How the Essential Comedy of Barry Crimmins Made Its Way to Lawrence Kansas


Barry Crimmins just released his first hour special, Barry Crimmins: Whatever Threatens You, and its well worth the wait. The special is excellent, surely one of the best this year, and everyone should go to and download it.

Crimmins is not only an important part of comedy history for his role in developing the Boston Comedy scene, and his advocacy for human rights, he’s also a brilliant comic. In a letter to his fans introducing the new hour, Louis C.K. wrote “I think that his comedic voice is essential. That’s why I made his special.” In that sentence, C.K. boiled down what we’ve taken multiple articles and endless paragraphs to attempt to convey: Crimmins comedic voice is essential.

Barry has been an advocate for those in need of assistance, and for common sense for his entire adult life both on and off the stage. His comedy is timeless, and plays to the ages and yet has never been more relevant or important than right now. So we owe thanks not only to Barry, for this outstanding special but to people like Louis C.K. for producing it, Bobcat Goldthwait for giving Barry Crimmins and his life story a national spotlight, and to comedian and radio host Ron Bennington who first brought Barry’s work, importance to comedy, and advocacy to our attention. I talked to Barry earlier this week about the new special and offered him congratulations, which, as you might expect, he didn’t necessarily accept.  Crimmins is not one to self-congratulate.  “For what?” he answered when I offered him praise.  It’s not that he isn’t proud of his special. He knows the special is great.

It was Louis C.K.’s idea for Crimmins to tape and distribute an hour. “I’ve always been open to– I know how to do this. One of the fun parts of this whole thing is, now that I’m getting more note for doing it, people think, oh you’re doing it again. I’m like, no, I kept doing it,” he said referring to performing comedy.  But C.K. approached him about making it official and putting the hour out there.  “He laid the whole thing out and how it works. He said if I’d go out and do the work and get a good hour together, so of course, being me, I always do too much, so I put about three hours together. Now, I have two more specials ready, though,” Crimmins said.

The hour was taped in Lawrence, Kansas, affectionally referred to as LFK. Barry wore an LFK shirt to tape the hour. “They just call it Lawrence Fucking, Kansas,” Barry explained. “It’s just, I guess, to sort of differentiate it from the more sedate areas of the Midwest. I never … I just know that they were already saying that before I got there, so, I’m just a lemming.” He decided to tape in Lawrence because he liked the people, and they liked him.  He’d been there before when touring with his documentary film Call Me Lucky.  “When we did “Call Me Lucky” there, the Q&A lasted an hour longer than it was supposed to. The people were so great. I don’t know how the next film that was supposed to begin, how those people felt, but the people are great. I don’t know, I’m like Elvis in Lawrence, so why pass that up?”

The first time he went to Lawrence was with a fellow Boston comic. “I did it with Steven Wright once and I know I did it with somebody else. The first time I believe was with Steven and I’m waiting to get my head handed to me because I’m in Kansas. I go on and the crowd really digs what I have to say.”  But it’s not just mutual affection that drew Barry to Lawrence Fucking Kansas.  There’s history too.  “I started looking into things. You look into history and you realize, oh, this is a town Quantrill raided and killed all the men and boys because there was a, it was an abolitionist stronghold. Being an abolitionist myself, I was immediately, you know … I routed for the Union in the Civil War,” he said adding, “Yeah, I was a Union … I always been a Union man.”

Talk of Unions led to talking about marriage, which brought up another reason to tape in LFK. Barry said the people of Lawrence are decent people.  The night they screened Call Me Lucky in Lawrence was the same night marriage equality passed in the United States.  He had been in Provincetown a week earlier.  “I thought of this reaction that we had gotten in Provincetown, and it was palpable at the Province Town Film Festival how decent everyone was and how much collective compassion, how much empathy there was because this is a bunch of people from the community. They had … They’ve all suffered oppression and mistreatment and whatever; and anyway, there was this completely kind and it was the most decent response that I’ve ever been a part of. It was really nice. Then this next week when [the Marriage Equality Act] passes, I’m in this other really decent place, Lawrence, Kansas. I open by telling the story about Provincetown and how these people were calling these incredibly decent people, indecent, and how happy I was that my truly decent friends now had the same rights that I had and that really … There was this instant huge response and we’re off to the races in Lawrence.”

The response to the special has been strong.  Social media has shown great love for Barry, and critics are all applauding “Whatever Frightens You.”  Being released via C.K.’s website has brought a bigger spotlight to Crimmins work, and he’s been happy with the results, he said.  “Yeah, it’s been really good. Everybody’s … It’s been very nice and that’s fine.”  Although he admits that the wait between completing the schedule and release has affected his enthusiasm just a touch. “It’s funny, you do it, you shoot it in June, and it’s done and it’s waiting, you wait for it to come out whenever and it’s like, oh good, the people like it. Sort of like, if that response came in June, it would have been, I would have been more bowled over by it I suppose. That’s probably good, really.”

Working with Louis also is a bit different than working with other people who direct, produce and distribute specials. First of all, he’s not an easy man to reach. “He’s the only guy, I’ve said this before, but really, he’s the only person I’ve ever worked with that I have to sort of check the AP wire before I decide whether or not to text him. Oh, he’s at that ceremony in Geneva, probably not a good time for a text,” Barry said.  And then there is C.K.’s guerilla approach, releasing the special with no warning or marketing, just an email.  Well to call it “just an email” is a bit of injustice. In fairness, it was an extraordinary email, and C.K.’s mailing list is a bit more extensive than the average comedian. Although it’s an unusual approach, Crimmins says “he did so right by me.”

Crimmins was very touched by Louis’ email introducing the special which praised Barry’s comedy and his philosophy and said it was amazing how C.K. remembered so much from the Boston days.  “He’s got an amazing … Everybody remembers that Boston stuff better than me.”  Mostly Barry remembers being busy trying to give stage time to as many comics as he could, including himself.  “First up, I was really busy. I mean, I was performing, at one point, I was running two clubs, and producing shows all over the place, and trying to get out of it. I just wanted to do … I just did it in the first place so there was somewhere decent to perform and there was stage time. That was what I got out of doing that stuff and certainly benefited from it. Then, there were just a limited amount of time and it was just sort of funny people …

Some people drew the wrong conclusions about me. It was just really, I only had so much stage time and what was I going to do? Not book Kevin Meaney, or Steven Wright, or Paula Poundstone, or Jack Gallagher, or you name it, or some new person. What we did at the Ding Ho and Stitches, I think, is we put on shows that were good enough that it made people dig comedy. Those shows would be sold out, and so there were more comedy shows, and there was more stage time. It wasn’t some terrible judgment on people if didn’t book them. It was just … I just reached capacity.”

Barry Crimmins: Whatever Threatens You is available now for just $5 from, and we’re happy to hear there will be a second special.  “Not right away, but soon. I keep doing it. It looks like this has to be my job, basically, until I can’t work anymore.”

He’s also got a narrative film in the works- or more accurately, Bobcat Goldthwait is working on directing a narrative film based on part of Barry’s life story, and Judd Apatow is involved.  “It’s kind of about the AOL part of the story and it’s actually when you look at it, there really was a lot more to it than you could cram into that movie; but to have Judd Apatow behind it and Bobby directing, it seems like it’s a … It seems crazy to me on one level, but on another level, I think they’re going to make a really good movie if we … I mean, I believe it when you see it, but …”  The AOL part of the story refers to Barry’s amazing work to shut down the distribution of child pornography through AOL in the 90’s which led to Crimmins testifying before Congress. “It’s funny,” Barry said.  It’s the one part of the movie that … well, it’s one part of the movie anyway that’s certainly raised a lot … people had a lot more questions about that, and so, this could answer a lot of them I suppose.”

Follow Barry on twitter @Crimmins and after you watch the new special, look for a chance to see him perform live. There’s no substitute.

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