'Call Me Lucky': A Documentary Of Friendship, Childhood Abuse And Survival
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guests, comics Bobcat Goldthwait and Barry Crimmins, are good friends who each became important in the '80s comedy scene and both have been through a lot of changes since then. Goldthwait was first famous for his manic persona, for which he used a high-pitched screechy voice. Many people knew him from his role as Zed in the "Police Academy" films. Goldthwait has dropped the persona and become a director of independent films and TV shows like "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and "Maron." His new film is a documentary about Barry Crimmins.
In 1979, Crimmins founded a Boston comedy club in a Chinese restaurant called Ding Ho. A few years later, he founded another Boston comedy club called Stitches. Many comics got their start in Crimmins's clubs. It wasn't until the early '90s that Crimmins revealed he was raped several times at the age of 4 or 5 by a man brought into Crimmins's home by his babysitter. After going public, he started exposing pedophiles on Internet chat rooms. We'll talk about that a little later. Goldthwait's documentary about Crimmins is titled "Call Me Lucky." Bobcat Goldthwait, Barry Crimmins, welcome to FRESH AIR. Bobcat, I'm going to ask you to start and to introduce us to Barry Crimmins for people who don't know his comedy and his place in the comedy world. Just place us for us.
BOB GOLDTHWAIT: Well, Barry is a mentor of mine and a guy who I really look up to. His place in the comedy world is he's been an influence on many comedians that are really popular and well-known. And he started the comedy scene that was in the late '70s, early '80s in Boston. He's a political satirist. He's quite brilliant, and I'm not sure, I think he's Gemini. I could be wrong.
GROSS: Barry, you started two comedy clubs in Boston. In 1979, you open a comedy club within a Chinese restaurant...
BARRY CRIMMINS: Right.
GROSS: ...Called The Ding Ho. And then a few years after you started a comedy club called Stitches. And, Bobcat, did you ever perform in either of those clubs?
GOLDTHWAIT: Oh, sure. I bombed in both those venues.
GOLDTHWAIT: I - yes, I started doing comedy when I was a teenager with Tom Kenny, who is the voice of SpongeBob. I don't want to name drop but - and I've known him since I was 6. Tommy and I saw an ad that Barry put out in Skaneateles, N.Y. We went. He put us on stage. It was bold of him to put some snarky teenagers on. And then when Barry moved to Boston, I actually followed him there, and that's where I got my start doing comedy. And, you know, in my stand-up act back then there was even - there wasn't material even. You know, I'd go on stage and cry and read a Dear John letter or gut fish on stage. And let's just say the other club owners weren't really excited about what I was doing (laughter). Barry - Barry - and my act couldn't be further from what Barry was doing on stage, but Barry encouraged it. And, you know, he just encouraged me to be as odd and as - and in what interested me as a comedian.
GROSS: I don't think I've ever heard the expression gut fish before.
GOLDTHWAIT: Well, you know, I would just say - you know, I'd come out of - the character that people know me for, it was - people would say stop doing that character all the time. So I went on stage and I said, hi, this is my real voice. This is who I am. This is the part of the show I like to gut and clean a fish. Does anyone have a fish in the audience? And my roommate Dan Spencer (ph) would pull out a fish. And here at The Ding Ho, I actually - this fish was a little rancid from being in the trunk of a car. And I opened it up and then there was immediately the smell - a woman in the front row vomited. There was fish entrails.
GROSS: Oh, gosh (laughter).
GOLDTHWAIT: And then a friend of ours, Bill Campbell, who does observational humor about relationships, had to go on stage after me with all this...
CRIMMINS: Right, right.
GOLDTHWAIT: ...Fish guts and vomit and...
GOLDTHWAIT: And the club owner...
GROSS: Barry, did you talk to him about that afterwards, about not wanting people to vomit in your club?
CRIMMINS: I laughed. I mean, I laughed, but I can't - I might have been somewhere - I don't think I was there for that one and...
GOLDTHWAIT: Well, Shun Lee, who owned the club, came up to me and he just said, Bobby, you weird. You weird.
GROSS: Well, what - so, Bobcat, for people who don't know how you sounded on stage back in the '80s and who don't know the kind of persona that you had then...
GROSS: ...I am now going to play an excerpt of something...
GOLDTHWAIT: Oh, no.
GROSS: ...You might not remember (laughter).
GOLDTHWAIT: Oh, I remember.
GROSS: You remember. OK.
GOLDTHWAIT: I'm sure.
GROSS: In 1987, Bobcat Goldthwait was a guest on FRESH AIR. I was not hosting that day. There's just...
GOLDTHWAIT: Oh, OK.
GROSS: This was my first...
GOLDTHWAIT: It must've went really well that I'm back now.
GROSS: How many years did it take?
CRIMMINS: Eighteen years later, here he is.
GOLDTHWAIT: The return triumphant appearance.
GROSS: (Laughter) So just to set the scene, it's like - the show had just gone national in May. It's now August. It's my first week away from our new national edition of the show. Liane Hansen, who later becomes the host of Weekend Edition on NPR...
GROSS: ...Is filling in for me. And you're going to be on the show. I'm on my way to Cape Cod, tuning in the radio. And here's what I hear - Dan Hansen...
GROSS: Liane Hansen is introducing Bobcat. And it's just, like, long intro detailing his career, a little bit about his early life; it's really in detail, so here's the tail end of the intro. Here we go.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
LIANE HANSEN: Goldthwait gained the nickname Bobcat during his mischievous teen years. And he first began writing comedy material right around the time he reached puberty. And he was already performing in clubs when he was 16 years old. Bob Goldthwait, welcome to FRESH AIR.
GOLDTHWAIT: Well, thank you very much. That was quite an elaborate research. I feel like I'm dead actually. In fact, if I did die now it'd be pretty good because that's not - you know, outside of being in the police lobotomies, that's pretty an impressive, you know, array of things.
HANSEN: That's a good resume. Gave me an A on it - you gave me a little star.
GOLDTHWAIT: Yeah, yeah, I didn't mark it correct and I guess that's kind of rude of me. Actually, thank you very much. It's really nice to be on FRESH AIR. Something I've never been accused of, you know?
HANSEN: (Laughter) OK, let's go back. Let's...
GOLDTHWAIT: No, let's bring it right to the toilet immediately.
HANSEN: No, no (laughter).
GOLDTHWAIT: I'm actually embarrassed, and also, my voice was higher. I mean, not only the character, but my voice was higher.
GROSS: No, but the character - like, how did you come up with that voice for your character?
GOLDTHWAIT: Yeah, well, I...
GROSS: And I just wanted to - let me just back announce that tape. So that was Bobcat Goldthwait on FRESH AIR in 1987 with Liane Hansen guest hosting and me listening in the car, driving to my vacation and thinking what (laughter)?
GOLDTHWAIT: Did you turn around? Did you go...
GOLDTHWAIT: I got to the end of this.
GROSS: I thought, like, he is really hard to interview, I was thinking.
GOLDTHWAIT: Yeah, yeah.
GROSS: And I thought, like, this is going to be a rough ride (laughter).
GOLDTHWAIT: Well, I - you know, my heroes growing up were people like Andy Kaufman and Groucho Marx and people that very rarely dropped the persona. And I - despite - you know, I'm a very private person, and I use this persona to hide behind. And it was something that started when I was a young comedian working with Barry. Actually, the first time, I think, it was this guy who had seen Bigfoot and went onstage, I think, at Under the Stone, where we started.
CRIMMINS: Yeah, in Skaneateles, my hometown.
GOLDTHWAIT: So it just became more and more easier for me to hide behind this persona. But, you know, I had - I used to direct the Jimmy Kimmel show, and I had done that for years. And I was going back to doing stand-up, and I really hated the idea of doing stand-up again. And it wasn't - it hit me. It wasn't the comedy clubs. It wasn't the traveling. It wasn't the wacky morning radio shows. It really was like, oh, I hate this persona (laughter). And so I had to jettison it just for my own sanity.
GROSS: What did you hate about the persona?
GOLDTHWAIT: I didn't realize I hated it. I think - I don't know. I just - I think I - or maybe it was - maybe it's just a different time and different place. And I know that for some people that character resonates, but I think it was a bit of a backlash for me because, you know, people knew me from "Police Academy" and things like that. And they'd - there was always - and I sound like I'm tooting my own horn - but there was always content underneath it that I think isn't remembered and isn't even put in perspective. You know, I think people - you know, quite often people come up to me and they're like, you know, oh - they do what you actually did, but they - that was something I don't remember. But usually, they'll come up and they go, do you remember this movie? Do you remember that?
GOLDTHWAIT: And it's like, I remember all of them. I was there. You know, I haven't had head trauma, you know? But I'm excited as a comedian now 'cause I'm performing often for young people who weren't even born when I was relevant. So it's exciting for me to now have an audience that knows me just as a comedian or as a guy who makes movies.
GROSS: I'm excited to hear your real voice. Like, when I started hearing your real voice because I don't - as an interviewer, I don't like interviewing people in persona because I like interviewing actual people. And a persona is - it's - it could be a very entertaining persona, but it's still...
GROSS: ...Something of a facade.
GOLDTHWAIT: Yeah, and I felt like...
GROSS: And so you don't feel like you're talking to a real person when you're talking to a persona.
GOLDTHWAIT: But there was also a thing, you know, as - I was very protective of it, you know? I remembered how sad I was when I found out that Alice Cooper liked to golf. And - you know, so...
GROSS: (Laughter) I remember when I found that out, too.
GOLDTHWAIT: Yeah, and I was like, oh, no. Et tu, Alice?
GOLDTHWAIT: So, you know, I think golf killed more rock stars than heroin.
GOLDTHWAIT: But I - you know, so I was always protective of the persona. I didn't feel ever that people needed to know who I was. I don't - even to this day to an extent. You know, I think if people really want to know how I see the world, go check out these movies, you know? My - I know, you know, my movies are very small and they're not mainstream, but that is how I see the world. You know, that - and that's why I love making movies. I can be way more personal with people than I could ever even onstage.
GROSS: So, Bobcat, as somebody who performed a lot of clubs, including at Barry's clubs, did he do anything different as a comedy club manager or owner than other clubs did?
GOLDTHWAIT: Yeah, Barry would - you know, the prerequisite for Barry was that you were not only just funny, but you were original. And that was what was a lot different than the way most comedy clubs are still ran, you know? So that was the big difference between him and the other club - oh, and he also paid us. That was pretty (laughter) Earth-shattering back in the day, too.
CRIMMINS: (Laughter) Revolutionary.
GOLDTHWAIT: Yeah, that was a bold, bold move. So yeah - so he did run the clubs a little differently.
GROSS: So, Barry Crimmins, could we just, like, tick off a list of some of the names of people who got started at your clubs?
CRIMMINS: Yeah, sure. Steven Wright, whose - you know, remains one of my dearest friends in the world and is just brilliant and hilarious, always. Bobcat Goldthwait, Tommy Kenny - let's see - Lenny Clarke, Steve Sweeney, Mike Donovan, in Boston, well-known acts and Mike McDonald. Let's - God, everybody came through. People...
GOLDTHWAIT: Kevin Meaney.
CRIMMINS: Kevin Meaney.
GOLDTHWAIT: Paula Poundstone.
CRIMMINS: Yes. And then people like Kevin Rooney and A. Whitney Brown came through town who I knew or was connected with it in other ways. A lot of great acts - Kevin Nealon came and played The Ding. So it was...
GOLDTHWAIT: Also there's folks that later, after these clubs gone away, that Barry either influenced or worked with. People like David Cross and John Ennis and - it's interesting. Patton's in the movie because I found out...
GROSS: Patton Oswalt?
GOLDTHWAIT: Yeah, I found out - well, I'm on a first-name basis, but whatever - so...
GOLDTHWAIT: No, so he was on - you know, I found out that he was a huge fan of Barry's and knew his history. You know, he - these are guys that Barry influenced, you know, and - yeah.
GROSS: Barry, when you started your comedy clubs in the late '70s and early '80s, it's a period or at least a period leading into one - and you can correct me if you think I'm wrong about this - when a lot of comics were incredibly sexist and homophobic. And a lot of the sex jokes, I think, from a woman's point of view were really kind of, like, insulting to women. And I'm wondering what it was like for you to run a comedy club in that period when so much of the humor was, you know - and not necessarily the humor at your clubs but maybe - I don't know I wasn't there - but so much of the humor was like that?
CRIMMINS: That's right. I might even have been guilty of a tiny bit of that early on, you know, trying to find my way. But it was a boys' club back in those days. I tried to do what I could to get some women involved. But I understand why a woman wouldn't walk into a comedy club back then. I now understand why they wouldn't feel particularly, you know, welcome there. But I tried to be as welcome as possible - Lauren (ph), Paula.
GOLDTHWAIT: Yeah, Barry was encouraging female comedians when he booked the clubs. The first time I went into The Ding Ho, the door person was Paula Poundstone. And then the show started, and she went up onstage (laughter). And I was like, oh.
CRIMMINS: Everybody covered something.
GOLDTHWAIT: Yeah, so he was encouraging it.
GROSS: My guests are comics Bobcat Goldthwait and Barry Crimmins. Goldthwait has made a new documentary about Crimmins titled "Call Me Lucky." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, I have two guests. Bobcat Goldthwait is a comic and a director and has made a new documentary about his good friend Barry Crimmins, who was also a comic who founded two important comedy clubs in Boston. And this documentary is about his contribution to the comedy scene, but it also is about his childhood when he was abused as a child and then later as an adult tried to out child pornographers and did a pretty successful job at getting some of them put behind bars. Bobcat Goldthwait, why did you want to make a film about him?
GOLDTHWAIT: Well, I've always wanted to make a movie about Barry. I'm jumping ahead of the story - when he was testifying - after he testified in a Judiciary Senate Committee against Internet child pornography, it was a real cat-brass (ph) kind of thing that happened. And he really was amazing and that was the germ of the idea. I originally wanted to make a narrative movie which someone else was playing Barry. And I - because I didn't want Barry to have to relive the events of his childhood - and so it became a documentary only recently. I had struggled with getting a screenplay made and so - Robin Williams was my best friend and he had - he was a big fan of Barry's and knew Barry's story. And he suggested that I make this movie as a documentary. And in fact, his involvement was the - how the movie got started. You know, he gave me the initial money to start filming it, which was just two Februarys ago. And that's how this movie all came about.
GROSS: And, Barry Crimmins, how did you react to the idea of a documentary about you, a documentary that would include you talking about being raped as a child?
CRIMMINS: Well, I have no problems talking about it because I've kind of learned not to be complicit in the crimes that were committed against me. And so I was happy when Bob called and said he wanted to do a documentary because trying to make, you know, a narrative about it was pretty complicated. And I took one swipe at a script for him. I guess you can't have a 340-page script so...
GOLDTHWAIT: You know, people frown upon that. It - Barry actually...
CRIMMINS: You know, I tried to be inclusive.
GOLDTHWAIT: It opened with him on a jet. And I was like, well, OK, I can't afford a jet so...
GOLDTHWAIT: So we're already in hot water. You know, my - you know, I'm used to making my movies for very little money and way outside the system. So yeah, there was going to be a lot of problems making it as a narrative. But I had heard Barry on Marc Maron's podcast, on "WTF," and then I heard him on Dana Gould's podcast. And I - when I heard him talking about the events, I - you know, often as his pal, when we would talk about these events, I would see him go into some forms of shock. And when I heard him discussing these things and I felt it - I felt that it was almost ready to pull the trigger on Barry doing a documentary because I felt that he could be in touch with these things, but I didn't feel I would be putting my friend in peril in asking him these questions about these very hard events.
GROSS: Barry, you were known for being a very angry comic onstage for sometimes heckling the audience, for sometimes berating other comics, for being shallow. So now it's assumed that the anger came from having been raped repeatedly as a child. Do you think that that's true? Do you think that that is the source of the anger?
CRIMMINS: Oh, that's certainly a source of some stuff. First off, I didn't berate that many comics really. I mean, I would - you know, I would give them some...
GROSS: I don't know. In the movie it seems like you did (laughter).
CRIMMINS: Well, yeah, it's not the whole - you know, I mean, there were no cameras at The Ding Ho at 10 o'clock in the morning when I was talking to them on the phone, you know? So, you know - but, you know, after three shows on a Saturday night some guy comes in with a camera and (laughter) I was relaxing by then. But I really didn't - I mean, I think you can see how many good friends I have who are comedians and you don't make, you know...
GROSS: Oh, no, absolutely, yeah. I - yeah.
CRIMMINS: So I didn't - I would try to convey vital information to them at times and just insist on originality. That was about as tough as I got about berating anybody. I just didn't want people - other people doing other people's stuff. I wanted original stuff at my club.
GOLDTHWAIT: And Barry, you know, the fact that not being derivative was so important is why he was responsible for this greenhouse that started so many people with completely unique different styles. You know, Barry was there, you know, helping people like Steven Wright and Paula Poundstone get started and Lenny Clarke, Steve Sweeney, Kevin Meaney - all these folks - Denis Leary. And because there was an emphasis on being original that came from Barry, that's why there were so many different kinds of comics that were original that came out of that scene. Yeah, and, you know, I will say, in his defense, Barry never - he never attacked the audience first. It was always - he was never first blood. He wasn't like a guy, you know...
CRIMMINS: I was never one of those guys - well, where you from? What do you do, you know, and harassing someone in the front row because they've got a funny-looking shirt on. I would like to - but going back to - 'cause this is a very important question Terry asked - I'd like to think that I would've been upset and angry about many of the social issues I've been upset angry about whether or not I'd been raped as a child. You know, I know all sorts of people that have stood in those causes with me and have stood up for justice and fought for, you know, social justice who had perfect childhoods. So, you know, it's certainly the idea that I really root for the underdog and I know what it is to be oppressed and overwhelmed and have no chance. That certainly plays a part of it with me. But I'd hope that I would've ended up in a similar place anyway because I'd like to think I have a good heart.
GROSS: My guests are comics Barry Crimmins and Bobcat Goldthwait. Goldthwait has made a new documentary about Crimmins titled "Call Me Lucky." We'll talk about how being raped as a child changed Crimmins's life as an adult after we take a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with comics Bobcat Goldthwait and Barry Crimmins. They both became important in the '80s. Crimmins founded two Boston comedy clubs which launched or gave a boost to the careers of many performers, including Goldthwait. Goldthwait was known for his manic persona in comedy clubs and in movies, a persona which he's since abandoned. He now directs TV shows and independent films. Goldthwait's new documentary, "Call Me Lucky," is about Crimmins, focusing on both his place in comedy and the trauma of having been raped several times as a child, which eventually led him as an adult to track down pedophiles operating in Internet chat rooms. This part of our conversation may not be appropriate for young children.
So, Barry Crimmins, let me just ask you a little bit about those formative experiences when you were repeatedly raped by - was it your babysitter's father?
CRIMMINS: It was - I didn't - it was some sort of relationship that wouldn't have been made clear in the late '50s, but probably, like, a boyfriend or something of the kid's mother. And she would come over for a while and then this guy would show up. You know, my parents would, you know - like, he'd make sure my parents were clear of the house and then he'd show up. And I have no animosity in my heart for the babysitter because I'm pretty sure it was me or her, you know, so - in one way or the other. She wasn't compliant, you know, with setting me up because it was her idea. She was a young kid and I always wondered what happened to her.
GROSS: Yeah, I certainly wonder that too. Was there anyone you could tell or ask to protect you?
CRIMMINS: I was pretty young, you know? So - and then really put into shock, so I guess that's why - I mean, I can't really figure it out to a T. My sister did end up protecting me when she finally discovered it. She made a run for it and, you know, the babysitter...
GROSS: She walked in on you as it was happening.
CRIMMINS: Yeah, well, she came down - yeah, she come down the basement stairs. In my head I always had this picture of her being caught by the foot. You can see in the movie at one point I'm looking at the stairs and I'm - that's just really vividly coming back to me. The thing I always remembered was her being caught, you know, and she was trying to go get help. But, in the end, she did get help, but it ended up being this thing where my parents didn't find out what happened, but Mary Jo said they were mean to Barry. They hurt Barry and whatever and that - but the babysitters had a counter story in there and it just became - you know, they just stopped using that babysitter is basically what happened.
GROSS: How old were you and how old was your sister?
CRIMMINS: I was 4 and she doesn't - she says 5 in the movie, but she was actually about 8.
GROSS: How long did it go on?
CRIMMINS: It's hard to say. I would say over a period of weeks. It happened several times.
GROSS: Did you remember this happening? I mean, did the memory always stay with you or do you think you repressed it for a while?
CRIMMINS: Well, I mean, what I - I say I always knew and I never knew. But when I would have flashbacks or whatever, I would be - it's hard to be verbal because, I mean, when you're 4 years old you don't have a big vocabulary, you know, so...
GROSS: So it was your sister who brought it up with you that helped bring back memories and helped you get to the point of talking...
CRIMMINS: Well, yeah, I mean, I was really at the end of my rope. I was in LA writing "The Dennis Miller Show" and I was - and this is a scoop for you - I was a bit suicidal at the time, so - but then when she, you know, disclosed to me then we - then it all sort of pulled together. And I just realized that this pain I'd been walking around in and the self-loathing that I felt to make sense of the world because, you know, why did I feel like this all the time? It must be me. There must be something wrong with me and, you know, there was nothing wrong with me. I was just in someone else's pain in somebody else's, you know - I was carrying that guy's poison around. And so you go through a period after that where - when you divest yourself of that you're kind of hollow for a while and you have to kind of - you feel like the wind's whistling through you. But eventually I, you know, began to fill that hole in. And then as a few years passed, I began to work on behalf of contemporary abused children. And that's how I ended up doing the confrontation of AOL about the child pornography trafficking that was going on. And that was probably the turning point and the most healing thing I ever did.
GROSS: So you wrote repeatedly to AOL and asked them to shutdown these pedophile chat rooms.
CRIMMINS: Right, and they were making a lot of money on it, so they just filed a - because in - back in those days the modems were really slow. And so it took, like, a half-hour to upload a, you know, low-grade picture.
GROSS: We're talking dial-up era.
CRIMMINS: Right, right, and so it took a long time to upload each photo and all these - and then if you're on AOL for more than 12 hours or something a month, they started charging you $3 or $4 an hour. So when you find, you know, thousands of people that are, you know, in the same chat rooms all the time or you find that one of the chat rooms that are named thusly - I mean, like anyone else, when I first went in there I just said what - are you people out of your minds? And they started talking to me about the First Amendment and stuff. And as Andrew Vachss said, you know, you can mug somebody and try to call it performance art, but that doesn't mean you're going to get away with it. And I just realized - you know, I would go in there as an adult, you know, with my own AOL name and people would just start sending me child pornography immediately. Like, no sort of - they just, oh, that's what you're here for, here. And they expected you to send child pornography back to them. And so I immediately contacted AOL and they said, oh, thank you very much for being, you know, a bunch of corporate - good citizen of our community, blah, blah, blah. But as time passed and I watched the problem grow exponentially, their answers became, you know, they - the back and forth between us just became more and more ridiculous.
GROSS: So you eventually testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee. They were investigating child pornography, and you brought it to the area of Internet child pornography only to find that most of the senators on the Judiciary Committee had never been online. They didn't understand how the Internet worked and they didn't really comprehend the concept of a chat room.
GROSS: So it was hard for them - as my understanding - it was hard for them to really comprehend what you were talking about.
CRIMMINS: They were - I mean...
GROSS: Nevertheless, what was the outcome of - what do you think was the final outcome of your protest to AOL? You're testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee and you're going to - was it the DAs office in Cleveland?
CRIMMINS: Right. Well, yeah, the - no, the - well, the FBI picked up all the information from me at my - they picked up all the files I had. I know that some arrests were made because that - I couldn't quantify it for you. But I know some arrests were made. As far as that company's concerned, I always feel that its cornerstone is very bloody. You know, they made a lot of money off those people and they played it dumb for as long as they could. After the hearing they were embarrassed. And after that they - well, they went to a flat rate, too, so that might've been part of it. But they cleaned it up pretty quickly after that, so I publicly embarrassed them. But they, you know, they stalled for a long enough time to make an awful lot of money.
GROSS: My guests are comics Barry Crimmins and Bobcat Goldthwait. Goldthwait has made a new documentary about Crimmins titled "Call Me Lucky." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with comics Bobcat Goldthwait and Barry Crimmins. Goldthwait has made a documentary about Crimmins, focusing on his place in comedy and on the trauma of having been raped as a child. When we left off, Crimmins was talking about tracking down pedophiles on Internet chat rooms.
Barry Crimmins, do you feel like you were ever psychologically hurting yourself or risking hurting yourself by looking at so much child pornography in an attempt to bring down the child pornographers?
CRIMMINS: Well, I mean, it was a difficult period for me. But it just came down to - it was a more difficult period for those children. And there were more children out there who hadn't been harmed yet, you know, who might be harmed. And I contacted a lot of people, a lot of authorities, a lot of different people and not that many people were interested. And the other thing was I - you know, I mean, I have PTSD, so when I'm doing stuff like that, I'm - you know, I know how to - I knew by then very well how to operate in a state of shock. I'd done it most of my life. So basically they make their own worst enemies. You know, I could deal with it to some extent because part of me would always be shut down but not the part of me that saw those kids' eyes. You know, it wasn't pleasant, but, I mean, I can - as I often say - you know, I'd much rather live with the world's disdain than risk my own self-loathing. And, you know, if I turn my back on what I saw there, you know, I could have never lived with myself.
And I was immediately trying to get other people to take over and kick in and be a - you know, be a civilization and do something about this, but they weren't. So I had no choice. So I just kept going. And it wasn't about me. It was about those kids, and it's about all the kids walking around. Now we go out and do the film, and people come up to me. They're 30 years old or whatever, and they say to me, hey, thanks a lot. You know, I was on AOL. Some creeps approached me, and they didn't get too far. And then it seemed like that stuff kind of stopped for a while. And maybe it did. I mean, it's still - the Internet's still a nightmare for that stuff. But at the time, you know, it was a nightmare that no one knew about. And so I couldn't have helped keep that secret.
GROSS: So the man who abused you, who knew your babysitter - and you're not quite clear what his relationship to her was...
GROSS: ...You eventually found out he did time in prison for abusing boys. What did you learn about him?
CRIMMINS: I learned that he came from a, you know, a tough background, and he had spent a lot of time in the system as a child in foster homes and so on and so forth. And, you know, he had a terrible life and - although most people who are sexually abused as children do not become pedophiles, I'm convinced that almost all pedophiles were abused as children. And so when I wrote a piece for the Boston Phoenix about it, it got picked up by the Syracuse New Times. And this wonderful social worker from Syracuse had just been part of a case, and she had - well, a couple years earlier - that put this guy away for the last time because he died in prison. So I heard - he was identified to me. We had his location. He was the guy, you know? And the first I - found out who he was. I - you know, then I - for a second, I was thinking, I'm going to go talk to this person. And then within 30 seconds - no, he died in prison. And then I learned he died in prison. No one claimed his body. And so that was - you know, that was that. So it was a waste of a life.
And I actually tried to find the location of his grave from the state of New York - but I didn't get anywhere - to just go put flowers on it just to - not because - because - to celebrate the fact that I didn't become him, to celebrate the fact that he couldn't extinguish the, you know, the light in me - he didn't anyway. He might've been able to had he been given more time, but he didn't. And he lived this miserable life where he was - had this - you know, where he just couldn't keep himself from committing these horrendous crimes against small children. And then - you know, he started out as a small children - as a victim, as a child - as a victim of that and he died as a perpetrator of those crimes in a prison cell. And for all the damage he did, he certainly paid a big price and had a terrible life because of it. And so sitting around hating him is nothing I have a lot of time for.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, I have two guests. Bobcat Goldthwait is a comic and director who just made a movie documenting the life of his good friend Barry Crimmins, who is also a comic, who founded two important comedy clubs in Boston. And this documentary is about his contribution to the comedy scene, but it also is about his childhood when he was abused as a child and then later as an adult, tried to out child pornographers and did a pretty successful job at getting some of them put behind bars.
So, you know, finally, I'm thinking - one of the things I thought about watching the movie - 'cause part of the movie is about the comedy scene that Barry helped create. And there's a lot of comics in the movie reflecting on why they feel so strongly about Barry and their relationship to him and all that they have done - well, that he's done to help them and everything. And I was just thinking about, like, you both got to know each other when you were young and a lot of the comics in there got to know Barry when they were young. And then you see what's happened to a lot of these people now. And you think about, like, some of the comics who were fueled by, you know, kind of like anger and insecurity have gone on to do such interesting things.
And, you know, like, Bobcat, like, you've dropped the persona and you're, like - you're directing things. You directed Kimmel's show for three years. You've directed episodes of Marc Maron's show. You're doing independent movies that have developed quite a cult following. Barry, you've gone on to, you know, have a mission as well as to continue with comedy. And I - so I guess I'm just kind of curious in hearing you reflect how you've seen yourselves and other comics change as they've gotten older and as some of, like, the more youthful anger or the more youthful insecurities give way to other emotions, other activities, other reflections.
GOLDTHWAIT: Well, you know, I - you know, I often jokingly say that I retired from acting the same time they stopped hiring me, but that actually is not even the truth. I've done a very un-American thing, and that's Barry. You know, I quit. You know, I quit all these things that weren't making me happy. And, you know, I was well-known, and it is lucrative to make certain kinds of comedies and perpetuate this persona. But I was so unhappy, you know? And I often say, you know, quit - keep quitting until you end up someplace you don't want to leave.
And so I think early on, you know, for some of us - all right, speak for myself - you've got this rage, and some of that rage is actually just like, I should be famous and everyone else is, or you're angry, angry, angry. And then as an adult, I said, OK, well I can - I do have these skills. I can do this. Now, what do I really want to do? And, you know - and for me, it's to tell stories and work with people I admire. You know, I worked with - yeah, I worked on a lot of different shows and things that people didn't even know about. Like, I worked on "Chappelle's Show" when that was on. I worked on a whole bunch of different things. And I'm really happy being behind the scenes, working with really talented people and people I admire. And then, you know, I make my tiny movies. You know, it's a big thrill to be on the show because, you know, my movies in general make hundreds of dollars...
GOLDTHWAIT: ...Hundreds of actual dollars. So this kind of exposure is really special to me, and I appreciate you having us on.
GROSS: Well, you're going to have to come back.
Barry, is there anything you want to add about watching yourself or other comics get older?
CRIMMINS: I think that as we - a lot of us are drawn to the stage or show business or whatever because, you know, we didn't feel so great about ourselves, and we didn't know how to do anything about that, so we sought external approval. And as people got older and dealt with things and began to approve of themselves, then they started to find what else they could do and what else they were capable of. And, you know, this doesn't apply to everybody, but it's a lot of people. Once you get past that point where, you know, you understand that, you know, you can't hate anybody till you hate yourself and you can't love anybody till you love yourself. Once you get past that, then you're pretty liberated to try a bunch of other things.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both so much for talking with us, and congratulations on the film. Thank you.
CRIMMINS: Thank you, Terry.
GOLDTHWAIT: Well, thank you so much. This has been exciting.
GROSS: Bobcat Goldthwait's new documentary about Barry Crimmins is titled "Call Me Lucky." After we take a short break, our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead will review a reissue by the late flute player Sam Most, who influenced other flute players including Rahsaan Roland Kirk. This is FRESH AIR.
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