British comedian Ian Cognito died performing a stand-up routine Thursday at the Atic bar in Bicester, England; however, according to those present at the show, the audience assumed it was all part of Cognito’s act.
Andrew Bird, the host for the night’s performances, told the BBC that Cognito, who was 60, had been feeling unwell before going onstage. However, he perked up once he began telling jokes.
“He was like his old self, his voice was loud. I was thinking, ‘He’s having such a good gig,’” Bird said.
Cognito, whose real name was Paul Barbieri, was halfway through his set when he sat down on a stool, at first breathing heavily, and then falling silent.
Atic owner Ryan Mold told CNN that Cognito “sat down, put his head and arms back; his shoulders were twitching.” Mold added that Cognito had a “flamboyant character on stage,” which made it difficult to tell something was wrong.
In fact, Cognito had joked about possibly dying in front of the audience just moments before it happened, saying, “Imagine if I died in front of you lot here.” He spoke about having a stroke or a heart attack.
When it became clear that Cognito was not OK, Bird and then others rushed the stage and tried to revive him with CPR. They called an ambulance, which arrived just after 10 p.m. Cognito died at the scene.
“Everyone in the crowd, me included, thought he was joking,” Bird said. “Even when I walked on stage and touched his arm I was expecting him to say, ‘Boo.’”
Audience member John Ostojak said the audience was horrified.
“We came out feeling really sick, we just sat there for five minutes watching him, laughing at him,” Ostojak said.
However, Bird said Cognito “would have wanted to go” in such a way, although he would have wanted “more money and a bigger venue.”
Fellow comics remembered Cognito, who’d been working in stand-up since the ’80s, as a “true maverick.”
Ian Cognito has passes away. Gigged with him when i first started out and he was always so much fun, had his own mythology on the circuit his exploits where legendary. A true maverick. Hope he’s found somewhere to hang his coat in heaven.— Jack Whitehall (@jackwhitehall) April 12, 2019
Veteran stand-up comedian Ian Cognito has died on-stage - literally. The audience thought it was part of the act. Died with his boots on. That’s commitment to comedy. I’ll never forget his kindness when I started out & how god damn funny he was.— Jimmy Carr (@jimmycarr) April 12, 2019
Such a sad shock. Ian Cognito has died. One of the people who made this job brilliant from the very beginning has gone. I got so excited to be on bills with him and watch him work and have a beer after. And those eyes! Those beautiful eyes. Much love to all friends and family xx— Shappi Khorsandi (@ShappiKhorsandi) April 12, 2019
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