Esteemed Canadian comedian Irwin Barker, who earned the nickname, The Professor, for his scholarly appearance, mentorship of other comics and his intelligent wit, has died at the age of 58.
Barker died early Monday at Toronto's Princess Margaret Hospital after a three-year battle with leiomyosarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancer in the body's soft tissues.
"The special gift he had [was] with language and words … Irwin's genius was in his simplicity," friend and fellow comedian Bruce Clark told CBC on Monday.
"He could hone right into the funny."
Clark said he and comedian Brent Butt were among a handful of close friends who flew in to join Barker's family by his side at the hospital over the weekend — a testament to how well regarded he was across the country.
"Every comic in Canada has at least two or three jokes in their act — and probably their best jokes — that Irwin gave to them, [after] watching their act," Clark said.
"He really was a true teacher. He would never tell you what to do. He would lead by example."
Butt, who toured with Barker, released a statement saying: "Irwin Barker is no longer the funniest man alive … . He will be hugely and sorely missed. Thanks for everything you taught us."
A multiple Gemini Award and Writers' Guild of Canada Award-nominee, Barker was a standup comedian and writer for shows such as This Hour Has 22 Minutes and The Rick Mercer Report.
Born in Winnipeg, Barker worked as a public policy research consultant for Angus Reid and a lecturer in sociology at the University of Alberta and the University of Manitoba, while dabbling in comedy part time beginning in 1988. By 1992, comedy had become his full-time career.
He was celebrated for his literate humour and skills of observation, and for his willingness to help comedian friends or up-and-comers with jokes and advice.
He wrote for and appeared in Canadian TV and radio comedy programs and performed regularly at the Winnipeg and Halifax Comedy Festivals, Montreal's Just for Laughs and on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
In 2007, he was diagnosed with cancer and told he would have about 12 months to live. He turned the diagnosis into an acclaimed cross-country standup comedy tour — some of which was eventually recorded in the documentary That's My Time, which also showed him undergoing cancer treatment and performing at cancer research fundraisers. He also taped the comedy special Can't Stop Laughing.
On Tuesday, Barker earned two nominations for the Canadian Comedy Awards: for best male standup performer and Canadian comedy person of the year.
Barker's survivors include his wife, Joanna McCracken, and three children from a previous marriage.