Do you believe in the subconscious? I think deep down we all do.The funniest guy in the world named Irwin has passed away.
Irwin Barker succumbed to cancer three years after doctors gave him one year to live back in 2007. It's a sad day for comedy. Irwin was not only one of the best – if not the best – joke writers in the country, he was a class act, as well. We were spoiled in Vancouver for years when he lived here. I can't count the number of times I saw him over the years and it was always a joy – especially if I was bringing someone new to live and local comedy to the show. And as funny as he was on stage, he was as kind and polite off-stage.
He was an enigma, too. Here was a middle-aged stand-up comedian with virtually no charisma, no schtick, no energy... and he destroyed everywhere. I'm not exaggerating here. Obviously an older guy in a suit with some good jokes and a brain is going to do well on the CBC or in theatres. But I used to sit in fear at the back of Urban Well on a night the crowd was particularly drunk, young, trendy, and rambunctious, after they've spit up younger, hipper comics. I'd fear for Irwin, a gentle soul if there ever was one. And there was never a reason to. He'd get up there, hem and haw about feeling like a dad coming down to the rec room and miraculously everyone would sit up and take notice. And he'd get them. Every time.
In one ill-advised booking, the Trailer Park Boys were doing their first show in Vancouver, at the Vogue Theatre as part of the comedy festival. Organizers put them on as hosts bringing out an array of comedians of varying styles. But the people were there to see the Trailer Park Boys and had no patience for anyone else. They were the rowdiest crowd I've ever seen. The great Andy Kindler was literally booed off the stage. I sat through both shows. When it was Irwin's time, I again got that feeling in my stomach. How could he possibly tame this beast of a crowd? But he did. Out of all the ten or 15 comics on the bill (and there were some really good ones), he did by far the best, just doing his thing.
My neighbour had a coming-out-of-the-closet party. It was fun. It was just the two of us, though, which was awkward.
I got into a big argument with a friend of mine over the meaning of semantics.
Irwin also taught me, indirectly, that there's no such thing as a hack premise – only hack jokes or comics. He could take the hackiest premise, such as airport security or pilots or Costco, and bring a fresh and original take to them. And hilarious. That always helps.My aunt is a perfect combination of fatalist and optimist. She fell down and broke her leg, and just laid there going, "Am I ever glad that's over with."
A couple months after his diagnosis, Irwin returned to Vancouver to perform at Balthazar's. He was as bald as a cueball from chemo so needless to say his health was the proverbial elephant in the room. He diffused the tension with some barbs at his condition. "One year. That's what the doctor says. He says I have twelve months," he started as we sat there not knowing how to react. "But my lawyer thinks he can get it down to eight months." But he quickly got down to his regular act. And again, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. As things were rolling along near the end of his set, he finally feigned some bitterness over his condition: "Why couldn't this have happened to a hack? They're going to take my jokes as soon as I'm gone, I know it."
They better not. I think it was because of his medical best-before date that he decided to go out swinging. He kept his job as a staff writer for the CBC (who mercifully transferred him from This Hour Has 22 Minutes, which taped in Halifax, to The Rick Mercer Report, which taped in Toronto, so he could get the treatment he needed) and continued doing standup. When he played Yuk Yuk's in 2008, as tired as he was, he made no mention of his illness. He said he didn't want to make it awkward for people who just came to the club for a laugh. I surreptitiously recorded his set on my iPod just for my own enjoyment, knowing he wouldn't be around forever. It was soon after that he recorded and released a DVD so the world now has a record of his brilliance. And no hacks can steal his words.My cousin has a serious gambling problem so much so that his wife left him. He called me up and he’s trying to win her back.