“Call Me Lucky” is an award-winning documentary on influential comedian and political activist Barry Crimmins, directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. The movie follows the life of the famously grumpy, often abrasive comedian who played a critical role in establishing the 1980s Boston comedy scene at The Ding Ho and Stitches. It also delves into the horrific sexual abuse he endured as a child that affected his worldview and politics, and made him a hero in the fight against child pornography in early internet chat rooms.
The movie gives testimony from a wide range of comedians to show how far Crimmins’ influence carried: David Cross, Marc Maron, Margaret Cho, Patton Oswalt, Tom Kenny, Kevin Meaney, Lenny Clarke and more. Together, they reveal Crimmins to be a fiercely intelligent, troubled, beer-guzzling straight-shooter with a short temper, who launched his sharp political humor from the stages of even the most mainstream comedy shows.
The interviews and old clips of Crimmins are interspersed with footage of his current, isolated home in upstate New York and bits from a contemporary stand-up set at The Ding Ho. From there we begin to hear from Crimmins himself as well as a group of his childhood friends and his family. Beginning with an open mic show he put together in New York – with a “comedians wanted” ad that drew in a teenaged Goldthwait and Tom Kenny – Crimmins moved on to Boston to create a scene that became like a family, even though many of the comics were afraid of him or thought he didn’t like them. He paid them more than other clubs, however, and he was encouraging and supportive to the likes of Kevin Meaney who struggled with coming out about his sexuality.
Marc Maron shares a funny story about a show where Crimmins’ political jokes kept falling so flat that he launched into a fed-up explanation: “All right, there are three branches of government…” Crimmins’ politics don’t seem as extreme from a contemporary perspective as they might have been then (unless I just agree with him), but he is passionately against corruption, hypocrisy, greed and the Catholic Church. He is a man of integrity that doesn’t suffer fools; as Wendell Wild says in the film, “Sometimes the most anti-religious people behave the most religiously”.
The tone of the movie turns very dark, appropriately, about halfway through as it finally addresses Crimmins’ demons hinted at before. From his own mouth, we hear how his babysitter exposed him to a man that repeatedly raped him as a small child, and the story is very difficult to get through. One of the most poignant things Crimmins says in the film, however, is, “If I can survive what happened to me, you can at least hear about it and think about it, you know. It’s not that much to ask. I know it’s unpleasant.”
In my favorite scene in the film, Crimmins applies this attitude and his quick wit to a 1995 US Senate hearing in which he presents the case that AOL chat rooms had become a playground for child molesters, and the company was doing nothing about it. Amazingly, Crimmins infiltrated these chat rooms himself in order to gain evidence, thereby subjecting himself to horrible memories and further trauma. But in a satisfying showdown, he convinces the Senate, and AOL initiated a zero-tolerance policy for pedophiles. (Unbelievable, the company had only a three strikes rule before that.)
The pacing of “Call Me Lucky” can be odd at times, but Crimmins is too interesting a subject for it to ever lag, and if you’re like me, it might send you to YouTube to check out many, many different comedians. It’s also nice to see Bobcat Goldthwait, who is looking good these days (but will forever be Loudermilk from “Scrooged” to me).
Image courtesy of Sunshine Sachs