Film Review – Dying Laughing

If you’ve come to this website then I presume you are interested in stand-up comedy. And if you are remotely interested in stand-up comedy you really should see Dying Laughing. 

The documentary, directed by Lloyd Stanton and Paul Toogood (and exec produced by John Thomson who talks about his own comedy angst in this interview), is no Live at the Apollo. Instead of showing what goes on onstage it shows what goes on in comedians’ heads, which is actually far more interesting.

And boy do they have some big guns talking. Including Jerry Seinfeld, Jerry Lewis, Chris Rock, Amy Schumer, Steve Coogan, Emo Philips, Stewart Lee, Frankie Boyle, Eddie Izzard, Sarah Silverman and Billy Connolly. It is a sad irony, given the title, that two of the iconic contributors, Victoria Wood and Garry Shandling, are no longer with us.

As you would expect from insightful people who are good with words the film is very quotable. Connolly calls comics a “crowd of nutters”. Seinfeld, says it is beyond art, it is a “magic trick”. Eddie Izzard talks about it being a kind of “communing”. 

There is some great stuff about finding your voice and writing your act and it is interesting to hear Steve Coogan talking about an early gig at Malcolm Hardee’s legendary Tunnel Club in Greenwich where he recalls they threw chairs, which meant they liked him. Otherwise they would have thrown beer glasses. Maybe it was my imagination but I got the impression the Americans were more positive. There seemed to be more British contributions when it came to the section on bombing onstage. Lee Mack talks about how a gig was going so badly he heard someone tutting at the back: “like the click of a gun.”  

The style is very simple. Comedians are filmed in brutal, stark black and white. It’s what they say that matters. There have been documentaries about stand-up before and some of the theories I’ve heard before – Sarah Silverman talks about it being about wanting the approval of strangers, which rings both true and familiar – but never has such a formidable line-up been assembled. 

While there are no actual jokes or clips of routines (just a few shots of giggling audiences at the end), this is still an extremely funny film as well as an extremely illuminating one. If you think stand-up is easy, watch Dying Laughing and think again. It is just that the best stand-ups, like the ones featured in this compelling, sometimes painful documentary, make it look easy.

Dying Laughing is in UK cinemas and On Demand 16th June and will premiere at the Prince Charles Cinema on the 15th June

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