(Running Time: 1 hr. 29 min. – Genre: Documentary/Comedy – Directors: Lloyd Stanton, Paul Toogood – Starring: Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Jerry Lewis, Kevin Hart, Jamie Foxx, Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman, Billy Connolly)
Dying Laughing is an intimate look at the inner workings of being a comedian. Behind all the fun and laughs is a lot of pain and misery.
The narrative is composed of interviews with some of biggest names in the history of the business.
Chris Rock. Jerry Seinfeld. Amy Schumer. Kevin Hart. Jerry Lewis.
The list is endless.
Seinfeld describes what it is like getting up on stage for the first time. He posits that upon approaching the microphone there is zero movement and it is the comic’s job to start the momentum toward laughter. While rewarding when one is successful, it is an imposing task.
Like practitioners of other creative endeavors, comedians usually begin their careers by imitating their favorite performers. As time goes by, bits of their thoughts and observations worm their way into their act. Eventually, they find a unique identity. But this takes hundreds of performances and many years to occur.
In the meantime, comics hit the road to perfect their craft. Comedians agree that “the road” is hell. Many performers got into the business in the first place because they suffered from loneliness and depression. Putting this type of person in a strange town by themselves often has disastrous results. Many turn to drugs and alcohol for solace.
Sarah Silverman confides that it only feels good when (she) is on stage.
Road life is often disorienting. Gilbert Gottfried said that there have been towns and clubs of which he swears he has never been, only to get on stage to see a familiar sign that reminds him that he has in fact been there before.
Much time is spent examining the act of “controlling the room.” Bombing and/or heckling is almost unavoidable for even the most experienced performers.
Cedric the Entertainer says that the only way to combat it is to “grab the reins and ride it.” But when that doesn’t work–or isn’t feasible–the results are devastating.
Royale Watkins tells a story about bombing and breaking down crying afterward. Numerous comics agree that a bad set is haunting. It can stay in their heads for days or weeks after. It gnaws away at them.
And the hecklers. They detest the hecklers. Audience members who are drunk, bored, or just looking for a bit of attention themselves can wreak havoc on a stand-up’s set.
Comedians sacrifice relationships and steady paychecks in the pursuit of the stage.
They wager their very happiness. Chris Rock points out that any group of people who think for a living are destined to be sad.
Think about that for a second.
However, when the comics talk about the high they get from the laughter, they all have the same glint in their eye. The rush of adrenaline, mixed with the affirmation of strangers, is clearly intoxicating.
The key to the equation is the audience. A group of strangers staring at the stage waiting to be entertained. I assume the rush of comedy is a bit like being a degenerate gambler. A comic has to risk the shame and frustration of bombing and being heckled to get to the potent fix of laughter. The promise of one is tethered to the millstone of the other.
Despite the battle of risk and reward, the world of comedy is possibly the last truly free pulpit in the country. Sex, politics and otherwise unmentionable taboos are dissected and laughed at nightly on thousands of big and small stages across the United States. Talking and exchanging thoughts is key to a healthy society, and being able to laugh at difficult topics is the engine of a thriving one.
In Akron, Dying Laughing will be playing at the Nightlight Cinema starting 3/10. Ticket information can be found here.