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NPR Arts & Life

Barry Crimmins, A Mainstay Of Boston's Comedy Scene, Dies At 64

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The comedy world is hurting today. A month after announcing he'd been diagnosed with cancer, the comedian Barry Crimmins has died. Crimmins was one of the reasons Boston's comedy scene burned so bright in the 1980s and '90s.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

He founded two clubs where new talent could take risks and grow. Comedians that he helped launch include Denis Leary, Paula Poundstone and Bobcat Goldthwait. Here's Crimmins in a 1982 documentary called "Constant Comedy" talking about the Ding Ho comedy club that he set up in the back of a Chinese restaurant.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "CONSTANT COMEDY")

BARRY CRIMMINS: I love most of the comedians that I work with, almost every single one of them. And I think a lot of them. And this place is magic.

SHAPIRO: Comedian Steven Wright was 23 when he met Crimmins at the Ding Ho.

STEVEN WRIGHT: And he was very encouraging. And - but not just to me, to a lot of people. A lot of comedians came out of that club.

MIKE MCDONALD: He's packaged to scare people.

CHANG: Boston comic Mike McDonald met Crimmins in 1979.

MCDONALD: Big, gruff bear of a man with a giant mustache, a beer and a cigarette who could let loose with his opinion at high volume. But the fact of the matter is he was also one of the most beautiful, caring human beings that you'd ever come across because he had real heart.

CHANG: Crimmins' own comedy was cutting and politically charged.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CRIMMINS: The reason we don't have a viable third party is 'cause corporations don't want to write a third check.

CHANG: Patton Oswalt describes Crimmins' particular brand of political comedy in the documentary "Call Me Lucky."

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "CALL ME LUCKY")

PATTON OSWALT: He was edging into Noam Chomsky territory but doing it in front of a neon, you know, thing of Charlie Chaplin with people drinking blender drinks.

CHANG: And Crimmins will be remembered beyond the comedy scene. In the early '90s, he turned his energies towards social activism. After disclosing that he had been a victim of sexual abuse as a child, Crimmins became an advocate for other victims. Here's comic Mike McDonald again.

MCDONALD: Simply because there were very few other people that stand up and speak, and ended up testifying before Congress.

SHAPIRO: His friend, Steven Wright, says that stubborn commitment to truth-telling is what defined him.

WRIGHT: He wasn't going just for the joke. It was really addressing real subjects that was - he had like mad - he had these glasses that he could see the truth through the [expletive] of everything. And then personally, he was a really kind person. He was one of my best friends in my whole life. Forty years - next year would be 40 years that I've known him - hilarious to hang out with, laughing for 40 years with someone.

SHAPIRO: Comedian Barry Crimmins died yesterday. He was 64.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOAKIM KARUD'S "LOVE MODE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.