R.I.P. Ian Cognito, English comedian dies onstage from heart attack

English stand-up comedian Ian Cognito died Thursday night while performing a gig onstage in the town of Bicester, suffering a fatal heart attack. Cognito was 60.

In this clip of Cognito from 2012, when he was 53, he joked about his declining health, aging, and followed a rape joke by saying, “Don’t care. Never been on telly. Fuck it!”

Andrew Bird, the host and owner of the Lone Wolf Comedy Club in Bicester, told the BBC that Cognito had complained of ill health before taking the stage, and even joked onstage: “Imagine if I died in front of you lot here.” Then he did just that.

Born Paul Barbieri in 1958, he took the stage name Ian Cognito and began performing professionally in 1985 in London. Over the ensuing decades, he earned a reputation for getting himself banned from comedy clubs for his behavior on and offstage. Becoming more or less, well, incognito.

As The Guardian reported on him in 2002:

Unlike many iconoclastic comics, Cognito actually lives the life he talks about. He’s one of the few entertainers who really has thrown a TV out of a hotel bedroom window. “I’m constantly in trouble,” he once confessed. “Booze is my problem. I just can’t seem to get the better of it. I’ve done some stupid things, and I’m not proud of that fact. The telly out of the window incident happened because room service was late. That’s drink for you. I’ve made some terrible mistakes.”

“There’s no doubt I’m one of the best comedians this country’s got, and I don’t get the recognition I deserve,” Cognito told Fest in 2013 before returning to Edinburgh Fringe after an 18-year absence. “It’s the comedy business’s loss. They don’t want to admit this geezer exists, under the radar or playing the game differently to everyone else. And I have to believe that, otherwise I’d fucking top meself.”

Here’s an earlier set from Cognito at the Glastonbury Festival in 1999, the year Time Out named him stand-up of the year in England.

And here’s Cognito even earlier back, without the rag or the guitar.

Rest in peace, Ian.


Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

View all posts by Sean L. McCarthy →