By Raechal Shewfelt
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.”