Dying Laughing: Film Review

By Wyndham Hacket Pain @WyndhamHP

It is hard not to admire stand-up comedians who night after night seemingly achieve the impossible and manage to hold audiences in wonder as they stand on stage and tell jokes. At the same time there are films and television programs that despite their large budgets and vast crews struggle to keep people’s attention half as effectively. It can be amazing that comedians can achieve so much with seemingly so little.

Dying Laughing keeps things very simple and primarily consists of many of our favourite comedians talking about their thoughts and experiences of performing stand-up. Interviews from over 30 comedians are used and blended together. With Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Schumer, Kevin Hart, Jamie Foxx, Steve Coogan, Eddie Izzard, and Billy Connolly, among others, all involved it is more than likely that your favourite performer is included.

What I liked most was that there is a good variety of comics, ranging from global stars and the best known British comics, to people I had never seen before. Not every comedian is going to become a house hold name, yet they will still perform even if it is in half empty venues hundreds of miles away from the nearest city. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the documentary is the insight not into the world of famous comics who fill stadiums and have millions of adoring fans, but those who have really struggled and continue despite the lack of obvious gratification. Of course they continue because of their love of comedy and it is this affection that is really at the heart of the film.

Some of the anecdotes manage to be surprisingly moving with one comic brought to tears as he talks about being booed off stage while Michael Jordan was in the audience. The great things with comics is that they are expert story tellers who know how to engage with an audience. Almost without exception each of their stories is interesting and well presented.

Filming all the interviews in monochrome is a clever move from directors Lloyd Stanton and Paul Toogood, as it brings what could have been a messy collection of footage together and gives a sense of cohesion where it may otherwise have been missing. The style also gives an intimacy to each story and makes the film feel sincere where it could have felt indulgent.

Stand-up comedy is more popular than it has ever been before, which makes the timing of this film both perfect and slightly awkward. In one sense we have never been so interested in comics and wanted to know what their experiences are like more. While at the same time comedians have infiltrated every part of our lives, almost to the point of saturation. It is hard to go a week without seeing a comic being interviewed, whether on breakfast, in the newspaper, or on the plethora of panel and chat shows that have taken over our evenings. We may not know everything about stand-up comedy but it is not the mysterious art form it once was. Despite having moments of insight I can’t quite get away from the feeling that Dying Laughing is slightly redundant.

​There is little not to enjoy as many of our favourite comedians discuss the hardship, craft, and philosophy of their comedy. There are moments that are genuinely interesting and even inspiring but at the same time I feel like I heard much of it before.

Dying Laughing is on general release from Friday 16th June.

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