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This article was published 21/6/2010 (3432 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
One of the most intelligent, inventive and unique voices in Canadian comedy has been silenced.
Winnipeg-born comedian/writer Irwin Barker died early Monday in Toronto after a lengthy battle with a rare form of soft-tissue cancer called leiomyosarcoma. He was 58.
He was diagnosed with the disease in June 2007 and informed that he had a year to live, but he defied the odds and confounded his doctors by not only surviving for a couple of extra years but also continuing to work as a writer on CBC’s The Rick Mercer Report while regularly touring and performing to raise awareness and funds for cancer research.
Winnipeg Comedy Festival artistic director Al Rae called Barker the smartest comedian he’s ever encountered.
"His comedy was incredibly intelligent; he’s somebody who obviously had a very high IQ," said Rae. "He was obviously a very concrete thinker ... but he also had to be a profoundly good abstract thinker in order to look at things in other ways, which is the secret to comedy.
"In that sense, I would say he was probably the most well-rounded, intelligent person I’ve ever had a close relationship with."
This Hour Has 22 Minutes star Mark Critch, with whom Barker performed frequently — including a 2008 trip to Afghanistan to entertain Canadian troops — said the Winnipeg-born funnyman brought a unique perspective to the stage and the writers’ room.
"Everybody called him ‘The Professor,’" said Critch. "He would take such time crafting a joke to make it just right before he would even try it out. He was a great, great craftsman, and he could always take people by surprise.
"A lot of comics get up on stage and they’re like machine guns, trying to mow the audience down. Irwin was like a sharpshooter."
After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.
Updated on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 12:17 PM CDT: Adds Barker's age