Preview: Billy Bragg, Charlotte Church, Mark Thomas, Josie Long & More Play Benefit for Helen & Barry Crimmins

Update 19/10: Daniel Kitson and Alexei Sayle will now be appearing too.

Artists from musicians Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church to comedians Mark Thomas, James Acaster, Alistair Barrie and Josie Long are to play a benefit gig in London to raise money to help campaigning American comedian Barry Crimmins, whose wife Helena is curretly undergoing treatment for cancer, which given that they live in America, is not cheap.

Robin Ince, who with Mark Thomas, has organised the event, which takes place at the New Wimbledon Theatre on October 23, has written this to explain more:

"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. Barry himself was raped when he was four years old. 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. 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, 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 the bill why they were prepared to join in.

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.”

Buy tickets here.

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