Ian Cognito (screen grab) Ian Cognito/YouTube
Credit: Ian Cognito/YouTube

British comedian Ian Cognito died on stage Thursday during a stand-up performance. He was in his early 60s; his exact age is uncertain.

Cognito was performing at a bar called the Atic in Bicester, an English town about 14 miles north of Oxford, when he fell ill during his set. The bar’s owner, Ryan Mold, told CNN that Cognito “sat down, put his head and arms back; his shoulders were twitching.” The audience assumed it was part of his act at first, as Cognito had joked about his health shortly beforehand. “Imagine if I died in front of you lot here,” he reportedly said.

An ambulance was summoned a few minutes later, after a fellow comedian realized something was wrong. Cognito was pronounced dead at the scene upon medics’ arrival.

Cognito, born Paul Barbieri, started performing in the mid-1980s. He was known for envelope-pushing comedy, and claimed to have been banned from more clubs than any other comedian in Britain. One of his signature bits entailed hammering a nail into the wall and hanging his hat on it. “This lets you know two things about me,” he explained. “Firstly, I really don’t give a s—. Secondly, I’ve got a hammer.”

While Cognito never achieved mainstream success, he received a Time Out Comedy Award in 1999, and was widely admired in the stand-up community. Several fellow comics tweeted tributes to Cognito following his death. “I’ll never forget his kindness when I started out & how god damn funny he was,” comedian Jimmy Carr said. Matt Lucas (Doctor Who) echoed these sentiments, noting, “He was always kind to me when I started out, and brilliant and provocative and entirely original onstage. What a loss.”

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