Call Me Lucky (2015) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Meet Barry Crimmins

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Documentary film “Call Me Lucky” presents a talented and passionate comedian who was also a complex and compelling human being. While it is engaging to observe the considerable talent and spirit of this rather obscure comedian, the documentary also powerfully shows us how he coped with a personal trauma in his life, and we cannot help but moved by that.

At first, the documentary has a bunch of interviewees tell us a bit about Barry Crimmins, an American stand-up comedian who is not known well even in US but has been respected a lot by his peers for good reasons. As shown from several archival footage clips in the documentary, he could be pretty abrasive and belligerent on the stage, but he was quite funny and hilarious thanks to his natural comic talent, and he also promoted and nurtured the talents of many other stand-up comedians including director Bobcat Goldthwait and Goldthwait’s close friend Tom Kenny.

Through Crimmins himself and his family members and friends, we get to know a bit about his early years. While growing in a conservative Catholic family living in Skaneateles, New York, Crimmins often showed his wild, funny side to others around him, and that aspect is exemplified well by one amusing episode during his adolescent years, which is hilariously depicted via an animation sequence in the documentary. When he and his several high school friends went to an outdoor concert held in Watkins Glen, New York, he happened to be struck by a lightening there, but he was quite excited as having a sort of psychedelic experience, and that was certainly a moment to be remembered by him and others for the rest of their life.

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Shortly after his high school graduation in 1971, Crimmins began his stand-up comedian career at a small place named Under the Stone, and he later moved to Boston around the 1980s. He founded his first comedy club in a Chinese restaurant, and that comedy club, named The Ding Ho, and another comedy club he subsequently founded, named Stitches, attracted many promising stand-up comedians such as Denis Leary and Paula Poundstone. Goldthwait places not only his old friends/colleagues but also himself in front of the camera, and all of them fondly remember how exciting their time with Crimmins was. While not suffering fools at all, Crimmins was also kind and supportive to his colleagues, and one of the interviewees in the film reminisces about when Crimmins gave him a brutal but honest and helpful advice at one point.

During his stand-up comedy performances, Crimmins often talked about politics and other social matters, and he surely had lots of things to talk about as being angry about the Reagan administration during the 1980s. While he was frustrated and exasperated a lot with the prevalent ignorance and complacency in the American society, his anger was sublimated into intense but funny moments on the stage, and he was also quite vocal about his thoughts and opinions even when he was not on the stage.

As observing how zealously Crimmins fought and protested against social injustices, we wonder what made him tick, and we soon come to get the answer during the second half of the documentary. During one stand-up comedy performance in 1992, he revealed to his audiences that he was raped by a man associated with his babysitter when he was a child, and everyone including his family members were certainly shocked and surprised by this revelation of his. After that point, he became all the more vocal about child abuse, and that led to his private investigation on online pedophilia during the late 1990s. Posing as a 12-year-old boy, he diligently collected many alarming evidences as operating in those deplorable online chat rooms for pedophiles, and he subsequently sent the evidences to authorities for stopping and exposing those despicable guys out there.

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However, Crimmins did not get much responses from the government. He was brought to the US senate hearing for explaining to senators why child pornography laws should be enforced on the Internet, but, as he bitterly points out via his voice-over, the senators did know much about computer technology, and many of them even showed their ignorance without any shame or hesitation while casually hurling superficial platitudes. When the lawyer representing a big online service company later came to present his argument in front of the senators, Crimmins virtually roasted that guy as sitting right next to him, and his following argument certainly impressed the senators more.

The documentary also shows Crimmins during his later years, and the most poignant part of the documentary comes from when Crimmins comes to revisit where his child trauma happened. As the camera calmly looks around that place along with him, he simply observes that he manages to survive that horrible moment (“It almost killed me, but I’m still here. So you can call me lucky.”), and we come to sense more of that psychological scar inside his mind.

I belatedly watched “Call Me Lucky” at last night although I heard about it in late 2015, but I am glad to report to you that it is worthwhile to watch for its many candid moments accompanied with some sharp sense of humor. Goldthwait did a commendable job of presenting his human subject with honesty and respect, and, considering Crimmins’ recent death early in this year, the documentary becomes more relevant than before. He was certainly funny and interesting, and you will not forget him easily after you watch this terrific documentary.

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