Review: Dying Laughing dir. Lloyd Stanton & Paul Toogood
Shot almost entirely in black and white, Dying Laughing is surprisingly serious for a documentary about comedians.
Dying Laughing takes most of the major comedians in the business today, sits them down, and interviews them about what it truly means to be a comedian and the nature of their craft. As Chris Rock puts it in the opening shots, comedians are the ‘last philosophers’, and Dying Laughing breaks down the art of comedy and the life of a comedian in this day and age with brutal honesty, from the joys of hearing an audience respond to the crushing depression that follows them around in their early days with little success, alone on the road.
Whether you’re a comedy aficionado or completely new to the scene, Dying Laughing features countless names that you’ll no doubt have come across in some form or another, whether as stand up acts, or as actors on film or television. The questions raised in the film are leading, managing to create a process in which viewers get a more complete view of each comedian’s life. For most of them, the easiest of laughs come from the most relatable of moments, in tiny instances of complete honesty. It may look easy, but once you’re up on the stage, there’s a whole mountain of new obstacles to face, whether it’s difficult hecklers who claim your jokes are ripoffs, or simply the fact that there is no one shortcut to a career in comedy.
Watching Dying Laughing strips the comedians of their stage personas, peeling back the comedic fronts to reveal honest, heartfelt selves behind the acts. Easily working viewers into a kind of rhythm, there are several moments throughout the film we felt a sharp pang of emotion, as comedians shared their self-doubts on whether they actually were funny, their lengthy process of writing jokes, observing and taking down little moments in life that may or may not become jokes later. Cocoa Brown, for example, shares a moment in her life where she accidentally insulted a woman in the front row, but upon apologizing, suddenly, laughter erupted from the crowd. The nature of comedy itself is real, and if there is an anchor available to pull the viewer in, it becomes easier to draw the crowd in and work them into the comedian’s rhythm, making the entire experience an exchange of a sorts, trading moments for laughs.
Always honest but never asking for sympathy, Dying Laughing paints a very real image of the ups and downs of a comedian’s life. The interviewees of Dying Laughing may have tough times, but ultimately, stay on in the job because of the shared notion that being a comedian is its own reward. Watch this film for a glimpse into the heads of your favourite funnymen and women, and come away with a newfound appreciation for the sheer amount of work that goes into the art of laughter.