Comedian dies on stage after joke about death

Ian Cognito, whose real name was Paul Barbieri, was reportedly not feeling well before going on stage but insisted on performing. PHOTO: IAN COGNITO/FACEBOOK
Ian Cognito, whose real name was Paul Barbieri, was reportedly not feeling well before going on stage but insisted on performing. PHOTO: IAN COGNITO/FACEBOOK

LONDON • A British comedian died on stage minutes after joking with the audience about dying.

Stand-up comedian Ian Cognito was performing a show at The Atic bar in Bicester in southern England last Thursday. The show's host, Mr Andrew Bird, told the BBC that Cognito was not feeling well before going on stage, but insisted on performing.

Mr Bird said the 60-year-old had even joked on stage: "Imagine if I died in front of you lot here."

During the performance, the comic sat down on a stool while breathing heavily, before falling silent for five minutes, Mr Bird said. He said the crowd had thought it was a joke, and continued to laugh, unaware something was wrong, the BBC quoted him as saying. "Even when I walked on stage and touched his arm, I was expecting him to say 'boo'."

Once it was clear something was wrong, two off-duty nurses and a police officer began chest compressions and an ambulance was called. Cognito was pronounced dead at the scene.

Audience member John Ostojak told BBC: "Only 10 minutes before he sat down, he joked about having a stroke. He said, 'Imagine having a stroke and waking up speaking Welsh'. We came out feeling really sick. We just sat there for five minutes watching him, laughing at him."

Comedian Jimmy Carr tweeted about Cognito, whose real name was Paul Barbieri: "The audience thought it was part of the act. Died with his boots on. That's commitment to comedy."

Comedian Jack Whitehall also paid tribute on Twitter, saying Cognito "was always so much fun, had his own mythology on the circuit, his exploits (were) legendary".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 14, 2019, with the headline 'Comedian dies on stage after joke about death'. Print Edition | Subscribe