Film Review: Dying Laughing

dying laughing kevin smith

100 Comedians Walk Into A Bar

Within the first three minutes of the great new documentary ‘Dying Laughing’ (2017) directed by Paul Toogood and Lloyd Stanton, we have a selection of VERY well known comedian vox pops giving lines on various aspects of their chosen career. Well maybe not so much chosen as were morbidly and sadistically drawn too, as if there’s anything that is a common trait to these successful comedians is that you might think they’ve spent some (a lot of) time with Jack Nicholson in ‘Once Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ and today’s day trip is for this documentary.

It certainly puts you in the position of a therapist listening to all these familiar faces off load with a great sense of humour, but at times serious honesty, vulnerability and supreme sadness as they walk you through their beginnings, the middles, the ends, ignoring those ends and with a giddy glee of masochism flagellate themselves with the mike stand onwards. There’s some Benedictine monks who could have learned a lesson or ten from this collective. Actually, maybe those monks invented comedy?

dying laughing kevin smith

It’s definitely very funny, but it’s more fascinating that anything else, which is to it’s complete credit. These people exist in a world of communication with society/life, based on presenting in a considered, controlled manner, a very carefully prepared speech (Theresa May should do stand-up) that they may have spent an entire year, hundreds of hours and nights preparing. And evidently a great deal of their emotional wealth (or deficiency) is dependant on the success of those lines. So it’s great to hear the background to these years of sets, thoughly slightly like looking behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain, only to see him chopping anti depressant lines with a maxed out credit card.

Considering how frank and brutally real it all is, it is a great study of the art of stand-up. There is no doubt that the stories told will burn many dream bridges into the castle of comedy that folk aspire too. Quite simply, there is something slightly mic bumped on the head about these people, as if they are journalists sending back reports from the gaggle front of madness. And they’ve done fifty one too many tours.

The key thing about modern comedians though is their ability to have super human powers of observation, as Chris Rock says in the opening words ‘We’re the last philosophers’. It’s their life line to success, however merger that may be, it gives them a tremendous insight to the world, and also their own world. It’s a 360 comedy appraisal. So when they comment of some piercing observations, they do it with sniper precision and some brilliant razor wire lines that are on par with their acts. Though to be honest, even in the most genuine of moments, they are never really not performing, the lifetime of heckled bruises and bloodied spotlight never allows them to step off stage.

dying laughing kevin smith

It’s a fantastic line up too. They’ve seriously done really well to get a great and very broad range of comedians involved (including Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Schumer, Kevin Hart, Jamie Foxx, Billy Connolly, Steve Coogan, Eddie Izzard, Jerry Lewis, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Frank Skinner, Jo Brand, Frankie Boyle, John Thomson, Garry Shandling, Victoria Wood, Jim Jefferies). Considering how great it is, there’s notable exceptions missing which is surprising. That doesn’t diminish the work at all. It looks great, ticks along at a steady pace without dipping in joke content or brilliant after show lock-in tales.

There’s a lovely sincerity and gentleness (despite some of the topics/stories discussed) to the whole project, which masks the overall achievement of what they’ve excellently pulled together. It’s a very rewarding study into an art form, not in an overtly analytical way, but in the people behind the laugh masks, who are probably wearing another mask under that.

And as for Chris Rock’s comment at the beginning, if you didn’t agree with at the start, you will by the end. Which is going to inspire some weird arse societies in the distant future. Now that is a great punchline.

8/10 ‘Dying Laughing’ is in cinemas and available to stream now in the UK.

Click here to read Steve’s review of UK housing crisis documentary ‘Dispossesion’