Film Review: Dying LaughingFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 6 Jun 2017

The prospect of standing on a stage in front of strangers and trying to make them laugh is a terrifying one for most people, and is perhaps part of the reason why stand-up comedy is a good subject for documentary. It takes a special kind of person to want to do that, indeed to be able to do that, and Lloyd Stanton and Paul Toogood’s documentary Dying Laughing attempts to shed some light on who those people are, and why they put themselves through what for most of them seems to be a kind of beloved torture.

The film consists primarily of comedians – shot in monochrome in a basic setup – talking about their experiences on stage, and what makes them, and their art form, tick. Its treatment of the subject matter initially is fairly light, to the point of being somewhat unremarkable, but as the talking heads begin to discuss aspects such as hecklers and, most affectingly, the feeling of bombing onstage, it enters darker and more elucidatory territory, and becomes a vibrant, more interesting piece.

It helps that the majority of the talking heads are likeable people with interesting things to say. Bringing together a wide range of well- and lesser-known comics, including Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer and Stewart Lee, the film’s diverse cast speak openly about themselves and their chosen profession. While many of the insights offered may not be revelatory, there are nevertheless moments of pathos and power in Dying Laughing, as well as some laughs – though perhaps fewer than you might expect, given the comic talent on show.

The film intercuts their observations with generic footage of crowds and street scenes, which doesn’t add a huge amount to proceedings and gives the film a somewhat televisual air, particularly at the beginning. The lack of footage of actual stand-up routines – whether was this was a decision borne of budget restrictions or artistic choice, I’m not sure – initially seemed like a chance missed, but as th e film moved towards its low key but rousing conclusion, I no longer felt the absence. The point of the film, after all, is that we are looking at an art form from behind the scenes.

4/5

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