Crying with Laughter
Eddie Harrison talks to Stephen McCole, star of Edinburgh International Film Fest premiere Crying with Laughter about the deadly business of filming comedy
The hot ticket among the Scottish films screening at the 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival is Justin Molotnikov’s Crying with Laughter, a thriller starring Scotland’s Stephen McCole. Familiar from roles in Wes Anderson’s high school comedy Rushmore and popular TV sitcom High Times, McCole has built up an impressive CV of comedic roles, but Crying with Laughter took him one step further. Because his character, Joey Fisk, is a comedian, he had to take on the tricky business of full-on stand-up comedy.
‘The stand-up scenes in the film were all done in one take, using two or three cameras,’ he says. ‘We wanted to make sure that what we got on-screen was exactly the right look and feel for a comedy club. Setting up a scene in a packed room meant the audience had to sit for several hours before each break. I may well have ended up being the star of the longest comedy show ever.’
McCole has already shown a good grasp of comic timing in his acting roles, but doing stand-up called on him to develop his own performance style. ‘Your style isn’t something that just happens to you overnight,’ he says. ‘You can’t walk out there and try and be someone else. It’s not the same as acting, you have to be the real thing. And it’s not about poking fun at people or pointing out people’s failings, but finding common ground with your audience. Someone like Richard Pryor was a natural comic, he told stories about himself, about how fucked up he was, and then asked the audience why they were laughing. I’m not comparing myself to him, but that’s the kind of delivery I think it’s good to aim for.’
Crying with Laughter isn’t a comedy, but a thriller, and Frisk is portrayed as a complex, flawed character who is not immediately sympathetic to the audience. ‘People don’t immediately take to Joey at the start of the film,’ he says. ‘He’s a messed up individual, a cokehead on the road to ruin, and the film doesn’t attempt to create any sympathy or empathy with him. He’s pursued a hedonistic lifestyle and paid a price in terms of his personal life. But the film goes on to place him in some tense situations and I love the way it moves between thriller situations and getting laughs. The one thing I feel with certainty about the film is that it does entertain people.’
After Crying with Laughter’s screenings at the EIFF sold out, McCole is hoping the film will go on to have a long life. ‘There’s been a terrific buzz for the film in Edinburgh,’ he says. ‘People seem to be genuinely interested in how we raised the money and how we made the film. Hopefully we can keep up that momentum. Making a film like this is much like going on stage to perform. You have to be confident in yourself and fear no failure; you can’t give up just because something is hard to do.’
Crying with Laughter, Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Fri 26 Jun. For more EIFF highlights see listings, page 46 and www.list.co.uk/edfilmfest