Joey Frisk (Stephen McCole) has had one hell of a week, but being a stand up comedian he feels he can channel his suffering into his material. His manager has arranged a big shot producer of comedy looking for performers for her American show to attend one of his gigs, and tonight he is better than he's ever been. But that week has been a traumatic one, and it started when Joey was in a sauna and a man came up to him claiming to be Frank (Malcolm Shields), an old school friend. The comedian has very little recollection of his past thanks to his alcohol abuse, but knows trouble when he sees it...
Movies about stand up comedians have one large hurdle to overcome, and that is to convince the cinema audience that what they are saying on stage is actually funny enough to provide the characters with careers. In Justin Molotnikov's film, his first after a number of years working in television, Joey's material strains credibility, one of those "shock" comics who substitutes near the knuckle gags for wit, but here the project had an advantage: although the jokes weren't especially hilarious, McCole acted the part as if he was indeed someone who you could imagine had gathered a following and was seen as promising.
So if you don't laugh much, the leading man at least convinced you that he could have made a success out of this. But of course, all that comedy stuff was a red herring, because what Crying with Laughter had on its mind was more dramatic as the plot slowly but surely transformed into a thriller, and a very serious one at that. The point being that it's easier to cope with the worst things that happen to us if we retain some humour about them to adopt a sense of perspective, even if it's just "If you didn't laugh you'd cry", as Joey latches onto by the end of his week of turmoil. As you might have sussed, this is all to do with the new presence of the inscrutably sinister Frank in his life.
At first, we're not sure if Frank even is someone from Joey's schooldays as he appears to have a hidden agenda, and Molotnikov employs a measure of misdirection to make us think we're watching the usual performer going to the dogs storyline that we've seen countless times. So there are plenty of scenes of Joey's misbehaviour, rudeness, and victimhood brought upon himself in those opening stages, yet McCole doesn't quite turn us off him completely. Frisk does dote over his young daughter, the product of a failed marriage to Karen (Jo Hartley, familiar from Shane Meadows works), but on the other hand he's not doing himself any favours by winding up his landlord (Paul McCole).
You might be thinking, if you're unaware of the thriller narrative coming up, that this was all there was to Crying with Laughter, but stick with it as all of a sudden, after Joey uses his act to verbally abuse his landlord, things take a darker turn as the man is discovered severely beaten, and Joey is who the police think is the cuplrit. In truth, he cannot remember, and as we know that when he was a boy he set his school on fire, resulting in a spell in borstal, there is the possibility that he has returned to his criminality, especially as he doesn't recall much of that either. But if you're paying attention, you'll have noticed the Frank character must have a reason to be there, and you'd be right, as events become yet more grim. This middle part is the strongest, as when you do discover what is going on it's a little far fetched (would the cops really dismiss a claim of kidnap at the desk?), but the theme of two wrongs not making a right, and more than that how forgiveness may well be the path to an easier life, is something different for this type of film, and interesting with it. Music by Lorne Balfe.
[The Region 2 DVD is a double disc set, with a commentary on disc one and a wealth of stuff on disc two, including featurettes and a "joke book".]