Tuesday, August 4, 2015
Call Me Lucky
A workmanlike mix of talking heads and contrast-y old performance video, Call Me Lucky is the story of Barry Crimmins, a standup comic who didn’t suffer fools, the American government, or the Catholic Church gladly. Always seemingly as interested in exposing political lies and corruption as he was in getting laughs, Crimmins went public in the early 90s with his memories of horrific childhood sexual abuse, then began to focus his attention on fellow survivors and on children currently being abused. Around that time, as David Cross observes, he pretty much stopped worrying about being funny and started “just yelling at the audience.”
Cross is one of a number of comics, including director Bobcat Goldthwait, who talk about Crimmins, who was a crucial and nurturing mentor to many of them. Their memories and vivid descriptions of Crimmins (one calls him a combination of Noam Chomsky and Bluto), along with the recollections of some of his relatives and neighbors, make up the bulk of the film. That cavalcade of admiring anecdotes and analysis can feel a bit numbing at times, but it seems less hagiographic as we get to know Crimmins, a caring and tenacious man whose crusade against the early chat rooms that were the Wild West of Internet child pornography forced an initially dismissive AOL to crack down on the pedophiles.
Crimmins’s friends testify as to what that crusade cost him, the horrors that, once seen could never be “unseen.” A fellow survivor recalls that just reading the names of some of the chat rooms where he had spent hours gathering evidence was enough to make her weep. And getting people to do something about all that evidence of heinous criminal assault was no easier. A law enforcement official Crimmins contacted about the chat rooms says he and his colleagues literally did not understand what he was talking about, since they did not have computers at the time.
Pedophiles are still finding ways to peddle child pornography online and probably always will, but it’s a lot more difficult and dangerous than it was in the early 90s, and that’s largely thanks to Barry Crimmins. Keeping its tone light for the most part, Call My Lucky doesn’t delve into the details of how child abuse is or is not prosecuted in our legal system or how much child porn is now purveyed online. Instead, it reminds us of how much can be accomplished by just one person with a big heart, a big mouth, and a relentless commitment to a cause.
Written for Brooklyn Magazine