UK comedian Ian Cognito dies on stage, audience thought it was a joke

An older man holding a beer and pointing.
Ian Cognito performing in 2012. Photo credit: YouTube/ IanCognito11.

A British stand-up comedian has died on stage shortly after joking about having a stroke.

Ian Cognito, real name Paul Barbieri, died during a set at Bicester bar The Atic on Thursday, the BBC reports.

Audience members thought Cognito sitting in his seat and breathing heavily before falling silent was part of the act, and continued to laugh at the comic for five minutes before checking on him.

Event organiser Andrew Bird eventually walked on stage to rouse him.

"Everyone in the crowd, me included, thought he was joking," he told the BBC. "Even when I walked on stage and touched his arm I was expecting him to say 'boo'."

Cognito had joked about having a stroke during the act, saying "imagine having a stroke and waking up speaking Welsh".

It's not yet clear what the 60-year-old comedian's cause of death is.

Audience members who witnessed the event say they were upset when they realised Cognito was actually dead.

"We came out feeling really sick, we just sat there for five minutes watching him, laughing at him," attendee John Ostojak told the BBC.

Tributes are flowing for Cognito, including from Little Britain star Matt Lucas.

"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."

The Big Fat Quiz of the Year host Jimmy Carr also fondly remembered the comedian.

"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."