A week ago, Louis CK released “Whatever Threatens You,” the first-ever stand-up comedy special by Barry Crimmins, some 35 years after Crimmins first arrived in Boston and helped cultivate the greatness that that city’s comedy scene has birthed.
How’s life been for Barry Crimmins this past week?
“Uh, eventful.” Crimmins chuckles, calling me from his home in upstate New York. “I’ve gotten through it.”
Did the process happen how Louis CK described it in his letter to fans upon releasing your special? Crimmins confirmed that on the night Bobcat Goldthwait’s wonderful documentary about Crimmins, Call Me Lucky, premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, he spoke with CK, who told him, “I want people to know about you.” Crimmins added: “He loves Boston comedy and respects my work, and you know…I’d been overlooked a bit in terms of getting my piece of work out there, so he very generously donated his time, work and resources to make this special.”
They filmed “Whatever Threatens You” in Lawrence, Kan., this July.
What took so long, anyhow?
“I was very close to doing a thing for a major cable network, the major one in the late 1980s,” Crimmins recalled.
But someone who was working with Crimmins at the time — a guy Crimmins declined to name — sabotaged his chances. “I did a show one night in Stitches (in Boston), and everyone who works for the network, I was told the whole table was dying laughing,” Crimmins recalled. “So it takes me about four, five minutes to get to my dressing room, and the (network) guy is walking out backwards, hands out, and the guy is saying, ‘And that’s why you’ll never see Barry Crimmins doing a special on your network!”
Crimmins said he also trash-talked him behind his back to other comedians, telling them Crimmins hated their acts. “I’m sure this person still thinks he did the right thing,” Crimmins said, and though he’s still yet to make peace with him, figures that guy was just acting how he did because he “was in a tough spot” at the time.
Crimmins has always had a soft spot for other comedians, and they for him.
Even if this new comedy boom of the 21st century has created some perplexing “problems” for the industry.
Among them: How comedians whine about political correctness that doesn’t exist, especially when compared to comedy of the 1980s, and about how comedy used to be the refuge for “iconoclasts,” now overrun instead by “lemmings.” He jokes in “Whatever Threatens You” that some 35,000 people in New York City are currently describing themselves as comedians. “It’s like a refugee crisis!”
One-third of the way into his hour, Crimmins jokes about touring in preparation for this special, and working with various opening acts.
“It’s so nice to be in front of a big, full crowd. I’ve been out touring for the better part of a year, playing a lot of not-big crowds. These comics go on in front of me. What do they do to this small crowd? They tell them they suck, ‘cause they’re a small crowd. (titters) And I say to them, ‘That’s who’s here!’(laughter) Who sucks are the people in the empty seats. (laughter, applause) This would completely blow (applause) without these guys. And then they harass the eight people that are there. They give people who are there, ‘Hey, nice shirt!’ And if some guy has a bad shirt on at my show, I figure he had a choice. He could’ve either bought a new shirt, or come to my show. So thanks a lot, man! Thank you.”
Now that “Whatever Threatens You” has come out, Crimmins can report happily that his own gigs and opportunities already have improved. “There’s been a few things that have come in, but nothing that we can’t keep up with,” he told me. “In getting ready to do this, I needed the work, so I was less selective. Now I can pick my spots a little better. I wouldn’t relish having to go on the road for another year, constant. I’ll go out on weekends here and there but it won’t be constant on the road.”
Is he happy that he waited until after Call Me Lucky, all of these years later, to put together an hour on video?
“I think I’m a better comic now. I’m happy it came out now,” Crimmins said. “It looks beautiful. It looks more like a concert film…and in the end, there’s not a lot of people in my stage of the game to get to make these.”
Even just waiting until 2016 gave him the benefit of working through his own personal demons, which happened through the process of making his documentary.
“This special would have been shot before I had an awareness and done a lot of work on my issues, so I’m glad for that, too,” he told me. “At the time, my act was about taking a break for every downtrodden person, and then when it turned out I was one of them,” he said, “I chose not to be a hypocrite about it and my work is better for it.”
Speaking of hypocrites, I’d be remiss if I didn’t get Crimmins to share a few more thoughts about politics in this final week before the 2016 presidential election.
“I think it’s pretty funny, because Trump’s so cheesy that they managed to wander into an important issue. I’ve been annoyed about the issue of his sexual creepiness, and they say, ‘Can’t we go back to talking about important issues?’ Well, if a woman going to work safely isn’t important, I don’t know what is,” he said. “People can’t be safe in our workplaces and our schools and our religious institutions, then we don’t have anything resembling homeland security.”
We did stumble into some serious talk about sexual assault, didn’t we?!
Crimmins said he doesn’t want to be dogmatic about politicizing it, since he acknowledges Hillary has her husband’s own “cheesebally” history on the subject, although he wonders how anyone, particularly if they’ve been victims of sexual assault (which includes him), could stand by Trump. “I do know that I wouldn’t have shown up two days after that tape came out, even if my perpetrator’s brother or cousin wasn’t running for office, I wouldn’t show up there anywhere in the same space as someone like that,’ Crimmins said. “All I can say is what I would or wouldn’t do. I respect everybody with one of these stories to tell. But I wouldn’t stand next to a guy who was saying the things he was.”
Crimmins jokes in “Whatever Threatens You” — the title comes from his retort to a radio jock asking Crimmins if he were gay for supporting an AIDS benefit — that his show business career has suffered relative to others because he has the capacity to feel shame and embarrassment. He shouldn’t have to worry about either of those things now with the release of this hour.
“I don’t,” he said. “I feel very proud about this.”