Barry Crimmins gets his overdue due in ‘Call Me Lucky’

still_callme
Barry Crimmins in “Call Me Lucky”

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!”

Also posted at WGBHNews.org.

The story behind the Barry Crimmins documentary

Barry Crimmins (via Twitter)
Barry Crimmins (via Twitter)

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.”