When you’re a comedian, doing benefits is part of the gig. Sometimes you’re helping strangers, and sometimes, like at next Tuesday night’s Stand Up to Cancer Benefit at Somerville’s Arts at the Armory, you’re helping fellow comedians. The show will benefit Helen Crimmins, wife of Barry Crimmins, one of the founding comedians of the Boston scene in the 1980s. The lineup of Crimmins’s contemporaries includes Bobcat Goldthwait, Lenny Clarke, Mike McDonald, Mike Donovan, Kenny Rogerson, Jack Gallagher, and host Tony V, as well as Eugene Mirman, Jim McCue, Carolyn Plummer, and Tawanda Gona.
Helen Crimmins is fighting stage four non-Hodgkins lymphoma. She has health care, but co-payments for her treatments are hefty. “It’s like a 22 grand a month co-pay,” Barry Crimmins says. “She’s completely liquidated her retirement funds. I’ve put everything I have into it. We just wouldn’t have a chance if it weren’t for the kindness and the largesse of others.”
The political satirist’s career had been on the ascent lately, with the 2015 documentary “Call Me Lucky” directed by Goldthwait and last year’s special “Whatever Threatens You.” But the treatments have kept him in the couple’s home outside of Chicago, writing and tweeting when he can. He likely won’t be able to attend the fund-raiser. “I’ve been staying here because I have to,” he says. “[Helen is] scheduled for at least two more months of chemo right now, and hopefully at the end of that they’re going to say, ‘OK, wow, you’re good.’ But if not, it could go on longer. Right now, it’s just open-ended and daunting.”
Comedians don’t have the luxury of taking a leave of absence or sick time. “We’re contract laborers,” says Tony V. “So if we don’t work a night, we don’t get paid.” He and McCue put the show together and found a lot of comedians who wanted to pitch in. “There are probably 188 comedians I had to say no to,” he says.
A lot of the old guard from Crimmins’s days in Boston wanted to be involved. “It’s all we know what to do. At heart, the core of us, back in the day, we’re just working-class guys and that’s our mentality,” Tony V says. “Somebody needs a casserole, you bring them a casserole.”
Barry and Helen Crimmins were married in August. They had known each other for a while, but got closer last spring when Barry went to Chicago to support Helen through her cancer treatments. He says he was feeling a bit self-involved and wanted to reach out. “I just decided to get out of my own way and come out here to help with a bag of groceries or something,” he says. “Just be a friend. And then one thing led to another.”
Not long into their newfound love, Helen received bad news about her cancer. “When we first fell for each other, we truly thought that she was finishing up chemo, and [was] going to be all right,” Crimmins says. “But she went in to sign off on that and got the terrible news that she had stage four lymphoma, which had returned after a decade or so. So now we’re scrambling to give her the best chance to live.”
Goldthwait, who has known Crimmins since the ’80s, was best man at the wedding and says Helen and Barry share some personality traits that will help them through tough times. “They’re both courageous,” he says. “They’re both fighters. It’s obviously been taking a toll on them.” The fund-raiser will be a rare stand-up appearance for him, as he has been focusing on directing films for several years. “I’ll definitely be coming out of retirement,” he jokes. “I’ll be doing my act from the ’80s.”
Crimmins has long been a proponent of single-payer health care and a critic of the health care industry. “We’ve heard from people who just said, ‘Well, we had to give up, we had to face that we couldn’t afford to keep my father alive, or my mother, or my daughter,’ ” he says. “That’s a pretty terrible thing, because some stockholder needs a summer home.”
He’s grateful he has famous friends to help him raise money. English comedian Robin Ince organized a fund-raiser in London in October starring Billy Bragg, Charlotte Church, Alexei Sayle, and Daniel Kitson, among others. That money came just in time to pay for Helen’s treatments in December. Crimmins is mindful that not everyone has his connections. “It really makes you think about the situation a lot of other people are in,” he says. “They don’t have Marc Maron plugging it on his podcast, or Judd Apatow pushing it. Goldthwait and Eugene and Patton [Oswalt]. When you don’t have that and you can’t get to millions of people, how do you do this?”
Crimmins says the show in Boston, which he calls his “artistic home town,” is a lovely holiday gift. “You can’t overstate what we’re up against here,” he says. “And there’s times when it feels lonely and desperate. To just know a bunch of people in almost nothing flat put together something like this for it, and to know that people will come out to support the show and support us, it means a lot.”
Stand Up to Cancer: A Night for Helen Crimmins
With Bobcat Goldthwait, Eugene Mirman, Lenny Clarke, Jimmy Tingle, Jim McCue, Carolyn Plummer, Mike McDonald, Mike Donovan, Kenny Rogerson, Tawanda Gona, and Jack Gallagher. Dec. 19 at 8 p.m., Arts at the Armory, 101 Highland Ave., Somerville. Tickets $20, www.bostoncomedyfest.comNick A. Zaino III can be reached at email@example.com.