Barry Crimmins was not one to keep quiet. His cure for evil was comedy — assaults of hilarious outrage against those who despoiled the world and crushed innocence with impunity — and he took down any heckler who disagreed with his Swiftian indignation. But even those who loved him feared that his rage verged on the unfair and unbalanced. There was more to it than just politics and his semi-facetious desire to overthrow the government and end the Roman Catholic Church.
In “Call Me Lucky,” director Bobcat Goldthwait takes his time revealing the mystery — well known to comedy fans in Boston from newspaper coverage and Crimmins’s own performances and self-penned articles. He revisits much of the material (and archival footage) of “When Stand Up Stood Out,” Fran Solomita’s 2003 documentary about Boston comedy in the ’80s, a time when Crimmins provided then-struggling comics such as Steven Wright, Lenny Clarke, and Goldthwait himself with venues at his two clubs, Ding Ho and Stitches. He also offered financial and moral support — and stinging criticism.
Goldthwait’s talking heads — enough talent to launch a Comic Relief benefit — joke about Crimmins’s volatility but are unanimous in praising his talent, generosity, and rectitude. The adulation gets a little sticky until the film reaches Crimmins’s revelation about his being sexually abused when he was 4.
Then “Call Me Lucky” lives up to the irony and accuracy of its title, and the film notches up its dramatic intensity — including a horror movie-like return to the scene of the crime — without losing its black comic edge. After the disclosure of his victimization, Crimmins crusaded against clergy child abuse and Internet child pornography with a ferocity that endangered his mental and physical health.
At times “Lucky” seems more a eulogy than a celebration of a living artist. Everyone speaks about Crimmins in the past tense. He is alive and seen chopping wood at his Vermont home, still funny and mad as hell.
CALL ME LUCKY
Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait.
Starring Barry Crimmins.
At Somerville Theatre. 105 minutes.
Unrated (hilarious and subversive language, smoking, drugs, drinking, and stand-up comedy).