Bobcat Goldthwait can recall the exact moment he knew he needed to make a film about his friend and mentor, Barry Crimmins. Crimmins had just learned that the man who raped him as a child died in prison. “I said, ‘How does that make you feel?'” Goldthwait recalled. “And he said, ‘I feel sad.’ I said, ‘Because you can’t confront him? There won’t be any closure?’ And he said, ‘No. Because he died alone.'”
Goldthwait was speaking to a packed crowd alongside Crimmins following a screening of their documentary “Call Me Lucky” this week in Hollywood. The film, which premiered to critical and audience raves at the Sundance Film Festival, opens this week in limited release. The film tracks Crimmins’ career as a standup comic beginning in the 1970s and his influence on a generation of comics (including Patton Oswalt and Marc Maron) whom he encouraged to find unique voices. It also delves into his political activism, as Crimmins was incorporating politics into his comedy decades before it became common.
It isn’t until an hour into the movie that his secret is spoken about. In 1992, he revealed – first onstage, then in published pieces – that he had been raped by a male friend of his babysitter. The perpetrator took Crimmins, around age 4, into the basement of his home and violated him on several occasions, until his older sister caught them. This led Crimmins to become a crusader against child pornography, even taking to the Senate floor in 1995.
Originally, Goldthwait had hoped to tell Crimmins’ story as a narrative feature, since the image of him at the Senate brought to mind images of a Frank Capra movie. “I even asked him to write a screenplay,” Goldthwait said. Crimmins then chimed in, “Yeah, I’m still a little miffed because he only read the first 331 pages.”
Goldthwait, who has gone from the screechy comedian of the “Police Academy” movies to a thoughtful and accomplished filmmaker of movies like “World’s Greatest Dad” and “God Bless America,” also took a stab at a screenplay. “But it just wasn’t working,” he admitted. It was his good friend Robin Williams who suggested he make it as a documentary, and even contributed financially (the film is dedicated to Williams).
Goldthwait joked that Ed Wood had a bigger budget than him, to which Crimmins retorted, “I don’t know why there wasn’t more money for a movie about a political satirist who reveals a childhood rape.” But what they lacked in finances Goldthwait more than made up for with a loving, insightful tribute to Crimmins. “I put my life in his hands, and it looks like I made a pretty good choice,” Crimmins said. “When you suffer what I suffered as a child, trust is a big issue. You have to do a lot of work to get to the point where you trust people. And though I always trusted him, it still was a leap of faith.”
Crimmins also added that he was grateful that it was ultimately made as a documentary, as he didn’t have to “loom over” Goldthwait and advise him.
He added, “I hate when people say I ‘admit’ I was abused. Guilty people admit things. I was a crime victim. I’m no more ashamed of being a victim of rape than I would be if I got held up at gunpoint. When you use words like ‘admit’ it incorporates a complicity that perpetrators always try to trick their victims into participating in. So I think making it a documentary is exactly what we should have done.”
The hardest part of making the movie involved a visit to the basement where Crimmins was raped. Crimmins reveals that he went into shock. Said Goldthwait, “He came out and said, ‘I don’t remember anything I said.’ And to give you an idea what kind of guy he is, he said, ‘Can you use any of it, is it usable?'” Added Crimmins, “It wasn’t until I saw the movie I really knew what I even said. But I’m so glad I went there, that I didn’t let a place have some hold over me.”
As should be expected with two comedic greats, there were several moments of levity throughout the discussion. Goldthwait joked that he had to make a documentary because Jason Robards had died and there was nobody left to play Crimmins (other names tossed out that night included Vic Tayback and Larry Storch). In truth, Goldthwait had been talking to Williams about playing the role if they made a narrative feature.
And when Crimmins was asked if it was hard to see his life play out onscreen, Goldthwait jumped in and joked, “You had to live that stuff, but I had to make a movie about it. It was really hard! Have you ever thought about me?”
As for the film’s title, Crimmins said, “The name of the movie is perfect because I am enormously fortunate and I’m alive and I had a great life. The light in me hadn’t been extinguished.”