'Call Me Lucky'
Over the last decade or so, squealing 1980s comedy icon Bobcat Goldthwait has unexpectedly become one of the most intriguing and even daring filmmakers of his generation. Through his bleakly comedic and emotionally sincere directorial efforts like ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ and ‘God Bless America’, Goldthwait has turned into a mature and accomplished artist with a unique voice. His latest film is a documentary about his friend and ’80s comedy pioneer Barry Crimmins. It just might be his finest directorial effort to date. Certainly it’s his most potent and powerful picture, easily one of the finest documentaries of the year.
Goldthwait’s film kicks off with a discussion of Crimmins’ place in the 1980s Boston comedy scene. The city was one of the beacons during the stand-up boom of that decade, a place where oddball talents would meet, combine, grow and snort mountains of cocaine. Crimmins emerged at the center of the storm. Unlike most of the young weirdoes competing for stage time, Crimmins was a grown man and politically minded. His act was an explosion of channeled rage against the world and all the injustices he saw. Obviously, that act didn’t prove to be quite as commercially successful for Barry as his younger contemporaries like Steven Wright or Bobcat himself. However, Crimmins was always true to himself, daring and smart. He created and hosted one of the most important Boston stand-up showcases of the era. It was in the back of a Chinese restaurant, but it was legendary.
The likes of David Cross, Marc Maron, Tom Kenney and Goldthwait himself all speak fondly of Crimmins during that opening segment. The filmmaker makes a case for Crimmins being one of the most undervalued and underappreciated stand-ups of his time. However, hints of deeper darkness run throughout. Just before the halfway mark, the doc takes a dramatic turn. One night in that heady, cokey ’80s comedy era, Barry got up on stage and admitted to being raped as a child. It changed perceptions of him and his life.
While Crimmins still performs stand-up occasionally, coming to terms with that truth publicly transformed him from a comedian with political activist leanings into a political activist who occasionally does comedy. He’s frequently involved with major protests and movements, but most famously has dedicated his life to tracking down internet pedophiles since the mid-1990s. That crusade changed him, eventually taking him all the way to the 1995 Senate Judiciary Committee, where he helped create laws and found the tactics used to hunt down internet child predators to this day. (See ‘To Catch a Predator’, et al.)
Obviously, Barry Crimmins is a pretty unique guy, and ‘Call Me Lucky’ is a pretty unique film. Goldthwait likely couldn’t have made it until now, having grown from the perverse absurdity of ‘Shakes the Clown’ into far more challenging and even dramatic work. He masterfully controls the tone of the documentary, fearlessly making jokes in dark places, while also sensitively holding back when necessary and delivering a more mature, honest and moving piece in the process. It’s structured playfully with animated interludes and hilarious outtakes. (At one point, Goldthwait leaves in a moment when he and his crew accidentally framed Barry against the wrong house while discussing his childhood home.) At the same time, Goldthwait stands back to merely observe his most powerful moments, like Crimmins’ sister recalling the night she discovered the abuse, or when the filmmaker brings Barry back down to a basement he’d rather forget.
The material in ‘Call Me Lucky’ is difficult, but Goldthwait’s film is never remotely sensationalistic or oppressively dreary. It’s just the honest portrayal of a fascinating man who overcame tremendous adversity for a number of life triumphs. If Crimmins had merely been an underrated cult comic or a groundbreaking political advocate, his story would be worthy enough of a documentary. That he’s both makes him worthy of this specific and wonderfully unique film. Stories like this can’t be manufactured. They arrive only from complex people that no artist could dare to create.
At this point in his career, Bobcat Goldthwait was just the man to make ‘Call Me Lucky’. He had the personal connections to paint a portrait of this world and the talent to skillfully blend so many tones and mountains of footage into a cohesive and moving piece of work. Somehow one of the funniest and most gut-wrenching documentaries of the year, ‘Call Me Lucky’ is not to be missed, if only because the world should have known the name Barry Crimmins long before now.