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The last laugh

Barry Crimmins began his career, and kicked off one of the most important chapters in Boston comedy history, when he hit town Memorial Day weekend of 1979. Tonight, he'll come full circle when he retires from stand-up with one last show at Jimmy Tingle's Off Broadway theater.

Crimmins (inset) had modest expectations when he left upstate New York to pursue stand-up. He originally planned to hitch his way to New York City, but the first driver he met was going to Boston, so he decided somewhat ambivalently to check it out. He played his first gig at the Ding Ho, then called the Springfield Street Saloon, just a few days later, and was immediately impressed with the local scene.

"The first night I worked in Boston I spotted the talent," he says. "I couldn't believe it. It was Memorial Day weekend, it was a big crowd on a Sunday night at the Ding, and I saw a lot of great acts."

Within a few months, the room was rechristened the Ding Ho and Crimmins was booking acts like Steven Wright and DJ Hazard. The club launched the careers of an amazing list of talent, from Bobcat Goldthwait to Lenny Clarke, and it gave Crimmins a place to hone his chops and become one of the most explosive political satirists in American comedy.

Wright, who was discovered by a "Tonight Show" scout at the Ding Ho in 1982, remembers the encouragement he and other comedians at the time received from Crimmins, and the example he set as a comedian. "He's a funny guy, even without the politics. Then you get to the politics, and just the accurate, brilliant insight of what's happening in the political world, and you can't get anyone better than him," he says. "He's doing something that has more meaning, and I've always admired him for that."

Crimmins is proud of the Ding Ho's track record and his part in creating the scene, but he downplays his influence. "I didn't feel like I was the angel standing on the shoulder," he says. "But I'd like to think that I helped encourage and bring out the best in people and suggest that you can get just as good laughs going for the highest common denominator as going for the lowest one."

Now, after 30 years of hitting the road, Crimmins has grown tired of traveling (he says he can tell you what's bad about any hotel room, from the Ritz to the Motel 6), and he's planning on retreating to his rural home outside of Corning, N.Y., to write and work on his website (BarryCrimmins.com). He'd also like to get back to his roots, he says, by helping younger performers find their way as professional comics.

Crimmins will host some of those acts, like the Steamy Bohemians and Baratunde Thurston , during the late show after his early set. "I like the idea of doing the late show where I kind of go out as I came in, putting on a couple of acts that I like that I think people should take a look at and pay attention to," he says.

Elaine Schulbaum, half of the Bohemians' musical comedy team, remembers getting an e-mail from Crimmins praising the act for helping to start new comedy rooms (their Jerkus Circus plays the Lizard Lounge tonight) and for the latent feminism in its songs.

"We were thrilled and kind of surprised," she says. "Although his reputation precedes him as a brilliant political satirist, I had no idea he was such a feminist. We started up an exchange, and from there Barry became both a friend and a mentor."

Crimmins is careful to point out that a return to the stage somewhere down the line is possible, but doubtful. He doesn't see himself missing the stage any time soon. "I'm finally going to get that 'Wow, it's nice to be home' feeling, and I don't have to worry about anything for a little while, for the first time in 35 years," he says. "I'm looking forward to just sitting back. It'll be interesting to have the phone ring less often. It'll probably make me feel a little weird, too. That's all right."

NICK A. ZAINO III

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