#167 – The King of Comedy 1982

Written by: Paul D Zimmerman

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard, Diahnne Abbott & Shelley Hack

*The Story *

Rupert Pupkin (De Niro) plays a wannabe stand up comedian who idolises celebrity, fame and Jerry Langford (Lewis) a famous television host and comedian. A story of obsession and delusion the King of comedy is a character piece and deep dive into the mind of someone willing to do anything for his 15 minutes of fame.

* My thoughts *

The King of comedy is a satirical masterpiece from the King of cinema himself Martin Scorsese. This film was decades ahead of it’s time, that’s the reason it’s one of his biggest flops. A story of obsession for fame couldn’t be more poignant or relevant right now in the present. The world is yearning for their 15 minutes of fame and as Andy Warhol also predicted in the future everyone will have their 15 minutes in the spotlight. With social media, YouTube and all the other seemingly infinite platforms anybody can become famous. In 1982 there simply wasn’t these options just the studio systems and late night comedy. The extremes and possibilities for fame that are so prevalent in our society today simply didn’t exist back then.

Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime

– Rupert Pupkin

The character of Rupert Pupkin was such an incredibly underrated and misunderstood role for Robert De Niro. Right after Raging Bull, Godfather part II and Taxi driver this role couldn’t have come further from left field. Rupert Pupkin is obsessed with celebrity and becoming a famous stand up comedian. He’s a goof and constantly acting like a child almost. The way he records his comedy monologue and is interrupted by his mother which leads to an argument that a teenager has with his mother. Pupkin is the polar opposite of Travis Bickle yet they are both social outcasts striving for fame or in Travis’ case infamy. Rupert goes as far as jump into the car of Jerry Langford (Lewis) , he obsessed over autographs, he’s willing to sit forever to just wait and see Jerry, he goes to Jerry’s House and acts as a friend he goes as far as to kidnap the guy with Masha (Bernhard)

Jerry Lewis gives such a brilliant performance as Langford in this film. He brought the gravitas and believability that someone like Jerry Lewis could do. One of the most famous comedians of all time he’s an icon of Hollywood before the film came out. The man created the video village on movie sets for fuck sake he knows his stuff and he’s brilliant here. The subtleties he brought to his performance here is incredible he always seems that he’s on the verge of exploding on Rupert and thankfully we’re treated to a few of those moments in the film.

Sandra Bernhard as Masha is one of the weirdest and most wild performances I’ve ever seen. She’s unhinged from the first scene. By the time she’s tying up Langford and setting the scene and dancing in her underwear around him near the end of the film as an audience member you’re terrified and laughing at the same time. She’s exceptional in this film and honestly could’ve been nominated for an academy award. She gives her everything to this role and she’s the most unstable character in the film. The way her and Rupert interact with each other is comical, ridiculous and criminal even. I use the term plan here loosely but they plan a kidnapping together and essentially it is successful for the most part, or at least for Rupert anyway.

By the end of the film there’s a feeling of unease. How the hell did Rupert manage to pull this off seemingly successfully. He got onto TV and has a book released as we see a stunned Langford looking through the window at the success of this man. He got his fifteen minutes of fame and I guess Rupert at the very least was a king for a night on the biggest late night talk show.

If you’ve not seen this film yet it’s an incredible character study by the greatest actor of all time while being directed by Martin Scorsese the greatest director of all time. The King of comedy suffered from being too ahead of it’s time but its not too late to go back 40 years and check out a classic.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 8/10

12 thoughts on “#167 – The King of Comedy 1982

  1. Wonderful review. Sums this unique film up so well. dark and knife edged humour bordering onto something murkier.

    Think it’s chilling that he has that photo of an audience on his wall. Love Jerry Lewis’s implosive tolerance and Sandra Bernhardt’s manic prowess. And the pathos of Rupert hanging round the phone box. Though that wouldn’t happen now. Shame because phone boxes used to tell such a story.

    Excellent review. Thank you. I remember seeing that film in the ICA cinema with 3 other people yet most people know the name Rupert Pupkin. Cult status maybe

    Thanks again

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much! Oh yeah that wall and the long shot that pans out to show Rupert doing his routine is haunting. You can tell that the 2019 Joker film was a mash up of this and Taxi driver but to a lesser effect in my opinion anyway.

      The name Rupert Pupkin is out there in the zeitgeist alright. I know I heard it on the HBO show entourage for the first time so people know the name if not the film anyway that’s for sure.

      The whole Masha and Langford tie up scene was completely parodied on family guy also so it’s definitely cult famous I agree.

      Thank you for the great and well thought out comment it’s great I absolutely could talk movies all day long and you certainly seem to have a wealth of cinema knowledge!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Would you believe it’s one of the few Scorsese films I have not yet seen but I want to I also haven’t watched Kundun, Silence and New York New York. I’m going to watch After hours first just off that recommendation alone thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thought I do After Hours on a separate comment. No, it didn’t have the bite of King of Comedy. That one really did get away. Although Madonna fans latched onto it later after the adorable Griffin Dunne was in Who’s That Girl?

        It was that concept that things go wrong at night that made it so fascinating. Tell me what you think. Lovely tinge of the macabre to it and great cast.

        Love that actor, especially when he was in Fraser. That must be on YouTube somewhere.

        Ha ha! I didn’t like to mention New York New York. Beautiful soundtrack but 3 hours long! Still worth a look. Beautifully made.

        H

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I will most definitely be back and let you know how I find after hours when I have a chance to watch it! Yeah New York New York always had me thinking do I really want to watch this?

        I just haven’t yet but hey the last waltz and rolling thunder revue as well as some of his rolling stones music documentaries were good so I’m kind of optimistic. De Niro and Liza Minelli too it just seems like it should be great. I’ll keep ya posted if I even get around to that one too.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you. You have really made my husband’s day because I announced I wanted to see the Joker film now, after reading your response. Him and kids love that film. I’ve yet to have the pleasure.

    Oh yes, Rupert was referred to in the Larry Sanders show. And Family Guy would be clever enough to do that. I don’t watch that nearly enough.

    Bless you for thinking I’m knowledgeable on cinema. I always thought I was a bit of a square about film but maybe I’m just not great on mainstream ones, just a handful of treasured ones, including King of Comedy .

    Great post

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh well you’ll definitely see the parallels between joker and those other 2 Scorsese films. The whole film seems like someone trying their best to make a gritty 70’s Scorsese film.

      Hey anyone with so much knowledge on Martin Scorsese is a legend in my book. I genuinely think he’s the best, most consistent and always improving director. I can’t think of anyone with a career that’s maintained for so long with so many classic films. Even Scorsese’s new films already feel iconic and classic upon their release.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you. I seem to be on surer ground with his flops. However I remember when Taxi Driver came out (‘76?) and there was great controversy about Jodie Foster being a child prostitute. That film really broke boundaries. So fresh and exciting.

        My mate, despite being underage, got in to see it and she would relate to me in every gory detail the violence at the end. ‘Suck on that’ – the lot. I would put my hand over my ears but yearned for her to go on. What larks.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah 1976 that’s exactly right. What a film though so controversial but still as relevant I feel today. That seems to be a common theme with Scorsese films they age like a fine homemade wine.

        It must’ve been so surreal at the time with a film like that coming out. I can only imagine what it felt like at the time, if only I was able to see this on the big screen. Maybe someday though!

        Liked by 1 person

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