“Call Me Lucky” catches up with comedian/political satirist/advocate Barry Crimmins, the passionate and biting man who revolutionized standup comedy before the internet. Directed by fellow performer Bobcat Goldthwait, this documentary looks at how Crimmins gave comics a place to perform and it goes deep into Crimmins’ history and is appropriately peppered with comic touches.
From the get-go, Goldthwait does a superb job of introducing Crimmins by a stable of modern comedians.
“Barry Crimmins was this weird, mythical force that was a judgmental sage of some kind that I didn’t quite get,” said Marc Maron.
“Gruff, smart, annoying, invasive,” said Baratunde Thurston.
“He had integrity …. a man of his word, but he was a nut job,” said Lenny Clarke. Cue footage of Crimmins shooting a TV show. He stops filming to verbally attack people talking too loud behind him.
In an earlier shot, Crimmins is at a podium spitting a political speech at a crowd. In another shot, he’s laying into an audience member during a comedy show, and it’s uncomfortable.
Then, like a flip of a coin, from the same old footage, Crimmins says: “Everybody should just treat each other well because there’s a lot of pain out there. And comedy has nothing to do with alleviating it. It’s just a distraction, man.”
Director Goldthwait goes further in the foreshadowing — teeing up interviews with Crimmins’ childhood friends and his sister, and even if this guy doesn’t seem funny, the intrigue is heavy.
Present-day Crimmins is introduced in his secluded backyard. He’s chopping wood, he’s drinking beer by his fireplace. The camera pans past Crimmins’ numerous peace awards with voiceover of his nonfamous friends: his mechanic, his neighbor, all spouting how wonderful he is.
And his magnetism is clear through outtakes of Crimmins setting up for a shot outside his childhood home, hearing him deliver dry and hilarious conversational lines. He doesn’t seem intimidating like the shouting man on the old footage.
He weighs in on his hometown, “Skaneateles is an Indian word that means beautiful lake surrounded by fascists …. It’s changed over the years; a lot of the fascists have died and new people have moved in,” he says, with angelic background music, and you kinda wanna be his friend.
“Call Me Lucky” launches into the man. Here are some pros: Crimmins’ start of a Boston comedy club, new footage of him doing standup, anecdotes of an acid trip set to animation. All of this is a greatly paced setup for a huge, but not out-of-left-field turn into the root of Crimmins’ rage. Then later, his obsession, his advocacy, then his humanness.
And if unfamiliar with him or his work, what’s disclosed is a deep-cutting doozy.
“Call Me Lucky” is super intimate and uncompromising, it’s painful even, but the journey into the dark recesses of this man’s past and present is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Its personal impact is a testament to Crimmins, who notoriously shares all, and to the director and their shared relationship. (An old clip played during the credits shows Crimmins yelling on stage, “Hey Goldthwait, you suck,” before chugging a beer.)
And props to the director, who nabbed tons of interviews with a huge variety of people. The shots are beautifully and skillfully composed. It can’t be easy to mix such extremes in comedy and tragedy, but it somehow works in “Call Me Lucky.”
After a very serious section of this film and Crimmins’ past, there’s a perfectly timed transition into a scene of Crimmins on stage during a Billy Bragg show.
Wearing dark sunglasses and gripping drumsticks, Crimmins dances with abandon, his curly hair flailing in the air. He stops at the mic to deliver a punchline in the middle of the set. “It’s the equivalent of a guitar solo,” says Bragg, with a smile. And seeing this silly side of the man is illuminating.
“I think the important thing about Barry is his connection with trying to make the world a better place,” says Bragg. And this regard for Crimmins, his idiosyncrasies, his passion, his uncompromising humor and heart is prevalent in “Call Me Lucky.”
And Crimmins’ sister, Mary Jo Smith, shares her insight into this surviving comedy pioneer: “Half the reason why Barry is so funny is a gesture of healing.” If healing parallels humor, then “Call Me Lucky” is a testament to both. It’s worth a watch.
“Call Me Lucky”
Starring: Barry Crimmins, David Cross, Bobcat Goldthwait
Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Rating: NR (strong, graphic language, references to sex abuse)
Available: Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, iTunes, Netflix Instant, Vimeo, VUDU
More info: callmeluckymovie.com