Barry Crimmins: Atlas's Knees

★★★★
comedy review | Read in About 2 minutes
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Barry Crimmins
Published 16 Aug 2017

Barry Crimmins may be, as he quips, "the oldest newcomer at the Fringe", but he’s earned the right to be here. His status as a political comedian and activist in America is somewhere between cultish and legendary. More recently his experiences of child abuse, and subsequent legal crusade against the proliferation of online child pornography in the 1990s, were chronicled in the Netflix documentary Call Me Lucky.

So Crimmins’ Fringe debut is a real event, and his opening night audience includes a lineup of famous comedians. He takes a while to find his feet, misfiring a few gags, and occasionally overestimating our knowledge of American politics. Soon he’s working up a solid shtick, part grumpy old man irritated by Twitter and craft beer, part political firebrand remade for the Trump era. Then, as it builds, you realise you’re witnessing something special. Crimmins isn't just riffing on current events, he’s lived them. He started under Nixon, and clearly isn’t done yet. His rants, deadpan and hilarious, become increasingly emotional.

Crimmins diagnoses America as pathologically unable to listen to its victims, and now rapidly reversing the decades of progress he helped fight for. Bleak jokes about paedophilia cut deep. His plea for people to listen more and stand up for each other feels visceral. The old man act conceals real desperation beneath curmudgeonly one-liners. The laughs come thick, fast and painful. It’s hauntingly, harrowingly funny.

Has the Best Newcomer Award ever gone to a 64-year-old? Don’t bet against it this year.