in the arm that was.”
Barry has stories that could go on for days, and the movie is really just the beginning of his story. There’s so much more to hear like Bob and Barry talking about Robin Williams, and Bobcat admitting the real story about those childhood pictures of Barry he uses in the film, and you can hear all those stories in the episode of Unmasked (find out when and where below) and of course you have to see the film, Call Me Lucky. The film is thought-provoking, inspiring and beautifully told, both in terms of the story it tells and cinematically. As Bobcat said, Barry will make you want to be a better person, and you will laugh, and you may cry. And you will walk away from the film with a lot to think about.
It may have taken twenty years since he first caught the inspiration to make this film, but ultimately Bobcat said he got the film he wanted to shoot. He said the film has all the things he looks for in a movie. “It’s dark. It’s life reaffirming…and its funny.” He added that he’s been overwhelmed by the reaction from people who have been seeing the film screened at various festivals across the country, and especially loves seeing people laughing during the movie. “I know that I successfully did make a funny movie that smuggles an enormous amount of content.” he said. “It’s exceeded my expectations already and it hasn’t even come out.”
Listen to Ron Bennington’s Unmasked with Bobcat Goldthwait and Barry Crimmins in its entirety when it premieres on SiriusXM’s Raw Dog Comedy Hits 99 on Friday August 7 at 2pm eastern time. It will rerun throughout the weekend, Friday at 9pm on SiriusXM 102 (Indie). Saturday at 7pm and Sunday at 2pm and 10pm on SiriusXM 99 (Rawdog) and on Sunday at 10am on SiriusXM 103/206 (the Opie Radio channel). You will also be able to also hear it on SiriusXM On Demand.
Call Me Lucky is in theaters on Friday August 7, 2015. For more information and for a list of theaters visit callmeluckymovie.com. It’s our editors pick this week in Filtered Excellence, and it’s a must see for any fan of comedy or film.