“Imagine if I died in front of you lot here.”
Ian Cognito was performing in front of a packed room at the Lone Wolf Comedy Club in Bicester, when he predicted his own death through a quick one-liner.
Moments later he was dead.
The veteran comedian was well-known on the stand up circuit in the UK and internationally. As he stood on stage on Thursday night, the crowd had a feeling he wasn’t his usual self.
Halfway through his gig, the 60-year-old comedian sat down on a stool and began breathing heavily. Knowing the show must go on, he joked with the audience about his health.
Then he slumped over in the chair and went quiet.
After five minutes, the crowd realised something was seriously wrong and emergency services were called. The comedian was pronounced dead at the scene.
Andrew Bird, who runs the club, said Cognito was not feeling well before his set but he insisted on going on stage.
“He was like his old self, his voice was loud. I was thinking ‘he’s having such a good gig’,” he told the BBC.
Bird said when the comedian fell quiet on stage he, along with the audience, thought it was part of the joke. Then he went up on stage to check on his friend.
“Everyone in the crowd, me included, thought he was joking,” he said.
“Even when I walked on stage and touched his arm I was expecting him to say ‘boo’.”
When it became obvious that something wasn’t right, two off duty nurses and a police officer began chest compressions until the paramedics arrived on scene.
“We came out feeling really sick. We just sat there for five minutes watching him, laughing at him,” audience member John Ostojak told the BBC.
“Only 10 minutes before he sat down he joked about having a stroke,” Ostojak continued. “He said, ‘imagine having a stroke and waking up speaking Welsh’.”
Cognito’s real name was Paul Barbieri. He was born in London in 1958 and he had been performing on the stand up comedy circuit since the 1980s.
Since the news of his death broke, fellow comedians have paid tribute to him online:
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