Dying of Laughter (1999)

 “Take me and free me from my indecency.”

The explosively funny Spanish comedy Dying of Laughter (Muertos de Risa) from director Alex de la Iglesia examines the destructive, love-hate relationship that develops between partners in a popular comedy team. Chubby, short Nino (Santiago Segura) is a struggling singer when he meets bit-part actor, Bruno (El Gran Wyoming) in a run-down, rural bar. A showdown with a goat causes the two men to form a relationship, and Bruno persuades Nino to leave his peculiar mother and hit the road in search of fame and fortune.

Nino and Bruno patch together a comedy team, and big-talking agent Julian (Alex Angulo) sees a sliver of talent in their act. But by pure accident, the comedy duo develops what becomes their extremely popular trademark–Bruno slaps Nino, and the audience loves it. From this point on, audiences across Spain roll in the aisles with laughter when Nino and Bruno are on the stage, and their act becomes increasingly abusive over the years.

The relationship between many real-life comedy teams seems to resemble a marriage and as such they often have a troubled history–take Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, for example. There’s a straight one and a buffoon, and the straight one usually gets laughs courtesy of the buffoon. While Dying of Laughter is an extremely funny film, it also cleverly examines the problems in Nino and Bruno’s relationship that develop behind the scenes. Nino resents the slaps Bruno gives him, and both men gradually become jealous of each other’s perceived popularity, fan base, and name recognition. Petty acts soon escalate into major problems until Nino and Bruno become archenemies, and the fact that they still need each other just makes it worse.

But it’s when Nino and Bruno–who are totally obsessed with one another–buy adjoining, identical houses–that things really explode and spiral out of control. This film is a treat for those of us who love riotous over-the-top Spanish comedies, and if you enjoy this film, I also recommend Common Wealth from the same director. In Spanish with English subtitles.

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