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

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.