JFL NorthWest, Vancouver’s comedy festival profiles – Barry Crimmins

Barry Crimmins.

If any of the comedians coming to this year’s JFL NorthWest are in a position to talk about the current political situation in the U.S., it’s Barry Crimmins.

An activist as well as a stand-up comic, the Boston-raised Crimmins is known for his acerbic and trenchant take on politics. An acknowledged influence on comedians Marc Maron and Patton Oswalt, he’s been honing on the stand-up circuit since the 1970s.

In the 1990s, he led a crusade against child porn on the internet. More recently, his old friend from the Boston comedy circuit Bobcat Goldthwait directed a documentary about Crimmins called Call Me Lucky (2015). In it, Crimmins talks about his own history of sexual abuse, and of being raped at the age of four.

We talked to Crimmins, who plays the Biltmore Cabaret as part of JFL Northwest Feb. 23, about the current political situation, why Vancouver is his kind of town, and touring with musician Warren Zevon.

Q: You recently tweeted, “I don’t know about you but I rather enjoy fighting fascism.” You’ve been fighting this fight for a long time. What do you say to people who might feel hopeless, or are experiencing fatigue?

A: Get out of your own way. I mean, take a look around and see who’s in worse shape than you are, at who’s even more in danger. And go and see what you can do for them. That way you’re slowly building a coalition of people behaving decently.

Trump calls up a lot of bullies who pushed a lot of people around. They don’t want to be lynched. So they join the lynch mob.

Q: One of your quotes is, “The problem with politicians is that they are people who want to lead in the first place…”

A: The line is, “I have a simple rule. Never trust anyone who wants to be in charge.” That’s a character flaw, as far as I’m concerned. Once in awhile you’ll hear someone say, “Well, no one else is going to do it.” Which is the kind of thing Bernie did last year.

But for the most part, there are very few exceptions to prove that rule. It’s a weird thing to want to be in charge. But it’s a weird thing to want to be led. I’m not on a field trip; I know how to go to the museum on my own.

Q: What have your experiences been like in Vancouver?

A: I know I’ve played it with (musician) Billy Bragg and with (comedian) Steven Wright. I always seem to go in there with some pretty good people so I’ve had a good time in that town. I wish I’d played it more over the years because it’s my kind of place. It’s very progressive, there’s a lot of smart people, and not to use too threadbare a term, it’s really diverse. You can tell you’re on the Pacific Rim. It’s a different part of the world.

Q: What’s in the act you’re bringing?

A: It will be elements of a new show where I decided to stop – I can’t deal with every other rape survivor in the world. I tried to for 22 years and realized I was getting a little tired. So I just turned that faucet off. It’s unbelievable the burden I’ve felt lifted. Now I think I can speak in broader terms about the issues, because I’m not also spending four or five hours a day as a sort of one-man, ad hoc rape crisis centre. It was part of my own self-loathing I hadn’t gotten over from my own issues.

Also, it’s a matter of not beating myself up. I did good, I think I helped a lot of people. And now is the time for me to assimilate the information I’ve gathered and convey it in a way that’s hopeful and urgent.

Barry Crimmins performs at the Biltmore Cabaret on Feb. 23 as part of JFL NorthWest.

Q: You’ve opened for a lot of musicians over the years, including Warren Zevon (the Los Angeles-based singer, best known for “Werewolves of London,” passed away in 2003).

A: They (the shows) were New England-based. The first time, I opened for him at the Paradise Theatre in Boston and he watched my act and loved it. When he would come back to New England he would request that I do the show.

It was great working with Warren. He was an incredible talent. One thing I learned from him was (sighs), he would talk a little bit about having to pump it up to play “Werewolves of London.” But he knew people came out to see that song. And dammit, every time I saw him play it he would nail it again. I never saw him phone it in once.

Q: He was a great talent.

A: What a loss. So many of them. I’m thinking of doing a book. My Life, and Death, about all the great people I’ve known who we’ve lost. Some are quite well known and a lot of them weren’t. But they all contributed to my life, and in many cases to the world. It’s something for me to think about now, at 63 – about back when I was doing dates with Warren, never even thinking I was eligible to get old.

And we’re all going to sleep when we’re dead. (“I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” is a song off Zevon’s 1976 self-titled album.)

For tickets to Barry Crimmins at the Biltmore Cabaret, and more info about the comedy festival, visit jflnorthwest.com.

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