An Examination of a Different Kind of Comedy Legend, ‘Call Me Lucky’ is Affecting Cinema

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Barry Crimmins might not be a household name to self-styled comedy nerds, but for a lot of comedians he was among the most important people in their lives. The life of Crimmins is examined in the lively documentary Call Me Lucky, directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. This big, brash comedian, who is frequently compared to Noam Chomsky, was instrumental in crafting a unique platform for comedians in the ‘80s, including Goldthwait. But this force of hilarity carried with him a certain darkness, a rage which he carried with him upon the stage. Call Me Lucky explores the tragic origins of that rage, but, more importantly, it chronicles how Barry Crimmins focused that rage towards injustice into tangible good for humanity. Goldthwait commits his subject to complete honest scrutiny, and has crafted a genuinely funny, heart-wrenching, and powerful documentary.

The film opens by establishing Crimmins’ place in the world of comedy. Through interviews with a wide variety of comedians, including Steven Wright, Margaret Cho, David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Lenny Clarke and many, many more, they paint a portrait of a comedian with a bold presence on the stage, hammering audiences with hard-left polemic comedy. Marc Maron refers to him as a “weird, mythical force.” But Crimmins wasn’t merely a stand-up, he was also key in establishing Boston as a hub for emerging comedians, turning a Ding Ho, a Chinese restaurant, into Boston’s premiere comedy club. Bobcat Goldthwait allows himself to enter the documentary as an interview subject along with his high school friend Tom Kenny, best known as the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants. The two recount how the approval of Barry Crimmins changed their lives, giving them confidence to pursue a life in comedy.

But the rage that helped define Crimmins’ onstage persona boiled over. During one set, Crimmins opened up about the horrible sexual abuse he suffered as a child. That’s when Call Me Lucky shifts into a heartbreaking portrait. Both Crimmins and his sister recall the horrific events of their youth. Had it not been for The Look of Silence, these scenes would be the most powerful within any documentary this year. As the film is breaking your heart, it takes a shift towards the inspirational as Crimmins refuses to allow his life to be defined as a victim. In the early days of the internet, specifically AOL, Crimmins began to research the casual nature that child pornography was passed about in chat rooms. When AOL refuses to act, Crimmins is called before a Senate subcommittee on child pornography. The archival footage of this hearing is tragically comic as a bunch of old white senators, including Chuck Grassley, brag about their computer illiteracy during a hearing about the trafficking of child pornography online. Strom Thurman, meanwhile, seems assured that the hearing is about keeping children away from pornography. Through this hearing, Crimmins was able to ignite the fires of change, and become a support beam for many victims of abuse.

Bobcat Goldthwait has established himself as a more than capable filmmaker with provocative films like World’s Greatest Dad and God Bless America, but those films couldn’t prepare viewers for such a strikingly well-made documentary. This is masterful storytelling in documentary form, as Goldthwait allows the real life story to unfold in a manner that can elicit laughs and tears in succession. Call Me Lucky isn’t afraid to explore the faults of Barry Crimmins, yet the film wants to also explore the causes of his faults, his rage, and his larger than life personality. It’s such a smart, nuanced portrait that conservative viewers who might take great exception to Crimmins’ critiques of Ronald Reagan and countless other conservatives will be wrapped up in a story about a man who refuses to be a victim, who channels his rage into good.

Call Me Lucky is one of the finest documentaries of the year. This is a film that carries with it the brutal honesty of its subject. Bobcat Goldthwait has constructed a film that can easily shift from gut-busting laughter to heartbreaking tears in a matter of moments. It also proves that Goldthwait isn’t merely adept at exploitative provocation, but is a top notch filmmaker capable of exploring complex subjects with honesty, humor, and heart. Call Me Lucky sheds light on an overlooked comedy legend, but refuses to portray Barry Crimmins as an overlooked comedian past his prime, or a man defined by the cruel abuses he suffered as a child; the film instead documents Crimmins as a man fed up by injustice of any nature, a man who won’t stand down to a fight, no matter the size of his opponent. You don’t need to agree with his politics to see that Barry Crimmins is a towering inspiration who just happens to be incredibly funny, just like Call Me Lucky.

Call Me Lucky opens in select theaters on August 7th. You can find more information on the movie’s official site. There will be a Q&A with Bobcat Goldthwait at The Frida Cinema on Sunday, August 9th following the 7:30 screening.

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