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‘Call Me Lucky’ examines life of comedian Barry Crimmins

Date: 10/1/2015

This week, we’ll look at a great documentary about a stand-up comic.

Currently streaming, soon on DVD: Call Me Lucky

I pride myself of being pretty aware of the stand-up comedy scene, but I hadn’t heard of Barry Crimmins until the screener of this outstanding documentary came across my desk.

Once I watched it I realized that Crimmins was at the beginning of the stand-up comedy wave of the late 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, he helped create it by being the man behind Stitches, a comedy club in the Ding Ho Chinese restaurant in Boston. There he helped launch the careers of Steven Wright, Paula Poundstone, Denis Leary, Lenny Clarke, Kevin Meany and the director of this film, Bobcat Goldthwait.

Crimmins’ own brand of comedy was unique. He structured his gags around what some might call a liberal point of view, but it was accompanied by an increasing anger.

His career path didn’t follow those of many other comics. He didn’t perform a lot on TV and he didn’t wind up with a sit-com.

Perhaps it was the angry nature of his act. There was a reason for his rage, though. Crimmins revealed onstage that a friend of his babysitter had repeatedly raped him as a small child. He had also suffered abuse and intimidation by his parish priest, a man who turned out to be a serial pedophile.

He became less a comic and more of a social and political activist. When he discovered in the early days of the Internet that pedophiles were maintaining chat rooms on America Online (AOL), he collected information, contacted law enforcement and testified before a Senate committee. He forced AOL to change its polices on chat rooms and the exchange of materials.

Goldthwait is one of my favorite directors as he takes chances with his dark, comic material. In many ways this is his most accessible film. It’s the story of a person with a great critical voice who eventually comes to understand himself.

The film starts as an examination and tribute to his anger political commentary but takes a left turn once it’s been revealed that Crimmins suffered horrific abuse. Goldthwait handles the story with great care and the film takes on a richness of story that one didn’t really think was there.

There is a great scene toward the end of the film in which Crimmins revisits his childhood home and goes into the basement where his abuse took place. He is clearly nervous, but he observes, “It’s just a basement.”

He adds that he doesn’t call himself a “victim,” but instead a “witness” of abuse.

This is a powerful and ultimately uplifting film.

Quick takes

If you’ve not seen “Mad Max: Fury Road” by now, do yourself a favor, go to the Red Box and bring it home. This high-octane reboot of the Mad Max franchise is a hoot.

Shot with a minimal amount of computer animation, the race across the desert in the near future seems real because the filmmakers used real vehicles and real stunt men and women. Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron are a great on-screen team.

Speaking of teams, the second Avengers movie “The Age of Ultron” will make its DVD debut this week. Although director and writer Joss Whedon knows his way around superhero epics, there are a lot of moving parts in this film and it seemed to repeat the basic formula of the first Avengers movie. It’s enjoyable but not as deeply as some of the other Marvel superhero films.