On Thursday came the sad news that the comedian and writer Barry Crimmins, who virtually invented Boston’s comedy scene, had died at the age of 64. Barry was a man of several careers. Among other things, he was an activist against child sexual abuse and a towering figure at The Boston Phoenix, which is how I got to know him.
Barry was one of the most thoroughly decent human beings I have ever met. We were all hoping that Bobcat Goldthwait’s 2015 documentary “Call Me Lucky” would relaunch his career. Unfortunately, it never really happened. Barry announced in January that he had terminal cancer. His wife, Helen Crimmins, is also ill.
Jim Sullivan writes about Barry’s legacy for The Artery at WBUR.org. At the time of its release I wrote about “Call Me Lucky” for WGBH News. Barry will be hugely missed. Wherever he is today, I hope he is given what he publicly asked for so many times: excommunication from the Catholic Church, whose leadership he detested for its role in covering up the crimes of pedophile priests.
Hey, hey whaddya say, excommunicate me today! @Pontifex
What can you say about a film that stars someone you know and admire telling the world about being raped repeatedly — and nearly killed — when he was 3 years old?
Since we’re talking about Barry Crimmins, I would say that you should see it as soon as you can.
“Call Me Lucky,” directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, had its New England premiere on Saturday at the Somerville Theatre as part of the Independent Film Festival. As befits the subject, the documentary almost feels like two films. In the first part we meet Crimmins the caustic left-wing performer, who almost single-handedly created Boston’s comedy scene in the 1980s. In the second part, Crimmins comes to terms with his past as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
It was during this second phase that I got to know Barry. He revealed what had happened to him in the early 1990s in a harrowing front-page essay for The Boston Phoenix headlined “Baby Rape.” (I had a small role in copy-editing it, but most of the heavy lifting was handled by the late Caroline Knapp — and, of course, by Barry himself.) Later, Barry was a valuable resource as I was doing my own reporting about child sexual abuse. This was around the time Barry was engaged in a very public campaign against AOL and the pedophiles it allowed to run rampant in its chatrooms, a centerpiece of “Call Me Lucky.” Even though I can’t pretend to be a close friend of Barry’s, I’ve always been struck by his fundamental kindness and decency — a quality that comes through repeatedly in the film. (I was among many people Goldthwait interviewed, but I didn’t make the cut.)
Barry was a regular in the Phoenix, writing a satirical year-in-review piece every Christmas as well as other humor pieces. This 2003 takedown of Dennis Miller works as well today as it did 12 years ago. I still laugh when I recall his referring to George W. Bush as “the court-appointed president.” Barry was a big part of the Phoenix, and vice-versa. So I was pleased to see him pay tribute to the late managing editor Clif Garboden in the credits, saying he learned to write through Clif’s editing. Fittingly, Clif’s own classic apex as an angry humorist begins with a quote from Barry.
Despite its somber subject matter, there are plenty of laughs in “Call Me Lucky” — not just from Crimmins, but from many other comedians, including Jimmy Tingle, Margaret Cho and Lenny Clarke. The biggest laughs, though, are reserved for Ronald Reagan, who is seen attempting to explain what he knew and didn’t know about the Iran-Contra scandal. The man was a comic genius.
Barry was — and is — a comic genius as well. Because I wasn’t taking notes, I’ll rely on the press release for one of my favorite bits from the movie. A protégé of Barry’s, Bill Hicks, recalls that a member of the audience once yelled, “If you don’t love America why don’t you get out?” Crimmins’ response: “Because I don’t want to be a victim of its foreign policy!”
Don Aucoin’s feature on the new Barry Crimmins documentary in today’s Boston Globe goes into harrowing detail about the sexual abuse Crimmins suffered at the hands of a babysitter and, years later, his battle with AOL, which he believed wasn’t doing enough to get child pornography off its site.
What Aucoin does not mention is that Crimmins first told his story in 1992 in a long, impassioned front-page essay for The Boston Phoenix. His piece was edited by Caroline Knapp, to whom Barry paid tribute when she died in 2002 at the age of 42:
She wisely, gently and calmly guided me through the most difficult piece of writing I have ever had to do. And then, long after her job was done, she followed up again and again to see how I was handling things after the piece was published.
The documentary, “Call Me Lucky,” directed by Crimmins’ friend and protégé Bobcat Goldthwait, is making its debut this week at the Sundance Film Festival. (Disclosure: I was among a large number of Crimmins’ Boston friends who was interviewed by Goldthwait last winter. I doubt very much that I made the cut.)
Barry is a caustic humorist who is also one of the most humane people I know. He was a big help to me when I was doing some of my own reporting on child sexual abuse. I’m looking forward to seeing “Call Me Lucky.”
Wish I could make this: local comedy legend (and friend of Media Nation) Barry Crimmins is back in town, and will be roasted by the Boston Comedy Festival tonight at 8:30 p.m. at the Charles Playhouse Lounge. Details here. From the festival website:
The Boston Comedy Festival is cooking up a welcome back roast and toast for Barry Crimmins, the comic and producer whose hard work, vision and terrific sense of humor helped bring the Boston Comedy scene into the modern era. Crimmins founded the fabled Ding Ho Comedy Club in Cambridge and then later was pivotal in starting Stitches in Boston. These clubs were where Steven Wright, Paula Poundstone, Bobcat Goldthwait, Kevin Meaney, Jimmy Tingle and many, many others cut their comedicteeth. Crimmins has gone on to make a name for himself as an internationally renowned political satirist. He is the author of “Never Shake Hands with a War Criminal” (7 Stories Press).
This tribute will be hosted by Boston comedy legend Tony V. The dais will be jammed with noted wits rarely seen on the same stage, including: Jimmy Tingle, Steve Sweeney, Mike McDonald, Randy Credico, Boston Globe cartoonist Dan Wasserman, The Steamy Bohemians — Niki Luparelli, Lainey Schulbaum and John Ennis (Mr Show, Studio 60). This lineup of all-star talent is sure to fricassee your funny bone so expect great laughs, celebrity surprises, topped off words from the wizened and hilarious forefather of our Boston comedy scene.
Barry also says on his Facebook profile that he’ll be at Occupy Boston today at 4 p.m.
You may recall that MySpace was a social-media phenomenon when Rupert Murdoch bought it back in 2005 for $580 million. It wasn’t long, though, before Facebook zoomed past it, rendering Murdoch’s new toy all but worthless. The site is now for sale. A large part of it may have been that Facebook was simply better technologically. But surely some of MySpace’s lost cachét was due to a perception among users that anything owned by Murdoch wasn’t cool anymore.
Which brings us to AOL and the Huffington Post. When AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong forked over $315 million for HuffPo, he no doubt thought he was acquiring, among other things, an army of unpaid bloggers. But not so fast.
Socialite Arianna Huffington built a blog-empire on the backs of thousands of citizen journalists. She exploited our idealism and let us labor under the illusion that the Huffington Post was different, independent and leftist. Now she’s cashed in and three thousand indie bloggers find themselves working for a megacorp.
Two old Boston Phoenix friends have weighed in as well.
Al Giordano writes that he cross-posted 26 of his stories on HuffPo between 2007 and 2009. He stopped, he says, because he “grew uncomfortable with how that website was transparently becoming more and more sensationalist, cult-of-personality generated.” Now he’s removed his posts, replacing them with this:
(As author and sole owner of the words in this story, I did not write them for AOL, and do not wish to have any association with it imposed upon me. The original text may still be found at http://narconews.com/thefield – Al Giordano, February 7, 2011)
What Ariana Huffington sold for $315 mil was a lot of bloggers who work for free and all the eyeballs they attract to HuffPo. Feeling exploited? Stop working for free for HuffPo and stop providing HuffPo with the value of your visits. Believe me, there will be alternatives. True alternatives.
Dan Gillmor says that, at the very least, Huffington ought to start paying people.
It’s hard to know to what extent HuffPo’s unpaid bloggers fit into Armstrong’s plans. At the very least, though, it’s beginning to look like he did not get what he paid for. He could ask old Rupe about that.