Wchicken Ian Cognito walked on level in Bicester, Oxfordshire, on 11 April 2019, he couldn’t have identified he used to be about to observe within the footsteps of Tommy Cooper. Every comic has tales of “dying” in entrance of an viewers however few do it actually. The method of Cognito’s demise on the age of 60 turns out completely consistent with this caustic performer, who boasted about being probably the most banned act in Britain, accused different comics of hypocrisy, head-butted his personal supervisor, and took the whole lot he did to extremes.
A brand new documentary, Ian Cognito: A Life and a Death on Stage, tells the tale of the person born Paul Barbieri however referred to as “Cogs” to buddies and admirers. Singing his praises within the movie are the likes of James Acaster, Shaparak Khorsandi and Stewart Lee. Some are a bit extra equivocal. Jo Brand calls him “a loose cannon”. Bob Mills says: “Standup comedy was a weapon to Cogs. It wasn’t a nice thing.”
Those accustomed to Cognito will recall that he started lots of his gigs via banging a nail into the wall after which striking his hat on it, sooner than turning to the viewers. “Now you know two things about me,” he would bark. “First, I don’t give a shit. And second, I’ve got a hammer.” He additionally threw a tv set out of a Birmingham resort window. His clarification? “Room service was late.” Alcoholism and psychological well being problems drove this type of behaviour. Cognito infrequently carried out with out a number of pints within him and every other one in his hand, and he used to be fair in regards to the corrosive results of his level personality. “He’s in danger of killing me, my Mr Hyde,” he stated.
Danny Ward and Joe Bor, the standups who directed the documentary, have fond recollections of him. “Cogs and I did a festival together where he nicked a bottle of rum from the bar and then ate a chicken out of a bin,” Ward tells me. Bor chips in: “We took turns hosting one weekend at the Glee club in Cardiff. Cogs said: ‘The audience really likes you. They don’t like me.’ But then again, he had just called them all cunts, so …”
Cognito may craft an exemplary one-liner. He railed towards folks with disabilities “using our spaces in the car park. If you let them get away with it, they’ll be in our toilets next.” But the bracing, heady flavour of a Cognito set used to be by no means about particular person gags. “No one knew what the hell he was going to do or say,” says his son, Will Barbieri. “The adrenaline was incredible. When he was on form, it was as much a theme park ride as it was a gig.”
The comedian Becky Fury consents. “Being in the room with him was electrifying,” she says. Her first stumble upon with Cognito used to be about 15 years in the past, when she used to be 19. “My boyfriend did some comedy promoting at a theatre. Paul came on stage and started hammering a nail in the wall. I’m sure there are a lot of people who would be like: ‘Don’t go anywhere near that guy.’ But I found it very attractive. He was this powerful, charismatic, sexy presence. We had a fling, so that was the end of him ever performing at that venue again!” It wasn’t the remaining time he helped Fury finish an ill courting via going to mattress along with her. As she wrote after his demise: “He had an uncanny knack of appearing when he was needed, like a swaggering cockney genie that lives in a bottle of Jameson’s.”
Though Cognito’s courting with the viewers used to be uniformly combative, it will every so often appear as although ladies bore the brunt of his opprobrium. “I don’t think we’re gonna be seeing you in the next episode of Baywatch, are we?” he requested a lady within the entrance row at one gig. Fury says that audiences again then had been higher supplied for this abrasive manner. “They could deal with banter,” she says. “Whereas today, you’ve got a generation who didn’t play out enough as kids. They’re not exposed to that sort of thing so it seems more outrageous.”
For all that its makers recognize Cognito, the documentary is not any hagiography. “Cogs did alienate people,” says Ward. “He was flawed, like all of us.” The final goal of his comedy, although, used to be generally himself, as that shaggy dog story about parking areas makes transparent. Lee places it well within the movie: Cognito, he explains, used to be “the person of low status” in any regimen. Ward additionally attracts a difference between guy and personality. “Paul Barbieri was playing a character called Ian Cognito who had no filter. And sometimes the things he said were quite shocking.”
Rarely extra so than in his lacerating set on the Glastonbury competition in 1999. In a brazen example of audience-baiting, he straight away insulted the Manic Street Preachers, who had performed a headline set the former night, then silenced a heckler via explaining what came about to the remaining one who interrupted him: “I followed her home, waited up all night and shot her on her fucking doorstep, so bear it in mind.” No surprise the group gasped – the homicide of Jill Dando lower than two months previous used to be nonetheless recent within the reminiscence.
Ward flinches after I point out that second, which isn’t within the documentary. “You told me to cut that one out, Joe,” he reminds his co-director. “We didn’t want to whitewash Cogs, which is why there’s a whole section about his flaws, but that kind of clip could easily have capsized the film.”
A standup who thrived at the crackle of risk distinctive to are living comedy used to be by no means going to be a comfortable have compatibility for TV. Cognito used to be scathing about those that had been. Will believes his father’s distaste for the medium used to be original. “He hated the idea of selling out. His anarchist, nonconformist streak wouldn’t have let him do it.”
According to Bor, this made him “even more popular among his peers. He was a God of the circuit.” Some comics, similar to Daniel Kitson, have made the anti-TV attitude paintings. “The Daniel Kitson model means having tens of thousands of fans on your mailing list,” says Ward. “If they all give you, say, £10 a year, then you’re in business. Cogs didn’t have that. He lived on a houseboat on the River Avon with his last £20 note. It wasn’t a business plan.”
I ask Will whether or not his father had ambitions for the long run and he shall we out an almighty giggle. “No, he was fucked!” he says. “He wasn’t getting a lot of gigs. We talked about him living at the end of my mum’s garden.” Tastes had modified. “He never did a Ricky Gervais, claiming he wasn’t ‘allowed’ to say certain things. But he did struggle with the sensitivity of audiences.” His subject matter additionally performed in a different way as soon as he reached his 50s. “As you get older, you’re less able to style things out,” says Will. “You go from swashbuckling anarchist to bitter old man. I’d sometimes say: ‘Why don’t you try a more cerebral, introspective gig?’ It didn’t come naturally but he gave it a go every now and then. I’d love to have seen more of that.”
Though Cognito used to be continuously proudly out of step, Ward thinks the panorama had modified irrevocably. “Cogs was the last of a breed. He represented the wild west days. Now you’ve got people writing about comedy gigs on social media like they’re rating kettles on the Argos website.” For Fury, who’s retaining the Cognito spirit alive via traveling a display referred to as C*nt!, TV is in part guilty. “Paul was all about being a road comic and not restricting his material just because there might be an exec in the audience. He had something otherworldly about him. The guy died on stage at a comedy night called Lone Wolf – how poetic is that?”
He had joked about his well being that night time in Bicester, telling the group: “Imagine if I died in front of you lot here.” Later, he sat down on level and fell silent. Cognito had suffered an aortic dissection, a tear to the frame’s major artery. As he exhaled for the remaining time in entrance of an viewers satisfied they had been staring at a part of his act, I had questioned if the mythologising of Cognito’s demise would possibly have felt disrespectful to his circle of relatives. (“Died with his boots on,” tweeted Jimmy Carr.) But Will is curious about it. “Dad had quit drinking and he was on antidepressants,” he says. “The last time him and my mum saw one another, they went dog-walking and he told her: ‘You know what? I’m really happy.’ His arc did feel complete in a way. He had the rise, the fall, the hardships and then he’d reached this equilibrium. To go out like that, I think, was fitting.”