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  • Date :
  • 2/25/2007

The King of Comedy

Awannabe stand-up comic, so desperate for a break, kidnaps a famous late-night talk show host in order to get a spot on his show.

Genres: Comedy and Drama

Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.

MPAA Rating: PG

Production Co.: Embassy Pictures

Filming Locations: New York, New York, USA


This bizarre work is one of Martin Scorsese"s greatest films. Robert DeNiro plays Rupert Pupkin, a wannabe comedian obsessed with talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). He tries to go through proper channels to get on the show but when he fails, he and another fanatic (Sandra Bernhard) kidnap Langford in order to arrange a "guest" appearance on his show. Interestingly, the perpetually juvenile Lewis plays the most grown-up character in the film, revealing a disturbing attempt to tackle issues of immaturity in an industry that thrives on them. Along with The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun, this film boasts Scorsese himself at his most adult level. Though it"s awfully tough to get through the first time, a second and third viewing can be highly rewarding.

Starring: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard

Written by: Paul D. Zimmerman

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

MPAA Rating: PG

Running Time: 109 minutes

More about the Movie

In the early Eighties, the dangers that come with celebrity seemed more prominent than ever. In short order, lunatics killed John Lennon and also attempted to slay Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. Martin Scorsese’s 1983 flick “The King of Comedy” didn’t delve into such murderous tendencies, but it took a look at the nature of those obsessed with fame.

Comedy follows an aspiring comedian named Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro). The movie starts with shots of rabid fans outside of the New York studio where they shoot the popular late night program The Jerry Langford Show. As Langford (Jerry Lewis) tries to make it to his car, fans pounce, and Pupkin manages to finagle his way into the automobile. Pupkin badgers Langford for a try-out, which the TV host promises to accommodate if he contacts his secretary.

Pupkin makes attempts along those lines and proves quite persistent, as he shows up at the studio day after day to pester Langford’s assistant Cathy Long (Shelley Hack). Pupkin also tries to woo Rita (Diahnne Abbott), the former beauty queen of their high school. He attempts to impress her with his allegedly burgeoning career, but this generally falls flat.

Essentially the movie follows Pupkin’s escalating nuttiness. He becomes more and more obsessed and delusional as the movie progresses, especially after the folks at the TV studio rebuff his advances. With the assistance of another scary fan named Masha (Sandra Bernhard), he takes his determination to be a star to more desperate levels.

Although Comedy often makes things a bit too simplistic, it still provides a lively and provocative look at psycho fans. Scorsese nicely balances the scary elements with comedy, and Pupkin proves to be an interesting character for De Niro. Back in 1983, he’d made his name with intense roles such as Jake LaMotta and Travis Bickle, while Pupkin offers a seemingly more innocent character.

In reality, Pupkin appears just as badly flawed and threatening as the others, as he’ll clearly do whatever he feels he needs to do to achieve his goals. De Niro adopts a doughy and nebbishy look for Pupkin, which makes him appear less hostile, and the actor brings a level of vulnerability and awkwardness to the character that doesn’t appear in his other roles. I like the fact that De Niro doesn’t force the part and create a more overtly vicious personality. In some ways, that makes Pupkin seem scarier, as he doesn’t demonstrate such obvious aggression.

The remaining cast also does quite well. On the surface, Masha seems even nuttier than Pupkin, and for most of the movie, she comes across like the one more likely to actually harm Langford. Despite these more overt signs of insanity, Bernhard offers a wonderfully natural take on the part. She feels real and smooth in the role and presents a nicely understated sense of menace. Even when Masha displays wildly nutty behavior, Bernhard fits in the behaviors cleanly and creates a terrific performance.

Scorsese displays the material in a fairly dry and unemotional manner, though I think he makes the movie seem a bit too simplistic. On one hand, no one ever attempts to make Pupkin or the others appear sympathetic or likeable, and the flick doesn’t go into extremes in either direction. Scorsese also doesn’t tip how much of the movie falls into the category of fantasy or reality; it seems very possible that many apparently factual segments actually take place in Pupkin’s head.

Nonetheless, I rather liked The King of Comedy. The movie’s aged quite well over the last 20 years, and though it seems somewhat thin at times, it provides enough provocative material to make it compelling. In addition, a collection of excellent performances add real spark to the flick.

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