Billy Bragg and FriendsBenefit Gig - October 23rd, New Wimbledon Theatre
Robin Ince – When it comes to usefulness, comedians are not necessarily high in the league of those that can build, mend or construct wells. We are good at jabbering, sometimes with intent and we can also be quite useful when trying to make money for people who can actually do things.
This is is why you see so many benefits being put on, it’s not just for the selection of crisps available in the dressing room that Stewart Lee discusses with such salty and vinegary vim.
Some comedians also use their voice to try and bring positive change. Barry Crimmins is one of those, one of the best. If you have not seen Call Me Lucky or his Louis CK produced stand up special, you might not be aware of what he has achieved. Barry has been prepared to speak out on political issues, often at cost to the possibilities of his stand up career. He has also fought for the victims of child abuse, often at cost of his own health. In the early days of the internet, he found that AOL was hosting chat groups with people sharing child pornography. Outraged and disgusted, he contacted AOL, but found they didn’t seem that bothered. He was informed that AOL already had a three strikes and your out policy for those who misbehaved on their server. Yup, sharing child pornography was not a one strike and you’re out offence. Battling against this, and almost destroying himself in doing so, this case and Barry went all the way to Washington, and in this dark Frank Capra movie, Barry won.
Though we had communicated a few times, I didn’t meet Barry until this year’s Latitude Festival.
It was not a good time. Two days earlier, Barry had found out that that the cancer his wife Helen was suffering from had got worse. Barry had spent so much time fighting for others that it just didn’t seem this was right. When the hell do some people get a break. Also, being USA based, the healthcare was costly, in all likelihood necessitating that Barry stay on the road to make money to cover the costs of what should be a right in a civilised society that prides itself on its success. The majority of crowdfunding in the USA is to cover people’s healthcare costs.
In this Suffolk field, I talked with the UK’s great campaigning comedian, Mark Thomas, and we decided we should put on a benefit to try to make sure that Barry doesn’t have to keep leaving Helen to go on the road to pay for her treatment when they should be together during this time.
On 23rd October at the New Wimbledon Theatre, there will be a bill of Billy Bragg, Charlotte Church, Daniel Kitson, Mark Thomas, Josie Long, Grace Petrie, James Acaster, Hollie McNish, Chris Stokes and Alistair Barrie. It goes on sale on 2nd October. We have just three weeks to sell it out and goddammit we are going to do it, we’re determined to. Money raised will also go to children’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent.
I asked some of those on why they were prepared to join in.
Billy Bragg – “Barry Crimmins uses his humour as an activist artist should – to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. He’s done loads of gigs supporting those in need. Now it’s our turn to support him in his hour of need”.
Alistair Barrie – “My mum and dad worked in the NHS for four decades, my wife’s life was saved from breast cancer by the NHS, and despite all predictions to the contrary we’re about to have our first child with the help of the NHS. I don’t know if universal healthcare is a right, but that doesn’t mean everyone shouldn’t have it”.
Chris Stokes – “When I started to really discover stand-up comedy and its wonders as a teenager about 20 years ago, almost everyone deified Bill Hicks but, say it quietly, I always preferred Barry Crimmins. That was even before I learned about everything he did offstage. I used to joke that he was better than Bill Hicks with the added bonus that he didn’t die in 1994. We should all be thankful that he didn’t because the work he has done, both as a comic and an activist, has been monumental. That he should now find himself in a situation where he cannot personally care for Helen so that he can afford to pay for her care is a cruel paradox borne out of a system which does not see the importance of free health care.”
James Acaster – “I had my ears syringed on holiday in America and it cost me over £400. I would’ve preferred it for free.”
Grace Petrie – “This gig – and the need for it – is a timely reminder of the fact that healthcare is something that should be provided to everyone. All of our lives will be affected in some way by cancer, and it is unnecessary and barbaric to put those facing it under financial stress as well. Now more than ever the NHS is something we must work to fiercely defend”.
A message from Barry Crimmins
You’ve had enough bad news if they tell you you have cancer once. My wife Helen has, by my estimate, received the terrible news four times. Yet here she is — no small feat in the United States where profiteering scum bleeds the weakest among us dry.
The latest and most awful diagnosis Helen has had leveled upon her is Stage 4 Lymphoma. As the dreadful cliche goes, there’s no Stage Five Lymphoma. Our hope now lies with research doctors at the University of Pennsylvania who we will see on October 31. Our faith and love remain strong. I have the added advantage of knowing I married one of the most resilient and dearest life forces on the face of the Earth. Because I make my money touring and I must be home with my darling, my dear friends across the drink (make mine a double) have put together a remarkable fundraiser featuring an all-star lineup of some of the most talented and socially conscious performing artists in Great Britain or anywhere.
That these dear friends are doing this for us in and of itself provides a major boost at a time when keeping our spirits up is almost as important as anything doctors and pharmacists can come up with. When Robin Ince and Mark Thomas told us they were putting the show together, we received a shot in the arm that didn’t hurt a bit. In fact, it felt great.
Because I have found some writing work I can do from home we are a bit less desperate than we were when this amazing show was originally planned. And so, at Helen’s insistence, this wonderful evening will also benefit children with cancer. (details here)
I also hope the evening serves to remind you that although your National Health Service is imperfect, it could never compound the ordeal that is cancer the way it is in the United States where medical care corporations, Big Pharma and insurance racketeers have no qualms about a bottom line that too often ends up being six feet under. I understand that your health care can be slow and there are sometimes long queues. Please stay in the queue and organize your fellow patients to demand an improved delivery system, facilities and staffing for the basic human right that is health care. It is better to be in line in a building then it is to be left out in the cold – a location Helen and so many Americans find themselves even when they’ve done all they can to protect themselves from needlessly early onset mortality.
Boundless thanks and mighty love to all the artists, support staff, media, online word-spreaders and particularly everyone who buys a ticket to this very special show.
PS- And huge love and gratitude from my brave, dear and brilliant wife, Helen Crimmins
Can’t make the show? You can still donate here.
Another message from Barry Crimmins
There is no good attitude, no denial, no distraction that can obfuscate the fact that Helen is getting sicker. Today her doctor decided there is some very specific oral chemotherapy that could help slow and/or stop her latest deterioration. Helen cannot receive chemo through a “port” due to the MRSA infection she got from an earlier round of chemo so she must take the meds in pill form. The cost is astronomically higher. There is a $6,000 monthly copay for one of the drugs and $13,000 for the other. This is the kind of economic savagery sick people in the USA face.
As much as the funds raised by this benefit raise will help us, we feel it is incumbent for us to implore our friends in Great Britain to keep the profiteering wolves from your National Health Service’s door. It is hard enough having to face the horrid cruelty that is Stage Four Lymphoma but when you have to fight it in a system designed to impoverish you through use of Orwellian spun words such as “copay” (meant to imply, “Hey, do your part” rather than acknowledge that having this dreadful disease inflicted upon you is more of a contribution than anyone should ever have to make)
Helen just said to me, “I’m stressed out, not just about the illness but about how we would even be able to afford to live should I survive or how you would be able to live, if I don’t make it.” This statement is typical of my wife’s practicality, pithy insight and boundless compassion. Even when she has every right to become maudlin and self-involved, she thinks of others. Among those others are children beset with cancer.
She is aghast to think this horror would ever be inflicted on a child, which is why we are so pleased and honored to share the proceeds of this incredible act of generosity from our friends in the U.K. with the wonderful CLIC Sargent organization that does so much for kids with cancer.
So do me a favor, buy a ticket and see a great show. By doing so you’ll be taking a stand for everyone, including yourself.
Peace, solidarity and heartfelt thanks,
Hopefully, you can support this event, if not, please feel free to share this information as much as you can. And watch Call Me Lucky on Netflix, it will give you a good insight into why Barry’s work and fights have been important to say many people.
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Pic via @hcdarling on Twitter