British comedian Ian Congito died on stage during a performance on Friday evening, just 10 minutes after allegedly making crowds laugh with a gag about suffering a stroke.
According to the BBC, the veteran comic was doing a late-night comedy show in Bicester when he sat down on a stool and began breathing heavily, before falling silent for five whole minutes, leading onlookers to assume it was part of his set.
The 60-year-old performer had apparently joked earlier in the show: “Imagine if I died in front of you lot here.”
Audience member John Ostojak told the 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.”
After it became clear that the comedian was ill, off-duty emergency workers began chest compressions and an ambulance was called. However Cognito was pronounced dead at the scene.
Reports in the British media suggest he suffered a heart attack.
Many fellow comedians took to social media after the sad news broke and paid their respects to the “kind”, “brilliant and provocative” performer.
The Mummy star Omid Djalili wrote: “Thing about Ian Cognito was it didn’t matter if you did a weekend with him, an evening, an hour, or only met him for a few seconds you’d walk away with a story to tell. Sometimes you’d have to tell it to the police, but always exciting to be around. Always. RIP old friend.”
Jimmy Carr said: “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.
And Little Britain star Matt Lucas wrote: “In shock at the news of Ian Cognito’s sudden passing. He was always kind to me when I started out, and brilliant and provocative and entirely original onstage. What a loss.”
While Cognito’s son Ollie Barbieri described him as the “best dad”, writing: “I’m absolutely blown away by the tributes today to @. Reading the memories of other people have of him has helped wring a few smiles out of a shit day. A great comedian but to @ and I, the best Dad you could ask for.”
Cognito was born Paul Barbieri and had been performing on stage since the 1980s, despite never achieving mainstream success.