It's been a good while since I've been intimidated by someone that I've had the opportunity to interview, and while this conversation has it's fair share of awkward moments, I decided to upload it unaltered due to the broad amount of valuable information. While we do touch on Bobcat Goldthwait's latest feature, which Crimmins is the focus of, Barry also gives some sound advice for newcomers to the comedy scene and shares his thoughts on a career in politics.
I've been a fan of Bobcat Goldthwait for a while now, and while I only knew little of Crimmins prior to the film, I am pleased to have had the opportunity to speak to the man who has much to say about a lot. While his heckler exchanges are somewhat scary to an outsider, Crimmins is an exceptionally sweet man. Which is something you'll quickly notice throughout the communication below.
Jessie Hobson: How did you respond when Bobcat approached you to do the film?
Barry Crimmins: I said sure.
BC: Yeah. It's Goldthwait, you know. He wants to make a movie about you, you let him make a movie about you. He makes really good movies, you know. So, if someone wants to make a movie about you, having a close friend who makes really good movies, decide on his own that he wants to make a movie about you and Robin Williams is saying, “Yeah that’s a good idea.” You know, I’m not exactly, “Hey guys, let’s rethink this.” It’s like “Sure, let’s go.” Plus it gives me a chance to hang out with him a lot.
JH: How could you say no to that, right?
BC: Yeah, well all he does is work. So, when he’s working on my thing I got to hang out with him a lot for over almost a two year period. It was great cause, you know, I miss him when he’s always working on other stuff.
JH: Have you seen his other stuff? Like, did you watch Willow Creek?
BC: Yeah, all his stuff is great. I mean, I don’t, I’m the last guy to set a breakdown found footage movie. Like I know, before we go any further I’ve never seen any Star Wars or Star Trek, so ya know. But I’ve heard about it a lot because I’m a standup comedian and those fuckers won’t stop talking about it, but anyway.
JH: So, speaking of going to the movies. I know you did a recent event with Joe Lynch in Syracuse. He tells this story about how I guess you went to go see the movie at The Aero in LA. He tells a story about how you’re trying to get into the Call Me Lucky screening. The booth lady stops you and I guess you pointed at the poster and say that “This is my movie.” You said, “What the fuck!” and just kept walking.
BC: Yeah, probably. That’s happened a few times. It’s like “Show us your identity! You got a picture ID? Yeah, look at the fucking wall. Let me in. I don’t want to talk to you anymore, but thanks for helping with the other people.”
JH: Yeah, he refers to you as a force of motion, Joe Lynch did.
BC: Well that’s nice, and he is too.
JH: Was there anything special about the screening in Syracuse or were you just...
BC: Well, I mean it was home for both me and Goldthwait. I would rather see the three hardest places to play in ascending order are L.A., New York and your hometown. I mean they’re all sort of guaranteed to have some sort of beatings thrown into them, the worst being your hometown. And so we got in and out of it pretty unscathed and it was good. We tried to be polite to everybody and I think we basically succeeded. You got family there and got friends, you know they’re all over. And not only did I have to worry about mine, I had to worry about Bob’s and back at his same deal. That was a two direction road. But it went well and it was funny. You know, we had a lot of laughs because it was there and there were just certain things that were very much like being there. And Joe went to SU so there was that too.
JH: And that’s the whole reason why I was I guess so interested in seeing the movie and interviewing you or speaking to you because he talks so highly of this film, and it's like every time I listene to his podcasts it’s like “You guys have to go see this film, you guys have to go see this film.” So, if anything, it’s a huge push for the film because every time I turn on the damn podcast I’m getting it pushed down my throat, which I love. It really works out because I actually, I really loved the film. Everything was edited so well and because of which, the narrative really comes alive.
JH: So do you have any thoughts on the completed project or were there times where you just really had to trust Bobcat’s vision? Or were you just along for the ride the entire time?
BC: Well, you know, I mean, I’m not a complete dope. I probably had a little influence about making sure that certain people were talked to, but then after that it’s my life and it’s Bob’s movie. I knew with budget constraints and time constraints, the last thing they needed was a milling narcissistic subject of the film. So I just trusted my friend and the first time I saw it was at Sundance, I think my gamble paid off.
JH: Was the focus of the film always set or was that something that evolved over time?
BC: You mean was the focus of the film what? My surviving child abuse? Was the focus of the film always set? I mean, you’d have to ask him because again I didn’t... but I mean I knew, I mean, I basically said a lot of what I had to say. A lot of it ended up in the film, so and that was my part and distributing whatever it is that makes me different than other people, or whatever you know, I threw that in. Really, Bob had an idea and he realized it and I think that structurally he probably did it not the same from how he’d done a narrative. So he probably sort of, I mean. It wasn’t like he was looking for any groundbreaking or earth shaking stuff. He’s my old friend and I don’t keep secrets from so he knows what my life’s about. And so, basically, unless it was an insane thing that was some elaborate joke, I knew what he was going to land on. I knew he was really big on the AOL stuff.
JH: I was actually going to ask about that. What is your relationship like with AOL today? Is there anything going on?
BC: I mean they had us in to do some publicity with whatever their web content thing is and I said not jokingly, “I would still like to be refunded the money I spent on AOL that year. It was well over ten thousand dollars from 1995 dollars.” The amount of money they spent trying, ya know, the amount of money they spent on that lawyer in the picture I mean was a lot more than what I spent. And I cleaned up their quote unquote service, so why should I have been charged for that. They should have, if they were at all decent participant members of the corporate community. They would have said “Well, jeez this guy embarrassed us, but he was right and here give him, at least give him his fees back." You know, because I was proving that those child pornography traffickers, where the big thing was to them was the the second thing they talked to, talked about the most was how high their AOL bill was. If you follow the money, it became obvious and it became obvious because AOL was playing dumb. Because they were making a shit load of money. They won’t refund... and they have to keep my money too? Believe me, they squeezed every dime they got from those pedophiles. I don’t have any great use for them and I don’t care about the Huffington Post because to me writing isn’t a hobby, it’s something you get paid for.
JH: I understand. So, watching the film and looking back, that was probably my favorite scene in the film when you just fucking show them how it’s done, in the courtroom.
BC: Yeah, the guy was cocky. He was just cocky and I knew how to read an audience and he was thinking “Oh, here I am, this litigator... and this night club comedian is gonna...” and its like "Yeah, I’ve dealt with a couple hecklers too." He got carried out on his shield. So, that was good, but Goldthwait has gone on to find out apparently the guys not even a lawyer anymore.
JH: Oh wow, well there you go.
BC: Well, who knows, you know. Awful night in the ring in Vancouver, I don't know.
JH: Do you ever think politics will be an honorable career?
BC: No, I think politics is... I don’t trust anyone who wants to be in charge. I mean, government work can be a very okay career and very necessary, but I don’t need leaders. I’m not on a fucking field trip. I don’t need a leader. I need someone to really make sure that there’s justice, fairness and environmental sanity... and who is responsive to informed elector and not an engorged corporate sector and I don’t see that changing very quickly. Particularly with our incredibly narrow two-party system. I mean we don’t have a third party because corporations don’t want to write a third check.
JH: In the film, so this is perfect, you say you hate America and you hate comedy.
BC: Well I wouldn’t say I hate America, I love America. I love the land, I love it’s people. I’m from here. I just don’t think it's anything special that I like where I’m from. I think everybody pretty much likes where they’re from, wherever they're from. And it doesn’t make me somehow more moral or more decent. So, I don’t wrap myself in a flag or in irrational belief and mythology about my country when so much of it traces back to slavery and mistreatment of women and immigrants and massacres of indigenous people and so on and so forth. I mean, it’s just like the idea that we got it perfect and we’re the greatest ever, that's hooey! But do I love where I’m from? Sure, and that’s one of the reasons I’m still around. It’s not love it or leave it. I’m from here. The way I protect my freedom is by using them and criticizing what I feel is wrong. These idiots, what they do is they hide bad policy behind these poor kids in the military who then they may call heroes, and then when you question the policy they say you’re going after the heroes. Well I’m not going after the hero... “They’re over in Afghanistan fighting for your freedom.” Hey, if I leave my freedom lying around in Afghanistan, I'm an asshole alright. I belong in shackles. My freedom is here, I use my freedom here, and among the other things I use my freedom for is to say, “Don't send those poor kids over to Afghanistan!” I don’t know if that answers your question...
JH: It does, it does. It definitely hit on what you think about America, so that’s out of the way. But what about comedy? Do you have any comments on today’s comedy?
BC: I do what I do and I hope everybody else does the best they can with what they’re doing. I like a lot of it. I love a lot of comics. A lot of my inner social circle are my buddies and comics. I don’t think like in terms of it per se that much, because I just have to do what I do. I have to put my act together. The more I’m doing my act, the less I’m paying attention to anyone else because... I just want my palate cleansed and I want to focus on what I’m doing. I wish everybody well. I think the alternative stuff that’s going on is quite cool. Although, in some cases it’s sort of trust fund babies own the stuff and so the sensibility in anywhere is hip, their attire might trick you into believing. A lot of it still is people hustling like I hustled them a long time ago. There’s some good stuff happening that’s broken away from the sort of structured chain comedy stuff that, a lot of people like that. Good for them. A lot of people like professional wrestling too, in fact a lot of the same people, and I trust in the professional wrestling. But that doesn’t mean I’m even going to study it enough to find reasons to shit on it. It just looks like it's aphobic passion plays and stuff. I’m just not interested in it and plus everybody who does it seems to die when they’re about forty-two from their heads blowing up or something. I’m not interested in it, but I know I’m not gonna start a one man crusade against the same thing, that predictable structure. I mean I see the way that these things in comedy clubs is really very stupid. They put the least experienced and probably in terms of just sort of “rubber meeting the road” least talented person opens the show and sets the tone for the evening. And then you get somebody on who might really be sort of ambitious or whatever, so they’ll go out and pander and the next thing you know you got Charlie Parker is trying to follow Metallica. Well no knock on Metallica... your ears aren’t exactly there to hear Charlie Parker after the bleeding from Metallica. And that happens again and again in the chain comedy. Now there are some very hip comedy clubs too, that are sort of halfway between... they’re just run by people who are hip. And it just really comes down to who they book and the kind of acts they book. I mean, because for me, the problem in comedy clubs has always been you get in as much trouble for exceeding expectations as you do not meeting them. It’s like this guy talking about stuff! Yeah, okay fine. And I get it, that’s their place where they go for that, and so, I just have to be... it’s good because it made me have to hustle my whole career. I didn’t just get into some comfortable niche where, you know, I book for thirty weeks a year at these places and really just be even more predictable. I am the better I’m gonna do. Almost like coming with your own laugh track.
JH: I live in Houston actually and I have a lot of friends involved in the comedy scene down here.
BC: Oh yeah, I know a lot of those guys, Jimmy Pineapple... who’s down there?
JH: Well, Bobcat was just here and he did like a house show at one of my friend’s house. Probably about three weeks, four weeks ago.
BC: My buddy Scooter works at the Pacifica Station down there and... I think Carl Faulkenberry. Is Carl Faulkenberry around down there now? Andy Huggins. He’s not doing any more, but Tracy Wright is down there, a lot of those guys. Really, even though it’s produced such magnificent talent like my buddy Bill, the city, it deserves to be mentioned with Boston and San Francisco. The three sort of the cities that really produced a shit load of talent. It was basically because the worker sees the means of production.
JH: They’re trying. They are opening up like a new place. It’s going to be exclusively comedy and typically more of that kind or like a Boston environment, kind of on the outskirts. Anyways, I am curious about if you had any kind of advice. I’m sure you get this a lot, but like quick advice for the new guys or anyone trying to come up.
BC: It’s simple, real simple. Let’s go back to the basics. I mean literally, as corny as it sounds, learn your craft. Then when you break the rules, you know what rules you’re breaking. I break all kinds of rules, but I know what I’m supposed to be doing. Know how to do that and then, you know, you can’t abandon the game plan until you have one. Know what you’re doing, be original. Just be original, suffer with it, with your own stuff. You know, if you’re writing these fifteen thousandth Viagra joke, you probably work as a middle in places where you really come with your own laugh track. They know when to laugh at the Viagra joke. “I’m not calling a doctor, I’m calling a hooker.” Great, you know, tremendous, that’s brilliant! I’ve only heard that four billion times. If you want to play the audience that wants to hear the four billionth thing, then go ahead and do that shit. If you want to be original and maybe stand out, then it’s going to be a tougher road. But learn the basics and here’s one basic I’ll tell you about, “Take the fucking stage.” And what that means is you walk out, you get introduced as this funny guy, you don’t walk out and go, “Hey, how you folks doing tonight?” because that’s a rhetorical question to however many people are in the audience. You get that many different thoughts, you scattered them at that moment. And right after they say “Hey, this guy is really funny.” Then they bring you up and you go “Hi, how are y…” sort of like, nothing. Instead of walking out with a joke that’s pissy, that’s eight seconds long or something and gets a big laugh. And then you have utilized that platinum moment when you’re first introduced. So many people don’t do that, it’s incredible. Now when you’re some famous guy, whatever and you gotta deal with the crowd really roaring for you for a while, whatever goes on, that shifts, but you’ve already sort of had that point. They’re already platinum because they're there, really there to see you and if you know what you’re doing, you take it from there and you actually have to kind of quail things. But for a new act man and most acts, take the stage and be funny as soon as you can and if possible have it be germane to the circumstances that you’re all in. "I was here last summer and the air conditioning was broken. They promised to get it fixed..." The club is freezing and, "They have!" Everyone’s all “Wow, he noticed it's cold in here.”
JH: Good advice, that’s really good advice and that’s definitely something that stuck out with you when I was watching the movie. The one joke that I fucking loved was the one like “I’ve been watching my health lately” and you take a big ole swig of your beer and you have your fucking cigarette. I fucking love that, jeez, it’s so... so simple.
BC: That one has something to do with the balls to stand there and really take a beat early in the show. Before you’ve done anything, but still you know it’s all leading to this big laugh. And so that’s the first thing they get from that point, “Hey, this guy’s good!” And you’re on your way. They’re gonna give you more latitude. You’re like turning down gold bullion to not take advantage, avail yourself at that moment. So, that’s been my piece of advice for awhile now.
JH: So, the scene that was kind of tough for me to watch was the scene where you were going in on that guy, the heckler. Was that tough for you to re-watch, or were you just like fuck him?
BC: Well, I mean, to tell you the truth there just wasn’t that much footage of me, and I did a lot better job on hecklers than that. That was also just like a three year period when I really hammered them and then I just kind of called on my friend. Paul Kozlowski suggested to me the idea of just using them to death and he was right. I just figured out making it as boring... what I hated was I also had a lot of new material. And so what was really frustrating was you can’t get to it and then you deal with some asshole, everyone remembers it and thinks it’s really funny. After the show that’s what they want to talk about, not all the new shit you just wrote, that’s really important to you, that’s about something. They’re talking to you about dealing with the millionth asshole. Well, at that point, when I realized that, I just really stopped. I changed the kind of attention I gave them and basically I would just agree with them and then turn it into a boring interview with the heckler. Where I was just really nice, but it was like watching some boring conversation on a street corner. After those shows, they remembered the shit I wanted to talk about, so I made that shift way over thirty years ago.
JH: Yeah, at that particular scene, that’s where the film started to change. On the audio commentary, you and Bobcat are talking at the beginning and you say like the scene where you’re talking and yelling at the mic, Bobcat's like, “Yeah, this is like some of the only footage that we had of you, so we had to use it.” So, that makes perfect sense knowing that was probably one of the times that you really dug into someone really good.
BC: No, I mean I dug into a lot of them. That was just actual footage of me doing it, but it wasn’t anything partic... it didn’t have a lot of the greatest hits in there like “I keep forgetting that tonight’s show is completely based around you random dickhead or... I have the same question everyone else has, why would someone like you want to draw attention to yourself or... I tried to ignore you cause I figured if you wait long enough the batteries on your dildo will wear out." All that shit worked great, you know, but I stopped... I retired. I suppose, you never know. I can’t remember saying any of those things on stage in decades.
JH: You mentioned earlier that a lot of the guys and people obviously in the movie are people you work with or people that look up to you. A lot of them, you inspired them. Is there anyone in particular who’s movie you would interview for?
BC: Well, there still hasn’t been a great movie made about Mark Twain. Maybe we should start there. He’s my biggest... without question, by hundreds of furlongs, the leader, the person I’ve learned the most from. There’s so many others that are just great. Just appreciate their work: WC Fields, Chaplin and Keaton. There’s stuff about comedy, people either get it or they don’t. When you really kind of know what they’re doing and the obstacles they’re overcoming. Like sort of presenting themselves overcoming obstacles, it’s something that just clicks if you know how to do it, if you’re in, it’s really cool. So, I take great inspiration. I can see a kid and go “Oh, really good!” I’m rarely like, “I wish I’d written that.” It’s like, “Someone else has written it, good for them.” I don’t... I’m not desperate for material. I need an editor. I have long tons of material, it’s just sequencing it and segueing it that is really the hardest work for me. I can write jokes all day. That’s easy, but putting it together in a way that makes it decent, flowing, spoken word effort is the real work for me. But my act changes so much so. Like every time I’m going out to at least do a new run, there’s one day where at the beginning of it I’m up six or seven hours just sequencing everything in my act. You know, shoehorning things in and pulling stuff out, whatever. It’s a lot of work, but it's interesting. And it’s nice and it’s work that you can see if you did it right pretty quickly. Unless some other thing happens which often does to comics where there’s just shit that’s beyond your control, physical stuff. Bad sound or a poorly placed stage. Or, you walk into the room and everybody’s sitting in a booth that’s got border between it and the next person. It’s just not physically right, it’s a very delicate thing. When you get a room that’s right, it makes a big difference. That’s why the Dean Hall was so great, The Holy City Zoo and some of these other famous rooms. They weren’t great rooms by mistake, you know, stages in the right place. They just had it right.
JH: This is kind of coming back to the movie here. At the very end, what’s the deal with James Franco?
BC: That was Goldthwait’s joke. I had nothing to do with that. You know, I tweeted James and he was polite, very nice and I thanked him for doing it. But that was Goldthwait’s gag. He was originally thinking of doing a narrative film and so it was a little nod to his “Who do you get to play Crimmins?” And then Franco did a very funny turn, and I’m fine with it. But that was a surprise that he was holding.
JH: I think it works for everybody. Well alright, I think I have one more for you and that’s it. Do you still drink? Do you still drink beer?
BC: Yeah, I still drink beer.
JH: Well I noticed in the film, you always had a beer in your hand.
BC: Well I mean if the audience is drinking, I’m certainly not going to not drink. I mean I’m home now. There’s probably not a beer in my house, I don’t know. Twain said, “When the others drink, I like to help.” So, that’s basically it.
JH: Exactly. My question is, is there a beer of choice?
BC: Well no, the problem with that these days is, you know, I’ve been drinking beer for a long time before all of this craft beer came along and while a lot of it’s really good, it’s like three times as strong as the beer I used to drink. But I drink it as fast as that beer. For that reason, I like to drink beers we drank when we were down in Nicaragua like Tecate or something like that. Just stuff that reminds me of the stuff, I tend to not drink like beer that has ads forth that implies that if you drink this beer women are just going to run off and put their bikinis on and come back jiggling towards you.
JH: That’s every beer now, especially down here. Well, that’s all I got for you man. I just wanted to say thank you for being. you know, the strong voice and I definitely enjoyed the film.
BC: You know there was no, I mean really, it wasn’t like this great moral choice or anything about what I do. I just have to live with myself that’s all and I would much rather risk the sane of others than be guaranteed my own self loathing. You know, I’m really kind of a coward. I’m more afraid of me than anybody.
JH: Well it was extremely powerful and if it’s any consolation...
BC: All praise and all hail Goldthwait.
JH: Already, I’m already there with you. But yeah, thank you man and it meant a lot. It’s extremely powerful.
BC: And it’s doing good and I hear good results from that because you know, I’m hearing from a lot of people that are also in the Head of Alumni Association. It seems to be helping them so that’s really redemptive.
JH: Well, there ya go.
BC: I got another call here, so is that good? You got what you needed?
JH: I did Barry. I appreciate your time, buddy. You have a great day.
BC: I’ll talk to you. Call anytime. Bye.
Need I say more? Call Me Lucky is available at most major retailers nationwide. Like Joe Lynch and I, Letterboxd lists it as one of the top documentaries of 2015. Don't let AOL win, check out the movie when you can.