By Beth d’Aoust
VANCOUVER — A mere 38 hours after narrowly surviving a hit-and-run collision with an 18-wheeler en route to Nashville, Barry Crimmins was gracious enough to chat with us about life and comedy, in anticipation of his visit to Vancouver for JFL NorthWest this February. Crimmins had nodded off in the back seat of a rental car on tour when the rear tire of a semi-trailer smashed through his window. All passengers managed to escape relatively unscathed after spinning into a ditch as the driver sped off, but few would fault Crimmins had he taken a hiatus from comedy to decompress after such a harrowing experience. Crimmins is no stranger to trauma however, as he has spent a lifetime proving he is nothing if not resilient. After a few days rest he was back on stage, thrilling audiences with his uniquely irreverent blend of razor-sharp musings and impassioned tirades on politics, justice, and topics of substance.
A true “comic’s comic,” Crimmins is affectionately referred to by many as the godfather of the Boston comedy scene, having given life to two rooms where many legendary comics, such as Paula Poundstone, Stephen Wright, and Denis Leary got their start. It was not until the tremendous success of Bobcat Goldthwait’s critically-acclaimed 2015 documentary, Call Me Lucky, however, that Crimmins’ level of recognition shot to international status. Goldthwait’s film chronicles Crimmins’ extraordinary life of triumph over adversity. From relief work in Nicaragua to his collaboration with the US government in apprehending child pornographers at the onset of the internet, Crimmins has spent the past few decades putting humanitarian efforts ahead of both career and personal well-being, and only recent revelations have alerted him as to the toll of such valiant practices.
A survivor of horrific sexual abuse as a very young child, Crimmins spent years working through his own trauma, only to be burdened with an outpouring of stories like his own from kindred spirits online once he brought his story public. Crimmins refers to this time period as 23 years of “running a one-man, 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week, rape crisis centre…I didn’t believe I deserved to be healed until every single other person was healed,” confesses Crimmins. “I was just walking around with everyone else’s pain [and] was pulled back into the pit I was trying to pull everyone out of…So now I’m going to do a show about that [called] Atlas’ Knees, because I carried the weight of the world around for a quarter of a century and now I’m not.”
True to character, Crimmins is concerned about the future of marginalized peoples down south, in light of recently inaugurated President Trump’s divisive policies. Currently based in upstate New York, Crimmins actually empathizes with his right-wing neighbours who voted for Trump, professing, “Trump was just a census of self-loathing in this country. I don’t hate people who hate themselves. This guy is a bullying, domineering, intellectually bereft, patriarchal voice saying ‘what I say goes!’ And that’s just flat out abuse.” Combatting injustice, Crimmins urges people to “take it to the streets. Turn the revolution into your own little life. Listen to the people, stick up for the person being bullied at the office, stand up to the crap. Unite with other people. Understand that it takes more guts to be interdependent than to be independent.” A lifelong crusader for peace and justice, Crimmins insists that “the way to defeat Trump is with love because it’s a foreign substance that scares the shit out of him.” And with his impassioned call for unity, Crimmins brings a little laughter and lightness in times of uncertainty.
To witness Crimmins’ razor wit and poignant perspectives in person, head down to The Biltmore Cabaret on Thursday, February 23 at 7 p.m.Barry Crimmins, BC, Biltmore Cabaret, British Columbia, JFL Northwest