Barry Crimmins is a catalyst.
He turned a Chinese restaurant that featured country western music into Boston’s first viable venue for stand-up comedians. Without the Ding Ho, there might never have been a Steven Wright, a Jimmy Tingle, or a Denis Leary.
His was one of the first voices to rally against the Gulf War, and probably the only comic since Lenny Bruce who could get a laugh out of a breathless litany of 20th century war criminals.
His Senate testimony on the complicity of America On Line with the dissemination of child pornography and the establishment of chat rooms for baby rapists led to the arrests of over 100 sex offenders, as well as bringing the issue of child trafficking to the attention of national law enforcement.
“Call Me Lucky” is comedian Bobcat Goldthwait’s documentary on Crimmins’ life and times, the people he infuriated and inspired, the wrongs he tried to set right, and price he paid for shining the light of truth into the darkness of American ignorance.
The one thing Goldthwait’s film fails to do is show the world just how funny Crimmins is. The performance clips are too brief to give a complete sense of the comic genius by which he was so thoroughly and completely possessed. Neither does Goldthwaite share the range and extent of his career accomplishments, which include writing monologues for Dennis Miller before Miller transformed into a right wing psychopath.
Following an overview of Crimmins’ history in the annals of Boston comedy, “Call Me Lucky” settles into a somber exploration of his later years, during which he goes public with his memories of being raped as a child and minimizes his presence in the world of comedy in order to devote himself to the cause of abused children. Watching him chopping wood in the lonely chill of rural New England reminded me of Brian Wilson’s forlorn pursuit of his musical muse while his brother and the rest of the Beach Boys joyfully toured the world playing their old hits. There is always something indefinably sad yet inspiring about seeing an individual who has achieved popular success leaving it behind for a higher calling.
The saddest thing about “Call Me Lucky” is the possibility that it will be lost in the avalanche of documentaries that currently flood the market. That someone has finally documented Crimmins and that document may have only a marginal release is a regrettable reminder of the state of film exhibition today. Barry Crimmins should be a household name, and people who go through life without encountering him will be all the poorer for their missed opportunity.