Movie Review: ‘DYING LAUGHING’ provides insight into the world of stand-up


Jared McMillan // Film Critic

Not rated, 89 minutes.
Director: Lloyd Stanton and Paul Toogood
Cast: Chris RockJerry SeinfeldKevin HartAmy SchumerSarah SilvermanJamie FoxxCedric the Entertainer and Garry Shandling

While everyone usually has their go-to medium or genre regarding entertainment, most people can tell you their favorite comedian. You can enjoy someone who performs topical humor, toilet humor, or jokes that call back to a part of your childhood. But on a higher level, a subconscious level, you are on the receiving end of something communicative, and it taps into a personal connection to that comic. Because you have a connection that solely impacts a positive aspect of the human mind, it keeps you coming back to them to laugh and be entertained.

In the new documentary DYING LAUGHING, directors Lloyd Stanton and Paul Toogood take the audience into the minds of these comedians. It is a stark reminder of the mindset of the comic, and how it’s very much emotionally masochistic. Within the first couple of minutes, stand-up greats like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock set the tone with how they feel on stage. Paul Provenza says it best, “We’re asking a roomful of hundreds of people to have an involuntary, physical response…simultaneously. It’s f****n’ weird.”

Because the comedian stands on stage and provides us with what we seek – a temporary, positive respite from reality – it’s hard to sit there and figure out why they do this, or what they did to get to this relative point in our lives. This look into that perspective grants the audience a realization of these comics committing to pain in order to achieve a pleasure. We know the stand-up geniuses well into their career being paid off; we don’t know the exhaustion/insanity of performing in the most rural of towns to a handful of people.

‘DYING LAUGHING’ Directors Lloyd Stanton & Paul Toogood Expose The Fine Art Of Stand-up Comedy

While these comedians proceed to tell stories of the road, DYING LAUGHING envelops the viewer into a sort of intimacy. Anecdotes of failure spill forth, from freezing on stage to dealing with hecklers, eventually leading to comedians speaking about what drives them. It really gives an insight into the fortitude to be vulnerable to an audience in order to get that fix; making people laugh is their addiction.

The presentation of the doc is somewhat muddled. The interviews don’t really flow into a narrative form. It doesn’t progress subject matter, rather having the one solid idea of showing the dark side of stand-up. Also, Stanton and Toogood dumb down the intrigue by putting the Q&As in black and white, and having colored vignettes in various places that don’t really provide anything to the movie. It takes the viewer out of the experience so much that it sours the overall purpose.

DYING LAUGHING is by no means a great documentary. However, it serves a purpose to give insight into the world of stand-up. Giving people like Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer, and even Jerry Lewis a platform to speak about the rigors of breaking through lets the viewer see the comics as something more than punchline artists. As we learn the depths of their passion and/or obsession, it further gives their comedy another dimension to appreciate. They will make us laugh even if it kills them.

DYING LAUGHING opens in limited release today, and is also available On Demand. (Dallas: Texas Theatre)

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.