The ‘Luck’ of Barry Crimmins

Describing the emotional potency of the documentary Call Me Lucky, directed by Bob Goldthwait, is nearly impossible without divulging its most heart wrenching revelation. What begins as a hilarious tribute to a relatively unknown comedian turns sharply into a gut-punching tale of child abuse and then leads to an inspirational finale. The Oscar-worthy film is visceral, funny, and moving on many levels.

The documentary delves into the life and falling-short-of-stardom career of Barry Crimmins, a comedian provocateur, a sharp-tongued political satirist, a social activist, a contributor to Air America Radio, a defender of the little guy everywhere. A grumbling bear of a man, Crimmins was no one’s choice for Mr. Congeniality. But his friends and fellow comedians held him in high regard for his uncompromising principles.

Goldthwait’s loving portrait of his life-long pal rises miles above typical stand-up comedy documentary fare. Unlike profiles of Bill Hicks or Mitch Hedberg, Call Me Lucky doesn’t just show Crimmins’ chronology through his youth and into the comedy world. His years in stand-up comedy are on the screen, of course, complete with many of Crimmins’ best comic lines and an array of recognizable comedians like Patton Oswalt, Marc Maron, David Cross, Steven Wright, Margaret Cho, and others who considered him a mentor and give him praise. Crimmins nearly single-handedly — and even-handedly — created the Boston comedy scene in the late 70s and early 80s. That background material alone makes for worthwhile viewing. But that’s just the opening act to the headlining narrative to come.

By the midpoint, when the emotional bomb drops — a harrowing account of child abuse guaranteed to bring tears — the film transforms from comically enlightening to heartbreaking and then to stirringly uplifting.

Director Bob Goldthwait

Goldthwait’s deft touch for storytelling is never cloying. With foreshadowing and great comic timing, adding laughs and hints of what’s to come precisely when and where needed, he gradually strips away the layers to get to the core. The movie takes us on a journey through Crimmins’ childhood trauma and into his psyche. You see how and why the man became an embodiment of righteous indignation.

Crimmins is never portrayed as a victim and, over time, he becomes more than a comedian. “You don’t go around your problems,” Crimmins says in the film. “You go through them.”

Goldthwait takes us through Crimmins’ painful experience, and the man’s angst eventually gives way to selfless heroism. To prevent others from facing the sort of trauma he survived, Crimmins’ odyssey takes him to Cleveland, to the nascent Internet, and then to the floor of the United States Senate. There he takes on a major corporate entity, and the result of that Senate committee hearing will have you cheering.

But the tale doesn’t end at that point. There are ghosts to be exorcised. Crimmins’ rants against the powers-that-be, most notably the Catholic Church, are vitriolic and undeniably deserved. Stick around through the credits because you don’t want to miss the final hilarious joke.

The film was an official selection at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and went on to win awards at film festivals in Chicago, Boston, Boulder, and Chattanooga among others. The documentary’s theatrical release is scheduled for August 7, 2015.

Barry Crimmins’ early stand-up comedy career could be described as unlucky. His childhood might be called the same. But Crimmins doesn’t seek pity. With Call Me Lucky, and with the strength and perseverance he shares in the film, it’s clear his luck has changed for the better.