Barry Crimmins on how to speak truth and be heard [interview]


Barry Crimmins is a legendary comic and activist.

Content Warning: Rape

A pioneer in the early Boston standup scene, he was around for and helped kickstart the careers of some of the most incredible, hilarious and influential voices of comedy, and made his imprint on a great deal of others.

Crimmins is also the subject of Bobcat Goldthwait's documentary “Call Me Lucky.” The film [presently available on Netflix] profiles Crimmins’ career as a standup, as a survivor of being raped as a child, and his resultant activism against child predators and the creation and exchange of child pornography.

Here, Crimmins discusses the role social media played in getting his story in front of Goldthwait and Robin Williams, who was an early champion of the documentary. He also offers advice to people trying to figure out how to speak truth to power and find their own voices.

The rest of this interview, where Crimmins discusses the film, his career, and his friendship with Bobcat Goldthwait (which, admittedly, evoked tears) can be found over at Bangor Daily News.

I am someone who consumes a lot of podcasts, and so I am curious to know the role appearances on WTF and your engagement on Twitter has played in helping to get your message out.

Bob and Robin [Williams, who, before his death, helped to finance the film] heard the interview I did with Marc. A few years ago I’d realized I was being lazy. “Ah, I have to figure out Twitter now?” But I kind of examined stuff and saw that on Twitter, as opposed to Facebook, I saw some real engagement. During Ferguson, I saw CNN tweet something like, “Is racism getting better in America?” I responded, “Yeah, it’s on top of it’s game” to CNN. Then all these strangers who’d never heard of me saw it as funny and accurate. You can take it directly to the people who are the problem.

I gained a lot of hard earned ground in my life, thanks largely in part to people who were there to help me. Marc [Maron] and I had gone back and forth on Twitter, which led to my appearance on that show. I had no agenda when we taped that interview. I discussed what I had survived and where I was at. I also did an interview with Dana Gould, which got some attention.

Robin and Bob heard that interview and Robin said to Bob, “Barry’s got this story. You should tell it. You should make a documentary.” And he gave him some money to get it started. It was such a quiet act of generosity. He got us rolling and Bob, a great independent filmmaker, put together some pitches and got us the money we needed. But Robin got us going and I’m sure he would have kept us going, but Bob didn’t want to put it all on his friend.

You’re an outspoken person and have been very outspoken for quite some time. For people who would like to speak their minds, or deliver a message, but it’s not something they’re used to doing, what would you tell them.

If they’d like to do it humorously, they should remember that the truth is pretty funny. Getting people to laugh is all about using the unexpected, and unfortunately in this society, telling the truth is an unsuspected act. You have the element of surprise on your side.

I think the thing is to listen calmly, find some common ground, and start from there. Work your way back to what you figured out. I’m fond of saying, “Primacy: America’s number one problem!” Everyone has got to win every argument. The political system sets us up for that. “The other guys are monsters and this side is absolutely perfect.” It’s so dogmatic and silly. It doesn’t address a much larger problem, which is that the system needs to be overhauled. But with our addiction to the political cycle, we have come to believe we just have the wrong people running things.

People will presume what your argument is because they presume there are only two sides. I’ll knock a right winger and they’ll make assumptions. I’ll knock a democrat and they’ll accuse me of listening to Rush Limbaugh. But guess what. There are other possibilities.

If you just get away from the conflict and the need to prevail… Have a goal that’s attainable but also decent. Remember that the people you’re talking with might have terrible ideas or politics but they’re probably good people. They’ll probably help you dig your car out of the snow after a storm. There are things that you have in common. It’s important to remember that when having dialogue.

People who want to really start a dialogue need to be true to their secret heart in which all people are kind. Find the kindness in someone. Relate to it. Build on that.

My comedy tour is called “Not a hero.” Some people say that I am a hero for doing what I have done and I have some problems with that. I am not a hero for speaking up; I do it because I have to. I would rather risk the world’s disdain than be guaranteed my own self loathing because I am always here.

More from this interview can be found over at Bangor Daily News.