Bobcat Goldthwait and Barry Crimmins on “Call Me Lucky”

Standups open up about the tragedy & comedy in their new documentary

Aug 28, 2015 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Years before Bobcat Goldthwait trained his camera lens on Barry Crimmins and helped the elder comedian face his demons on film, the junior comic was rescued by his would be mentor after hoisting a small screen out a window. Today the two standups—who are promoting the documentary Call Me Lucky, for which Crimmins is the subject, and Goldthwait the director—can look back ruefully on that early 1980’s incident of debauched vandalism. Goldthwait is thoroughly embarrassed by the episode—which occurred when he was only 19—but can also remember it fondly as one of the many testaments to he and Crimmins' unique friendship.

“What’s not in the movie is how my behaviour had made me persona non grata, and rightly so, being an asshole from drinking,” Goldthwait says—during a recent joint phone interview with Crimmins for Under the Radar—of the scene in Call Me Lucky when he recalls chucking a friend’s television outside during both a raging blizzard, and an even more fearsome bout of boozing. And while a Bobcat boycott ensued throughout much of Boston’s comedy scene, Goldthwait says: “Barry never did that. In fact he reached out to me.”

At this point—and throughout many others moments in the interview—Crimmins finishes Goldthwait’s thought. In this instance he not only recalls offering his younger friend some cash but also a bit of advice: “He was my friend, and I loved him. So I told him ‘to get away from these assholes for awhile.’ My thinking was, ‘So he had a bad night. Help him get outta here and get his shit together.’ But I don’t know how differently I would’ve reacted if he’d thrown my TV and VCR out the window in a blizzard.”

Goldthwait laughs at that, before adding the reprieve, courtesy of Crimmins, eventually lead to the younger comedian’s much needed sobriety, which helped him focus on his work and eventually land successful roles like the rambunctious Zed in the Police Academy series and, years later, directing acclaimed comedies like World’s Greatest Dad, which starred Robin Williams. But Crimmins would rather not accept Goldthwait’s accolades, saying ruefully: “I tried to convince Bob, somehow, to keep drinking.”

“Right, he didn’t want me to quit all the way,” Goldthwait concurs with Crimmins, who is described by many fellow comics in Lucky as perpetually having a beer in hand. The director adds: “I eventually came back to Boston and said ‘I’m not doing drugs and drinking anymore.’ And Barry scoffed and said ‘I have a detox center at my house.’ Barry may have joked about it, but I thought it was important to show in the movie that he’s a guy that’s there for people, no matter what they’re going through.”

Now, Goldthwait is returning the favour with Call Me Lucky. Not only is the film a meticulously crafted dedication to Crimmins' life and impact on the alt-comedy scene—featuring intimate interviews with standup peers like David Cross, Marc Maron, Patton Oswalt, and more; grainy archival footage of Crimmins’ most biting bits and routines; gorgeously shot scenes of the elder comedian chopping wood at his oasis-esque upstate abode; and even hilarious animated sequences of Crimmins squaring off with none other than The Pope. Even with all those attributes, the film’s greatest moments document how Crimmins vied for the rights of sex abuse victims, and came to terms with his own childhood rape and near suffocation by visiting the very dingy basement where that attack occurred.

“It’s cathartic, but it’s also a continued responsibility that I knew would come with the territory,” Crimmins says of not only addressing abuse head on in the film, but also meeting fellow victims who were better able to cope after seeing the comic’s candour and courage onscreen. He adds: “It’s really rewarding to meet people, and I knew there’d be a much bigger audience to this movie than most people anticipated. If it doesn't speak to you, it speaks to someone you know, someone you can’t quite figure out. Hopefully it helps you realize that their sanity lies at the source of their problem. If you thought their behaviour was crazy, hopefully you’ll see it’s the most they could do to survive.”

Call Me Lucky also documents that aspect of Barry’s life—the abrasive social consciousness of his jokes, his hard drinking and frequently cantankerous nature offstage and, above all, his tireless evidence gathering in late 90’s chatrooms founded by child pornographers, before testifying in congress about AOL’s lack of regulation in regards to those digital predators.

Those moments make Call Me Lucky grippingly dramatic and deeply moving.The apt addressing of such broadly social, and deeply personal, issues makes Goldthwait’s film one of the most important documentaries of the decade. But the director’s greatest feat of all is his refusal to succumb to that bleakness. Instead he nimbly depicts both the thoughtful melancholy and fierce humour that have comprised Crimmin’s life. Indeed, it is a film that is bound to make audiences weep during its most harrowing moments, while also leaving them cackling as they watch Crimmin’s hilarious triumphs. It’s a thorough portrait of the elder comedian at his utter worst and very best.

A fitting example of Call Me Lucky’s funniest moments occurs early on, before the heart wrenching accounts of abuse, during a string of interviews where fellow comics sing Crimmins’ praises. One of those standups and longtime friends is Jimmy Tingle, who recalls Crimmins advising him to “make sure your act isn’t derivative of other comedians.” Tingle then adds, with a grin: “That’s the first time I’d heard the word derivative.”

When asked by Under the Radar if Crimmins gave Goldthwait similar advice, the junior comic, whose is known for his surreally offbeat bits, laughs and says: “Barry certainly couldn’t ever say my act was derivative.”

Without missing a beat, Crimmins counters: “We were up for the same character in Police Academy, although I eventually got cast in Police Academy 14,” he says snarkily of the critically derived film series and its lengthy, diminishing run of sequels.

Goldthwait goes on to consider whether Crimmins ever offered him the kind of pointed critiques that Tingle mentions in the documentary. Eventually the director recalls: “Later on, when I started doing HBO specials, he would challenge me and say: ‘Hey that was a great point you made about x, y and z. But you were just bashing celebrates for no other reason than they are famous.’ I remember waiting for those phone calls, being a little nervous, even now, because what Barry thinks is so important to me. He has a great bullshit detector, and if he saw you doing something beneath what you could be doing, he’d point it out. And he still does.”

Crimmins then chimes in, with an all-but-audible grin: “I really didn’t like Bob’s answer there. But that’s okay Bob, we’ll talk about that later.”

The pair’s good natured ribbing and pointed honesty are more than apparent in the film, and Crimmins says that is part of the reason why it is so aptly named.

“It’s titled Call Me Lucky because of all that I managed to get through, how I was able to navigate that pain and recite it for people that needed to hear about it,” Crimmins says, adding: “And I also feel lucky because I have so many friends that love me, none more than Bobcat.”

***

Call Me Lucky is now playing in theaters and on demand. For more information, check out the movie's website



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